“Hey, Fane!” Shelly barely knocked on the door before opening it with a crash.
Fane flinched at the woman’s blunt intrusion during his meditation time. “Good evening to you too, Shelly.”
She flounced onto his rug, her lavender skirts ballooning out on the antique red Persian. Bright eyes stared at him intently, keeping Fane from returning to his meditation.
“Nothing’s on fire, or else I would have got word on my com to come get Prince Orlov. So, you’re not in here for work. I think. It’s passed hours for you.” Fane twisted to pop his neck. Shelly winced.
“Ajay’s busy watching Ishan and the rest of the house is quiet. You’ve got permission for leave this evening, right? Off duty? Let’s go see the town.” She bounced happily.
Fane raised an eyebrow. She reminds me of a little sister who wants to play tea party. He pictured it, a slashing burn sheering through his left eye. Gritting his teeth, he faked a bemused smile. “And where would we go this late in the evening? I have a raid at midnight apparently.”
“A dance club!” She sprang up and grabbed her gold sequened clutch before she could step on it.
“Dance club? I don’t know how to dance!” Fane protested as she grabbed his warding hands.
“Perfect time to learn, bard. Let’s go.” She dragged him out of the room.
“Hold up! I’m not dressed for something like that.” He pointed out the white shirt and grey sweats he did have on.
“Not like I haven’t seen men clubbing in those kinds of clothes anyways,” she huffed.
“At least let me feel like I can blend in.” Fane reassured and returned to his room, clicking the door shut on Shelly. “And why me?”
“Have you met you in the last four months? Bro, you need to get laid,” she told him through the door.
“I beg your pardon!”
“You are tense. Tense doesn’t even count. You’re freaking grouchy.”
“And you think a dance club will yield better results?”
“I don’t have a single clue who you’d go for, but there should be options.” She emphasized the last word by sounding out the syllables. “Also, I’m freaking bored and haven’t had a nightlife night in months.”
“Give me a different good excuse, ‘cause I’m going to have to sign out and writing down ‘going to get laid’ is not something I want to leave with Zahar.” Fane rested a hand on his wardrobe door and thought for a quiet moment about the variety he had now been blessed with. Zephyr’s blazer came to mind.
The deviation in evening activities sounded like fun. It sounded better than sitting in his room for the next three hours desperately trying to meditate when his skin was playing tricks on him this evening.
It was worse today for some reason. All he had done all day was stand next to Ishan’s chair as the prince evaluated new court musicians. The drums particularly instigated the issue. The thumping in his chest had left him needing a different outlet. Meditation had not calmed it.
Maybe Shelly had a point.
He shucked himself out of his sweats and pulled on jeans and shirt. The necklace, bracelets, and socks from that one horrifying event followed in close order.
“What’s this about a dance club?” A lower octave voice reverberated through door as Fane slipped his shoes on and stumbled, knocking into the wardrobe door.
“Is everything alright?” Prince Orlov’s voice weasled down Fane’s spine.
He stared in terror at the blazer on the hanger. “Just fine!” The soldier turned bodyguard yanked the crushed velvet off the twisted metal and ran a hand through his hair to fluff it into shape. Slapping on his braces and belts, he tugged his shirt over a Glock at his back.
Hawklike amber eyes met him in the doorframe.
“Good evening, Mr Orlov. Can I be of service?” Fane stuttered. The man had changed from his usual cream daywear into an asymmetric shaliwar in a slate and steel grey metallic.
“Ajay mentioned Shelly wanted to go to a dance club. It’s been a week plus since I escaped the compound. So, I’m tagging along.” He reached in through the door and grabbed Fane’s wallet to slip into the inner pocket of the crushed velvet jacket.
“Is Ajay coming with?” Shelly beamed, looking around the hallway excitedly.
“Had to go change. He’ll be here shortly. Sent me down to meet with you. Said I needed to step away from papers for a bit.” Prince Orlov looked Fane up and down, a critical glint to his eye. “You look nervous.”
“Having flashbacks to a dinner party.” Fane eased out the door and locked it.
“The one where you ditched me?” Prince Orlov’s musing smirk reassured Fane.
“If I say I won’t call you an arrogant peacock tonight, will that make up for it?” Fane folded his arms across his chest.
“We’ll see.” Prince Orlov flicked a glance at Shelly and approaching footsteps. Ajay emerged down the hall from the Prince’s apartment in a plain grey teeshirt and dark jeans.
They walked down the stairs, used to Fane’s quark. In the side lobby leading to the garage, he signed out the group, leaving in it that they were escorting the Prince for an evening out with an unexpected time back.
“Shelly, did this place have a dress code?” Fane asked at the door, rethinking his jacket with the sudden plume of cold humidity coming off the jamb.
“Keep it on. It looks good on you.” Prince Orlov whispered low enough to evade Shelly, who was filling Ajay in on the plan.
Feathers brushed up the bodyguard’s shoulders. “What about the press? Do you need a disguise of some sort?” Fane whispered back. This would be his first time in a relaxed public atmosphere with the prince. He shrugged, wishing for some space to stop feeling the prince’s heat crawling across his back. Opening the door, he ushered his three charges through.
“I’m the playboy my parents use as a distraction to keep the heir looking like a shiny idol, remember?” Ishan pushed his hair back off his shoulder in emphasis. “This is just par for the course.”
“You sound rather nialistic tonight, Prince.” Fane eased up to Ishan’s side as they walked through the garage to find a car. Ajay and Shelly had fallen into a quiet discussion several yards behind.
“A lot on my mind with what’s coming up this week. Lots of paperwork to get filed. I feel like blowing steam. We’ve got the raid to come back to, but there’s something about getting out of here every so often.” He waved down the valet and sent the man off for a key.
Ajay, catching the hint, came up to Prince Orlov and asked a question about a car. Prince Orlov pointed to an antique pearl white Rolls Royce with white walls.
“Tell me the glass is at least bulletproof.” Fane eased in on the right of Prince Orlov in the back seat. Ajay took the steering wheel, and Shelly clambered into the passenger seat.
“I’d trust it to keep me safe more than Ajay’s driving.” Prince Orlov grabbed Fane’s hand, his skin going ashen as the vehicle peeled out of the garage.
“Why do you all let this mad man drive? I am plenty quala-woah!” Fane grabbed for the passenger seat and held on tighter to Ishan’s hand as they turned out of the compound and merged into the speeding traffic that was Tri-Amritstar after dark. “Nope, nevermind, I ain’t driving that. Ajay, don’t kill us!”
Twenty minutes of terror and near misses later, they eased into a luxury parking garage in the district Fane had been taken to for clothing. “I’m not sure I want to ever leave the palace again if I keep repeating this experience.” Fane waited for his stomach to settle. He only became aware of his grip on Ishan’s hand when the man finally let go. “Oh! Sorry, didn’t – didn’t realize.”
Ishan ignored the apology and followed Fane out of the car quietly.
The bass system of the dance club reverberated through the garage, a muffled tone in the soles of Fane’s shoes. “Gonna regret not bringing earplugs,” he muttered to himself and opened the red fire door to the stairwell. “Up or down, Shelly?”
“Up two. It’s got a three-story centre with big skylights. It’s kind of interesting for a dance club. Most are usually very cramped; this one is post-modern minimalist chic and used for weddings during the day.” She swished past, the click of her mauve heals shifting from dull to crisp from the concrete stairway to the fake wood in the hallway.
“Ever been here, Prince Orlove?” Fane drew up on the right of the man while Ajay took up position on the left. His employer had turned reserved and stoic in the last few weeks since the incident with the queen. It had eventually gotten back through Shelly that the photos had been of Fane and Ishan at the gala.
“A couple of times. There are private rooms in the two-story balcony that we can use for drinks.” His face was still stuck in monotone, not giving Fane a hint on if the prince was irritated or not. It left an uneasy sensation in the pit of the bodyguard’s stomach.
A line of dazzling people turned as the prince, and his enterouge approached. Avoiding it, Ishan Orlov walked past, plastering on an immaculate smile, a politician’s smile. He greeted some of the people in line, shook hands, and took pictures with a few.
Fane mimicked Ajay’s method of standing off to the side enough to not be captured in the photos but helped break off physical contact from those who lacked enough common etiquette to know to let go. “Let’s get you inside, Prince.”
“Have Ajay find me something to drink when we get in,” Orlov whispered in Fane’s ear as they bypassed the bouncer.
“Yes, Prince.” Fane ducked as the door opened and the full bass hit him in the chest. Air pressure built a waiver in his lungs like he was already two drinks in himself.
Clocking the DJ and the opposing bar, he signalled Ajay and Shelly, who went to obtain drinks. Turning, Fane pulled in closer to the prince, slipping a hand around his lower back. He shifted him to the empty walkway that circled the dance floor to direct the man toward the marble floors leading to the second and third floors. “You wanted one of the private rooms? Who do we talk to for reserving one?”
“There’s a hostess on the second and host on the third.” Ishan nodded toward a cherry wood podium under a dim banker’s lamp on the second-floor landing. A small woman with waist-length black hair and a second woman of similar stature and a matched skin-tight pink mini dress both smiled at them.
“Where do you want to be?” Fane glanced out over the dance floor from midway up the second-floor staircase. He counted eight men prowling that could turn problematic. Security was tight enough, though. Fane spotted a handful of uniformed and another two handfuls of plain-clothed who might be.
“Your choice.” Prince Orlov’s amber eyes drew along Fane’s face, causing the bodyguard to trip on a riser.
Clearing his throat, Fane stalled for a moment. Questions flooded his brain as he worked on sussing out if this was a test or if the prince just wanted someone else to make choice for him tonight. Glancing up to the third floor, he spotted the hosts in slim black waistcoats and matching slicked-back hair.
At the landing, he smiled kindly at the hostess as they greeted him and Prince Orlov. “A third-floor private room for four?”
“Will that be with a stage, table service, or a drink pass?” The hostess asked, tapping at a holo-screen with manicured gold nails.
Flicking a glance to the prince, who failed to hide a slight rise to one eyebrow, Fane swallowed. He had no clue how expensive the rooms were or how this would get written off on statements. The man looked overly tired, though. Making up his mind, he slipped on his mask of aloof demeanour. “Stage, with table service. Corner privacy with access to the stairs if possible.”
“You want 3A?” The woman checked as she flicked through tabs.
“That the one next to the hosts up there?” He reached into his jacket to pull out his wallet.
“They’ll take your card and open a tab upstairs. Yes, that is 3A. The other two members of your party?”
“They’re grabbing a first round of drinks.” Prince Orlov explained.
“Right. When they get upstairs, the hosts will give them wristbands that will designate what room they’re in and give them discounts at the bar. Have them present a receipt, and Stephan will have the reimbursement credited to the tab.”
“Thank you.” Fane ducked in an augmented bow and guided Prince Orlov up to the third floor.
“I’ll set the tab on my card,” Ishan greeted the host at the top of the stairs, an easy smile flicking between the two men. A smoulder built behind Fane’s lungs at the look, and he regretted the decisions he’d made.
The corner room’s floor-length windows looked out over the city lights of Tri-Amritsar, and plush plum curtains circled around the other walls. A small stage and pole took up one corner, and a low table and pair of massive leather couches took up the opposing side. A minibar sat next to the door for easy refilling. The one-way glass door to the private room did nothing to cut the bass.
“It’ll be a while before Ajay gets here.” Fane checked his watch for messages from his work partner.
“He say how long?” Ishan sank into the middle of the couch that let him have a view of the skyline.
Fane asked and waited for a reply. It buzzed in short order. “He says it’ll be long enough for you to probably order pizza and get it delivered. Should I just send them up here?”
“No, I think Shelly and Ajay wanted this time for themselves. I turned this into a third wheel issue.” Ishan lay a hand over his eyes and slouched back against the couch’s headrest.
“Going to do a round.” Fane twirled a finger to indicate the room.
The prince waved the man to his job. Fane checked behind curtains and under the tables then ran a frequency wand in his holo-screen’s protective case across the surfaces to check for bombs or bugs. Finding nothing of interest other than a couple missed coins and bobby pins, he returned to stand in front of his employer.
“You got a headache? You gonna be okay? I can get you out of here if this isn’t where you want to be right now.” Fane tossed a thumb over his shoulder toward the door.
“Why’d you decide on the third floor?” Ishan caught Fane up in a glance beneath his hand.
“Eye candy.” Fane studied the host’s thin figure behind the door glass.
“You sampling? I thought…” Ishan laid his hand back over his eyes and sagged.
“Thought you might perk up.” Fane shrugged.
Ishan put his arm down with a thud and regarded the bodyguard with a confused look. “And that?” He pointed at the stage.
Fane studied the prince openly until the man put down his hand.
“What?” Ishan crossed his arms, closing himself off.
“And Shelly told me I needed to get laid,” Fane muttered.
Ishan’s face mottled a shade of pale pink as his mouth gaped open and closed to try to formulate a snappish reply. “You!”
Fane shrugged, the beat of the music shifting to a new tempo. “Not quite what you want? We don’t have to have anyone come in and perform if that doesn’t make you comfortable. Was just an idea. Also meant that we were closer to the stairs in case I had to get you out of here quickly. The one below was having a bachelorette party.”
“You throw a fit at me kissing you and calling your masculinity into question a few months ago, but you put me up here knowing my preferences and not having an issue with that. The hell, man?” Ishan stood and stocked Fane, crowding his space. “You’re swaying. You high on something? I didn’t see you take anything.”
“Nope. Drunk on the music. The private suite got me out of the lights, or it would be worse. Forgot to grab a pair of earplugs to turn the volume down a bit.” Fane knew he was being more blunt than usual, but the hi-hat skittered through his skin, and all he wanted to do was float on the bass drop.
“You? You get drunk on music?” Ishan scoffed.
“It’s a high sensitivity thing. Some people have it. Learned it the hard way a while back. Give me five minutes on the dance floor, and the night will vanish out from underneath me. As it is, I’m acting as bodyguard right now, so I sort of need my wits about me.” Fane’s endorphin rush sank into his toes, enveloping him in a comfortable warmth. “I’m not partial to being used for personal gain. Says the bodyguard, though. So, if I lit into your side for kissing me like that out of the blue in front of everyone and not explaining in a way that didn’t sound like an excuse…”
“Why’d you agree to a dance club if you knew it’d make you like this? Wait. Is this what the nerve gear picked up on? Why you ended up being the bard? ‘Cause you can get drunk on dance club vibes?” Long fingers hesitated at Fane’s waist before drawing him closer into Ishan’s warmth.
Fane didn’t protest, instead falling deeper into the music. “Musicians from earlier today started it.” He didn’t fight it when Ishan turned him to blanket his back as the beat reverberated through both of them.
“Hey, some days, some people just want to get a bit wasted and have a change of pace. At least mine isn’t going rot my braincells.” Fane leaned his head back against Ishan’s shoulder.
“So, why are you letting me get away with this now?”
“The way you look at me, I’d be afraid for people’s safety from you if I went downstairs and danced with anyone else. My inhibitions are gone. Shit. I need to be paying attention.” Fane acknowledged the problem, but neither moved to disengage from their movement.
“You’re off duty, Ajay’s on. Not like anyone is getting close to me like this. That’d be suicide getting between us now, says that gun pressing against my abs.” Ishan slipped a hand around Fane’s chin, pulling his face in for a deep kiss. Tongues sparked fire. “Anyone?”
“I’m not overly picky when I’m like this.”
“Interesting. Should I keep you away from Ajay and Shelly?”
“Stupid music makes me cuddly as fuck, so yeah, probably.” Fane pushed a hand through his hair, wishing the air conditioner was better.
“What’ll happen if I put some guy on that stage?” Ishan’s hands played magic across Fan’s ribcage.
“Not much, just frustration that neither you nor I probably want to go home to tonight. Not with me trying to focus on some dragon.”
“I’m frustrated already.”
“I’d rather watch you over any man, Shona.”
“Shona?” Fane drowned against the heat of Ishan’s lips.
“I’m not blond.”
“No, but you are precious to me,” Ishan confided, moving away from his fixation with Fane’s lips to kiss along the man’s jaw. “See me as something precious to you.”
“You aren’t a thing, Beithe.”
“Turn of face. What’s it mean?” Ishan whispered in Fane’s ear, pulling the petite man’s body closer as the music shifted.
“Gold and silver?”
“You caught on to my meaning,” Fane chuckled, a relaxed smile spreading easily. Ishan’s fingers tightened against the bodyguard’s hip.
A knock at the door broke the magic, separating the two in a panic. The endorphin high abated momentarily for Fane to realize what had happened to him. Horror escaped his quickly plastered mask of professionalism. “I’m so sorry, Prince, that was improper of me.”
“Don’t apologize,” Ishan warned.
The door opened. “Who wanted drinks?” Shelly walked in triumphantly with a pitcher of a questionable pink slushy substance, followed closely by Ajay with cups. “You alright, Fane? You look plastered.”
“Could say that. I’m not drinking.” He waved off a cup Ajay offered.
“Aw. Is it just going to be Mr Orlov and myself then?” Shelly looked between the two bodyguards.
“How stiff is it?” Ishan took a glass from Ajay and held it out for Shelly to pour.
“Very.” Fane whispered behind Ishan’s back as he walked around the man to the mini fridge and fished out a bottle of water.
“Wait, he knows how to do innuendos?” Shelly crowed.
“Only when the music is this good.” Fane downed the glass bottle and set it in the refill station.
“This what you needed? A DJ? The court musicians not up to your level?” Ishan sank back into the couch with a filled glass in hand, a smirk playing at the corner of his lips.
“The drummers weren’t terrible.” Fane flopped on the other couch, well out of Ishan’s touching distance and with a safety position to the door.
“That why you looked spaced out most of the day? I was wondering what had gotten into you.” Ishan took a deep swig.
“As I said, just needed a pair of earplugs. Defusers would have done the trick.” He raised a shoulder.
“I didn’t know you did casual outside of your nerve gear.” Ajay raised a water bottle in Fane’s direction.
“Am I working right now?” Fane tapped a toe to the next song the DJ threw onto the system.
“Even when you aren’t working you aren’t like this!” Shelly protested.
“You want me to go back to how I usually am? That’d be a true headache right now, and hard to do. So, what now? Shoot the breeze, break out a card deck? Hire a stripper?” Fane relaxed into the evening.
“Is he hot?” Shelly asked, eyes bright. Ajay said something to her, and they proceeded into a jovially heated conversation. “Wait, you’re not serious!” she protested when the man walked out.
“What happened? He get mad at a joke?” Fane regarded the broad man with a level of nonchalant interest.
“I think he went to find a dancer.” Her eyes had gone large, fingers at her glossed lips.
“Ajay? A dancer?” Ishan raised an eyebrow.
Fane flicked a glance at the prince, hoping for a way out. Ishan downed the rest of his drink and set the glass on the table. “I’ll be back.” He twisted his head to indicate for Fane to lead out of the room.
The door closed behind the men. “Restroom’s on the first floor behind the bar area.” Fane counted the heads of every person on the third-floor balcony before sweeping a gaze across those he could on the second balcony.
“I’m thinking this was a bad idea.” Ishan confided as they descended.
“Want me to let Ajay know, and we’ll get out of here? Just chill at your apartment before game?” Fane asked at the second-floor landing.
“No. Yes. I don’t know. I’m just not in the mood for some things. Know what I mean?” The man sighed, sagging into the vibration of the building.
“I can’t agree to be anything other than your bodyguard, Prince.” Fane put the man to the far side of the stairs near the safety of the wall.
“Why not?” Ishan paused at the bottom of the flight.
“It’s not in my pay grade.” Fane tested the edge of the crowd, debating with himself.
“You aren’t under obligation right now, remember? It’s your night off. Be a bit human.”
“Is that something you want to see?”
“Honestly, yeah, that sounds good. Might lift a bit of my mood at the very least. You?”
“And the photos that’ll be back to your mom?”
“She said I had no reputation for the family. What will it do to her anymore than tick her off about the same thing I’ve already been yelled at for?”
“You going to be alright with your own reputation then?”
“If it means seeing you smile like you did.” Honey-shaded eyes held a spark behind them.
“I stay here much longer, I won’t remember this evening.” Fane nodded at the dance floor, weighing options.
“You really won’t? It’s a legit thing for you?” The prince glanced between the dance floor and the DJ.
“Getting drunk on music? Yeah. If you get overstimulated by noise in general, this kind of thing can be like six shots of tequila without the slurring, and you just get lost in the flow. Makes all the stupid to-do lists and worries disappear because there’s no room for anything else other than the rhythm. Might wake up with a headache in the morning like a regular hangover.”
“I can’t tell if that’s pleasant or not.”
“There’s probably a good reason I don’t go looking for this type of entertainment on my own.”
“Then why are you walking me toward it?” The prince wound his fingers in Fane’s.
“Shut up for a while, Ishan, and come be a bit human with me.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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