This stop is for 2 books by the fabulous author Allison West
To love is to destroy oneself or that which you love. Happiness is a mere memory in times of anguish. There were days Prince Aaron despised his father, the king of Brayleigh. He was a force of nature, like a hurricane that swept in and stole the women he desired. No prince could deny the king a courtesan of his own, even if it meant losing one of his girls.
Aaron had learned how the game had been played. Every month he'd been forced to give up a love to acquire a virgin. Perhaps if he didn't fall so hard every time, it would be easier.
The monthly festival always came quick, and with less than two days to choose who would leave the palace, Aaron felt his heart pulsate and his stomach tense. There were many decisions he could make, but forcing a woman he had loved away was a horrendous task to ask of anyone. Every month he swore not to fall for another virgin that offered herself to him, but she would always be appealing and interested, making him desire her even more.
He needed time away from the palace. With twelve gorgeous courtesans that gave him everything he could desire, who would he send away? He tried not to think about the life they'd be subjected to. It wasn't a secret that the women weren't sent home to their families. The Courtesan Slave Trade had prospered tremendously and the thought made Aaron physically ill. Most courtesans found themselves subject to the black market, traded as a slave for the most affluent buyer, unless other arrangements were made. His girls deserved a better send off.
For months he'd been forced against his wishes to choose a courtesan to leave the palace. Though difficult, he'd chosen the older and least desirable to him, preferring young virgin women. He'd snuck the girls out during the night, helping aide in their escape. They deserved to be happy. If King Gideon ever discovered what Aaron had been up to, the punishment would be atrocious. Aaron would have to make sure no one said a word. He could trust his older brother James, but August would take any chance he had to get on his father's good side. Aaron didn't know how Henry would react. His brothers all enjoyed the monthly allotment of women and the royal harem.
Aaron slipped out of the room, leaving Celeste sound asleep on his bed. He needed someplace to think and that wasn't in the palace with the girls sucking up so that they wouldn't be sent away. Didn't they know he'd spare their life? He had assured them that their future with him was always safe and secure, whether he was their prince or lover.
He trudged down the stairwell, a pair of keys in his hands. He made it to the bottom of the stairs, and with his hand on the door, he caught sight of his father at the opposite end of the hall.
"Shit," he cursed under his breath, unable to get away without being seen. It wasn't as though he didn't have permission to leave freely, however, it had been frowned upon. If he wanted to leave the palace, he needed to take a driver and a guard or two with him. Aaron wanted neither of those to accompany him on his journey. Drivers and guards couldn't keep secrets. He'd learned that in the past and wasn't going to make the same distinctive mistake again.
"Where are you off to?" King Gideon asked, strolling across the marble floor. He paused directly in front of Aaron, waiting to hear his answer.
Aaron shoved the keys into his pocket, hoping his father hadn't noticed. "Does it matter?" He'd always walked a fine line of obeying his father and doing what he felt was right.
"I asked you a question," his father said. The king's tone was short and abrupt, reminding Aaron that he was not yet in charge.
Aaron knew he'd never be king, and he'd grown accustomed to that fact and had been fine with it. He recognized that he didn't have to be king to change the world. Not that he felt it needed a lot of changing, just bits and pieces. He didn't agree with how his father handled the disposal of courtesans. They were people not trash. Did he not realize that, or more likely he just didn't care.
"Out," Aaron said. "I need to think." He also had to make the arrangements for transporting the courtesan out of the palace without drawing suspicion. It didn't happen without intricate planning.
"Don't waste too much of your time among those outside," Gideon said. "We drew walls around our home for a reason."
Aaron breathed out through his nostrils, trying to remain calm. He restrained himself from shooting an insult that would get him belted by his father.
"Of course, Father," Aaron said. He brushed by the king of Brayleigh and made a swift exit outside for the car.
From the corner of his gaze, Aaron caught sight of movement along the side of the vehicles, ducking just below the window not to be seen. Whoever it was hadn't done a great job of hiding. Had a guard been assigned to him on protective detail? Aaron could lose whoever followed him. It wouldn't be the first time he'd escaped the men from the palace. He knew they'd be too ashamed to admit defeat to his father, which made the challenge into a game for Aaron. How quickly could he lose the guards that followed the vehicle he drove?
With the keys in hand, he approached the door to the silver sports car and the handle automatically unlocked. Aaron climbed into the front seat and pressed the button on the dashboard to roll down the top of the vehicle. The sun shined and the air felt warm enough to enjoy the fact it was a convertible. The car had some age but it barely passed as an antique. His father would have a fit if he knew which car Aaron took. Why keep it if no one would drive it though? Perhaps with a heavy ounce of permission and a driver, Aaron would have been able to sit in the passenger seat, top up.
Aaron had been given driving lessons but that had been more out of sheer curiosity. His father had no knowledge of the instructions or practice trips to the black market with the driver. The lesson had been a secret gift, but for what reason? Aaron recognized people could be nice, but they never gave without wanting something later in return, even if it was a favor. As a prince of Brayleigh, he had to be careful what he promised.
Aaron started the engine and slowly lurched forward, waiting for the exit at the gate allowing him to leave. From the rearview mirror, he watched a dark blue sedan pull out from the parking lot. The only cars on the premises were those owned by the royal family.
Without a doubt, Aaron watched the guard follow him from the palace. He inched forward through the gate and then pressed the pedal down to the floor, speeding away from the palace onto the paved road. There were a few roads that were kept in moderate condition for the royal family. Most had been abandoned, much like cars.
Aaron hugged the curves of the road, refusing to slow as the road winded farther from the palace.
"Where are we heading?" a soft feminine voice asked, popping herself up from the almost non-existent backseat. There wasn't much room. She laid on the seat, a black blanket covering her, blending into the seat.
His eyes widened and heart leapt as he glanced back at the blonde haired, blue eyed beauty.
"What the hell are you doing, Celeste?" Aaron asked.
"I wanted to be with you," she said. "You always sneak off from the palace, and I thought you wouldn't mind the company. Where are we going?"