Read Winter's Bees Online

Authors: E. E. Ottoman

Tags: #Gay romance, steampunk, fantasy

Winter's Bees

Table of Contents

Title Page

Book Details

Winter's Bees

About the Author

Winter's Bees
E.E. Ottoman

Lord Marcel de la Mont de Anges, the Marquis de Montespan is a brilliant mathematician, member of the mechanical animation movement and all around dandy. He's been in love with shy, quiet entomologist and youngest member of the royal family, Prince Gilbert André XVI, since they were children. The Emperor's plans to arrange a marriage between Marcel and Gilbert should have been the answer to all his secret fantasies.

But Gilbert is still reeling from a nasty breakup, and he cannot picture the man he regards as a brother becoming his lover. The order to marry has thrown their relationship into disorder, and if they cannot sort out the changes there may not even be a friendship left for them to save…

Book Details

Winter's Bees

Mechanical Universe 3

By E.E. Ottoman

Published by Less Than Three Press LLC

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.

Edited by Amanda Jean

Cover designed by Aisha Akeju

This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.

First Edition February 2015

Copyright © 2015 by E.E. Ottoman

Printed in the United States of America

Digital ISBN 9781620045053

Winter's Bees

"No." Gilbert paced back across the floor of the small library.

"I thought you would be pleased." Henri-André V leaned back, making his desk chair creak under his weight. His tone was mild and slightly amused as he regarded his youngest son. "I have tried to take your feelings and wishes into account in every step of this process. I am not necessitating that you marry a woman, as you prefer men. The Marquis de Montespan is a good friend of yours, someone you have known for a very long time, someone you like. I do not understand why you would object so stringently to the match."

Gilbert stopped in front of his father's writing desk.
I am not ready to marry, much less marry someone I don't love
, seemed like such a childish thing to say. He wanted to nonetheless. "He already has a lover."

Henri-André gave him a look that clearly meant
do not act the fool when I know you are not
. "This is a political match, dearest." Henri-André spoke as if Gilbert were still a very young child. "I am well aware the Marquis de Montespan and the Duke de Broglie are lovers. But Gilbert the Marquis de Montespan is a very good-looking man who, when he is in the capital, never misses a chance to attend the latest ball, party, or soiree. He most likely will always have a lover or even more than one. Is fidelity something you really desire? Because if so ..."

"I know." Gilbert turned away and paced to the window, looking out. It had begun to snow, dusting the stones of courtyard in white. "This is a political match, any marriage I am apart of will be a political match, and within an arranged marriage I have no legal right to demand monogamy from my partner." His hands clenched at his sides, memories of Tristan and their last fight threatening to rise up and engulf him.

"Nor social right either," Henri-André said. "The ideal is for you to be cordial with each other, but these are not love matches."

"I know," Gilbert said again.

"I want my children to be happy." Henri-André stood and moved around the table to stand beside Gilbert at the window. "I want all of you to marry men and women you consider friends. Those you will be happy with, will be able to build strong households with, be able to sit and talk and laugh with. But I cannot promise you love; I can promise you your husband's fidelity in politics and business, but not in your bedchamber and not in his heart."

"I don't love Marcel." Gilbert held up his hand before Henri-André could object. "He is one of my best friends, but I don't love him in a romantic way. Marcel and Julian, though, they are both from good families, and titled. If they were to marry each other it would be a good political match, and a love match. I'm not denying one of my best friends that. Especially when I can't offer it in return."

"His mother has already agreed to the engagement." Henri-André turned away from the window. "If the Marquis objects, or if you can think of a better reason why this would be a poor match for you, I will reconsider my decision."

Gilbert stared at his father's back for a few moments and then bent in a small bow. "Of course."

Henri-André sighed and went to sit back at his desk. "Be happy, Gilbert. There are a lot worse marriages you could be facing."

"I know." He felt like that was all he'd said today.

Henri-André waved his hand in dismissal, head already bent over the stack of papers on his desk.

Gilbert let himself out and headed down the hallway from Henri-André's wing of the palace towards his own.

His library was much like Henri-André's most private one; small but with large windows to let in the light and bookshelves built into every wall. The spaces not covered with bookshelves held his collection of scientific sketches of insects.

With a sigh, Gilbert sat behind his desk, staring pensively at a giant king beetle from the southern desert. The insect was the size of both his fists put together. It was preserved with expert care, mounted and placed within a tall domed glass case that sat on Gilbert's desk. The sunlight caught the iridescent blue in the beetle's shell.

He was going to marry Marcel. Really, he should be happier about this than he was. Marcel had been a good friend of his since he'd been, what—six or seven? Marcel was a good man, brilliant in his own right, who loved parties, fancy clothes, good food. He was well titled, and Henri-André was right; they would be able to run a good household together. Marcel could handle their public image, sweet-talking people at court and prospective investors, while Gilbert concentrated on his studies and handling their finances.

Yes, he should have been pleased.

Unbidden, the memory of Tristan rose before his mind's eye. Gilbert shook his head to dispel it before standing and pacing to the window.

Tristan left and wasn't coming back. He knew that, he'd accepted it.

What was wrong with him? Gilbert scrubbed one hand across his face. Henri-André was right—this was a good match. A year ago, he would have even jumped at the idea; better Marcel than some noble he barely knew. Things were different now. Gilbert felt his heart ache and barely resisted the urge to bang his head against the windowpane. A year ago, Gilbert hadn't really understood what it felt like to be in love, and now he wasn't going to take the possibility of a love match away from Marcel without Marcel's consent.

If Marcel wanted a marriage with Julian, he could have that. The clouds outside the window shifted, causing his reflection to appear in the glass, and Gilbert turned away. Even if Marcel didn't want a marriage with Julian, Gilbert could hardly imagine Marcel would choose him. He wasn't hideous, but when people were being generous they would say he was plain to look at. Those who were not generous, his bothers for instance, called him ugly, plain and simple. He was short with a build that was sturdy without being muscular. His facial features were wide and rather squashed-looking, his hair straight, fine, and unremarkably brown. Like the rest of his face, his mouth was too wide, especially when he frowned—which had earned him the nickname of The Frog Prince as a child. And as if that was not enough to make him not much of a catch he was also the youngest son.

As Henri-André had said, Marcel was beautiful. He was rich and the heir to his house and title. Gilbert would hardly be his first choice, no matter that they were friends. Still, as Henri-André had also pointed out, it was a political marriage. Marcel could still have as many lovers as he wanted. The thought made him feel sick inside, even though he did not want to rob Marcel of being with someone who thought of him as a lover rather than be tied to someone by duty. Still, the idea of being anyone's husband for show while they slept with an indeterminate number of people on the side made him think of Tristan, made him think of the things Tristan had said.

Gilbert slammed his fist against the top of his desk. He needed to let it go. Tristan was gone, and he needed to move on. One ill-thought-out tryst should not paralyze him like this. If anything, it made him angry that Tristan should still have that kind of power over him.

He needed to move on with his life and perform his duties as prince. Which meant that if Marcel did for some reason agree to this marriage, then Gilbert would at least try to make it work.

The marriage would be good for the both of them. Or at least that was what he needed to keep telling himself.

*~*~*

Marcel barely had time to reorient himself to the empire's capital city; Challant on the river, before the summons from the palace came.

At least he'd managed to get a good night's sleep, bathe, shave, and unpack the smallest of his travel trunks. Then he was being helped back into a carriage that headed through the city streets, on his way to meet the emperor.

Once at the palace, he was ushered into a small sitting room with several silk upholstered couches. There was a very large painting of a half-nude woman prominently displayed. The lady in the painting was looking off into the distance while behind her waves rose and crashed in an ocean view.

Marcel set his cane aside, eased himself down onto one of the couches, and stared at the painting. It was by Lady Pataude, if he was not mistaken. The model was her longtime lover, Lady Sárköz. He'd met them both once at a party. Lady Sárköz had been lovely, effervescent and charming, while Lady Pataude had been much more reserved and a little stand-offish, artists, Marcel supposed. 

The far door at the end of the room opened, and Henri-André V stepped in.

"Marcel!" He held out his arms, face lighting into a wide smile when he saw him. "You look well."

"I am well, Majesty." Marcel grinned back, reaching for his cane and making to stand, but Henri-André waved him back down. Henri-André went to him, bending slightly, and kissed him on both cheeks.

"Now, now, none of that." Henri-André pulled back, still clasping Marcel's face between his hands. "I can remember when you were pretending to be pirates and soldiers with the girls, back when you were all just little things."

Marcel smiled. "Henri-André, then."

"That's better." Henri-André let go and sat on the couch opposite him. "Actually, I wanted to speak with you about Gilbert."

"Oh?"

"Yes, you see," Henri-André was looking at him, expression serious now, "I have decided that you two should marry."

"What?" Marcel blinked, tried to fully grasp the significant of what Henri-André had just said, and failed.

"I have spoken with your mother and she agrees this would be a good match," Henri-André said. "Besides, you and Gilbert get on well, always have, and your personalities and interests seem very compatible."

Marry. Marry Gilbert. Marcel wasn't really sure what was going on. It was too much like a dream. In fact, he was fairly certain he'd had this exact dream more than once.

"I will, however, respect your wishes on this issue, and take them into account," Henri-André finished.

Marcel opened and closed his mouth several times, then swallowed hard. "I ... yes, yes, I think we would make a fine match."

"Good." Henri-André beamed and slapped one leg. "Then we will have a small engagement ceremony, here at the palace in a few weeks, and announce it at the Christmas ball. Now, if you will excuse me, I have another appointment. But I'm sure you want to catch up with Gilbert anyway, discuss the engagement ceremony and how you want to announce it at the ball."

"Yes, I would like to speak with Gilbert if he's free." Marcel reached for his cane and stood. He still felt off balance by the entire conversation. This could not possibly be happening; it was so close to scenarios Marcel had fantasied about for far too long. Half of him was still convinced that he would walk out the sitting room door to find this had all been a dream.

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