Legends tell of large cats defending the principality of Tournai, but such creatures are only myth.
Or are they?
Prince Philip inherited the throne of Tournai at a young age, and since then, his life has centered around ruling his country and resisting those pressuring him to do as they want both in matters of governance and those more personal. He’s become isolated and lonely. Amory is the second son of a wealthy merchant who has never approved of anything about him or had any use for him. Until now.
When kind-hearted Amory is offered to the prince in exchange for more time for Amory’s merchant father to complete a commission, both Philip and Amory are horrified. But Philip agrees to keep Amory at the palace, where they gradually become friends, then lovers. For the first time in his life, Philip is free to share not only his heart, but the magical shape-shifting ability that runs in the royal bloodline—something the royal family has kept secret from all but those closest to them for generations.
Neither Amory nor Philip imagined falling in love, and they certainly don’t expect what those who oppose their relationship will do to keep them apart—maybe even resorting to murder.
The Prince’s Consort
Antonia Aquilante © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Amory giggled as he and Tristan practically fell through the garden gate. He slapped a hand over his mouth, but Tristan must not have heard. If he had, he would have teased without mercy, as was his right as Amory’s closest friend. But Tristan tugged him along, barely giving him a chance to latch the gate behind them so the lock spell would reengage.
All morning, Tristan had been in high spirits—unusual as he was usually the more focused one in classes. But when Amory asked him what was going on, Tristan only shrugged. Maybe it was the weather. All of Jumelle seemed livelier since the warmth of spring had burst over the city.
He let Tristan pull him down the stone path to a secluded corner of the garden shaded by large trees. The walled garden was blooming, giving them plenty of dense foliage to duck behind. With a wicked grin, Tristan turned and pushed him back against a sturdy tree. Before Amory could say a word, Tristan sealed his mouth over Amory’s in a breath-stealing kiss.
The kiss wasn’t a surprise, not then. They had been kissing a lot over the past year or so. The first time had been a surprise, even for Tristan who’d seemed shocked at his own actions. Amory never thought his friend would want to kiss him. He hadn’t thought Tristan saw him in such a way, was attracted to men at all. Their first kiss had been tentative and awkward. They’d gotten better at it quickly.
He moaned into the kiss and pulled Tristan closer, urging him to settle his weight against Amory and relishing the feel of Tristan’s firm body against his even as it pushed him into rough tree bark. But who cared about tree bark when Tristan was kissing him as if he wanted to consume him? Deep and passionate, with tongues tangling and teeth nipping. Yes, they had definitely gotten better with all the practice.
“Tris,” he gasped when Tristan pulled back. He wasn’t done with the kiss. But Tristan said nothing, just began kissing along the line of Amory’s jaw. The light little kisses made him shiver and stifle another moan. Though they were in a back corner, away from the house, they were still in his family’s garden, and he didn’t want anyone finding them. They should go somewhere else. A nip to his earlobe made him shudder, and a nuzzling kiss under his ear drove the thought right out of his head.
He grabbed the back of Tristan’s neck and pulled his lips back to Amory’s own for another kiss. Tristan’s slightly larger frame still pressed him into the tree, but Amory took control of the kiss, deepening it and exploring Tristan’s mouth with his tongue. He nearly laughed when Tristan whimpered, loving his ability to provoke such a reaction in the other man. Tristan pulled back with a gasp, and they leaned there together, panting.
“I love kissing you,” Tristan gasped.
Relief exploded in Amory’s chest. Tristan hadn’t said he loved Amory. Tristan was his best friend, but even with all the kissing, Amory wasn’t in love with him. “Me too.”
Tristan grinned and dropped a quick kiss on Amory’s lips. “I want to do more.”
“M-more?” His cheeks heated at the stutter.
Tristan grinned and kissed him again. “Yep. More.”
Amory’s nerves didn’t abate at the confirmation, though he wasn’t sure where they came from. In all the time since that first awkward moment, they hadn’t done anything but kiss. Oh, they touched a little, but never on bare skin and never below the waist. They’d never discussed the concept of “more” before.
The idea did intrigue him. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t thought about what it would be like—he had. But imagining it and doing it were two separate things, and the idea of doing more with Tristan made him vaguely uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure why. They were best friends, and they’d come this far. There was no reason not to go a little farther.
Tristan watched him, his blue eyes intense and a little quizzical. How long had Amory stood there, not saying anything? He smiled past his nerves. “Like what?”
Tristan grinned, slow and wicked, and reached out to unfasten Amory’s pants without a word. Before Amory could protest, before he could decide whether he wanted to protest, Tristan had his hand inside Amory’s pants. He gripped him and began a tight, slow stroke. The feel of another man’s hand on him for the first time stole Amory’s breath, and when he got it back, all he could do was moan.
Tristan’s grin widened at the sound, and his hand sped up, working Amory faster. After a few moments standing there, struggling to breathe, Amory realized he wasn’t doing anything for Tristan. He scrambled to unfasten Tristan’s pants with fumbling fingers as Tristan whispered encouragement. Finally, Amory wrapped his hand around Tristan’s hard member and began to stroke him in time with Tristan’s strokes. It felt awkward at first, different from touching himself yet not so different, but Tristan didn’t voice any objections.
“Yes, yes, yes. Amory,” Tristan gasped into Amory’s ear.
It didn’t last long. Amory might have been embarrassed at how quickly he found his release if Tristan didn’t finish just as fast, spilling over Amory’s hand, and collapsing against him. He was glad of the tree at his back, rough bark and all, because his wobbly knees didn’t have a chance of holding both of them up.
He didn’t know what to think about what they’d done. He’d enjoyed it, but the uncomfortable feeling still plagued him. Before he could begin to analyze it, Tristan was chuckling, low at first, quiet in Amory’s ear, his body shaking against Amory’s chest. Tristan pulled back enough to look at him. His eyes sparkled with happiness, and Amory’s laughter bubbled up to join his friend’s.
The laughter eased the way as they fumbled for handkerchiefs, cleaned themselves up, and neatened their clothes again. Then they leaned against each other and the tree, still laughing a little. It was Amory who moved for another kiss. Both of them were grinning when their lips met, and they couldn’t seem to stop laughing as they kissed, as they kept kissing. But the laughter was soft and light, like the kisses, and Amory relaxed into them, wrapping his arms around Tristan. Telling himself he would think about everything later.
“Good afternoon, brother.”
The unexpected voice and its snide tone had Amory jerking away from the kiss. The back of his head thunked into the tree trunk behind him. Tristan jumped back, separating them much more effectively. Amory almost wished he hadn’t. The short distance between them seemed like a vast gulf, and Amory felt very alone as he straightened away from the tree and turned to face his older brother.
Alban’s handsome face was twisted in a sneer even more disgusted than the one he habitually wore when looking at Amory. He studied Amory and Tristan in silence while Amory struggled not to squirm. No use saying anything to Alban, he knew from bitter experience.
“Now I know why you wanted no part of that pretty little maid last week.” Disdain dripped from Alban’s every word. “You’re more of a disappointment than I thought. Worthless. How are you even my brother?”
With a shake of his head, Alban turned and strode away, likely heading directly for the house. Amory remained frozen for a long moment, not even blinking.
“He’s going to tell your father.” Tristan’s voice was flat, so different from its usual exuberant, almost musical quality. The shock of it broke Amory’s paralysis, and Amory turned to face him. Tristan still stared at the spot where Alban had stood.
“Yes, he is.” Amory ran a shaking hand through his hair and slumped back against the tree. Alban hadn’t hit him, which was a pleasant surprise, but the consequences were still going to be bad. How would Father react? With disappointment, certainly, but that was nothing new. Most likely with anger as well. However disgusted Alban was, their father would be ten times more so.
“Do you think they’ll tell my father?” Tristan turned fear-filled blue eyes on Amory.
“Tris.” Amory reached out. He couldn’t bear seeing him so afraid, and though he couldn’t say much to reassure him, he couldn’t stand by while Tristan was upset either.
But he stepped out of Amory’s reach. “Do you?”
Amory tried to hold back a flinch. “I don’t know.”
Tristan groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. “He can’t. I don’t know what my father will do if he finds out I prefer men. I’m his oldest son. I’m supposed to take over for him in the business, get married. Have sons to take over the family business after me.”
“You still can. All right, the children part would be difficult if you don’t marry someone who can carry them, but you can still take over the family business.” He didn’t bother mentioning that Tristan had four younger brothers and a younger sister. Surely at least one of them would have children someday who could inherit the family’s business if Tristan never had any of his own and his father insisted on an heir of their blood. But Tristan took his responsibilities as first son seriously. Too seriously. He wouldn’t want to hear that at the moment.
“Not if he disowns me.”
“Now you’re being dramatic. Preferring men is not illegal. It’s not wrong. Your father loves you. He’s proud of you, and you’ll be the same son he’s proud of after he finds out.”
“You don’t know that, Amory.”
No, he didn’t. But Tristan had a better chance of everything working out fine than Amory did. Tristan’s father was proud of his accomplishments, which was more than Amory could say.
“I may not, but I believe it will be all right. Don’t borrow trouble. My father and brother might be too busy killing me to remember to tell your father.”
Tristan huffed out a half laugh and whacked him on the shoulder. “Don’t joke about that.”
“Who’s joking?” Amory smiled crookedly. “Seriously, though, I do think everything will be all right with your father.” He took Tristan’s hand and squeezed and then let go before Tristan could pull away.
“Maybe. I need to go.”
“All right. I’ll see you soon.”
“See you.” Tristan slipped out of their little corner of the garden and was gone before Amory could get another word out. He tried not to think about how unsure Tristan’s parting words sounded. He didn’t want to lose Tristan. Not when he would likely need his friend more than ever.
He didn’t think Father would kill him, but he couldn’t rule out Father hitting him. It was partly why he was so surprised Alban hadn’t—his older brother was a perfect replica of their father in every way. But even without actual murder, Father could make Amory’s life miserable, and Amory wouldn’t be able to do anything until he came of age next week. A week seemed like a short time but was long enough for his father to…
He needed to think about his options. Father would never accept his preferences. Once his father knew, Amory’s time in his family’s house was limited. He hated to leave his younger siblings, especially Adeline, but he doubted he would have much of a choice. It might be best to leave before he was thrown out.
Sighing, he pushed himself away from the tree and started for the house. He hoped he could avoid Father long enough to spend a little time with Adeline and make some plans. And to get his hands to stop shaking.
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.
Genre: Fantasy Genre: Paranormal Genre: Romance Orientation: Gay Pairing: M/M Publisher: Nine Star Press Tag: Arranged Marriage Tag: Guest Post Tag: Part of a series Tag: Royality Tag: Shifter Antonia Aquilante Chronicles of Tournai series The Prince's Consort