Authors: Danielle Bourdon
Tags: #Contemporary Romance, #New Adult & College, #Mystery & Suspense, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction, #Suspense, #royals
King and Kingdom
Published by Wildbloom Press
Copyright © 2013
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
For Sandy Bourdon, who had more of an
influence on my life than she will ever know.
Chey stared at the door to the Queen's private parlor with trepidation and a niggle of fear. Was she about to get fired? Kicked out of the castle? Any number of things might happen, none of them good. Three days had passed since the attempt on Chey's life. Three days since she had decided to remain in Latvala and allow the heir of the throne to court her. The decision was not without risk and consequence, the latter of which she was about to become intimately familiar. For the Queen surely summoned her here to lambast her for the treachery she was foisting upon the Royal family.
Who knew dating could be so hazardous to one's health?
Smoothing her palms over her outfit, Chey glanced down at the pale pink pencil skirt and modest short coat. It was fashionable, sensible, and suitable for a meeting with Royalty. The three inch nude heels she wore with it were understated and plain.
Just then, she wished it was a suit of armor, capable of deflecting the Queen's scathing looks and viper tongue.
But it wasn't, and so, taking a deep breath, Chey knocked on the door.
“Come,” said a regal, bored sounding voice from inside.
She's just a woman, not a God. Don't let her scare you.
Chey opened the door, stepped in, and closed it behind her. The latch caught with a quiet click. Resisting the urge to reach up and fix an escaped lock of dark hair, Chey turned around.
As ever, when she entered any private domain of the Royals, Chey was struck by the opulence. Light peach and cream was the color scheme, with gold accents on frames, furniture and chandeliers. Painted in the style of an old master, the middle of the ceiling sported a scene of an expansive sky and half draped humans in dramatic poses. Crown molding surrounded it, like one gigantic frame. It was nothing less than breathtaking.
The parlor itself was the size of a small house, with a roaring fireplace against one wall and a balcony accessible through one of four French doors.
Queen Helina Ahtissari sat in a wingback chair with a drink in her hand. Cool and aloof, the woman with dark hair and equally dark eyes wore her middle age well; whether it was by nature or the edge of a blade was difficult to tell. A few defining wrinkles creased her forehead and the corners of her down-turned mouth. Crows feet added personality, rather than charm. The expensive gown of pale grey brought to mind myths from ancient Greece, with fine gold rope wrapping Helina's modest waist and hips.
“Your Highness.” Chey decided to dip the Queen a curtsy, even if it went against her grain. She hadn't been raised to show subservience to people, only respect after it was earned. Still, she was in
country, and she gave the Queen her due.
Helina looked unimpressed. Using the wine glass, she gestured to a less grand chair positioned opposite her own. With a thick accent she said, “Have a seat.”
Not please, or will you.
Chey stepped over to the seat and sat on the edge. She didn't want to recline and even try to get comfortable. Comfort in this woman's presence was impossible.
“Thank you,” Chey said. She waited, maintaining eye contact with Helina.
The Queen took her time getting to the point. She studied Chey as if she was an insect that had just crawled out from under the carpet and was determining the most expedient process of eradication.
“Let me be frank and to the point,” Helina said. “No matter how close you get with my son, Prince Dare, there will, and can
be, anything more between you than occasional lovers. If you have visions of crowns and thrones swimming around your young head, I suggest you banish them now.”
Taken aback at the blunt assessment, Chey rested her palms on her knees and fought down a flash of anger. “I have no designs on a title. But I will not lie and say that I'll ignore Sander—Dare—for the duration of my contract. What happens between your son and myself is our business--”
“No, child, it is not
your business.” Helina interrupted Chey without apology or remorse. “You understand nothing of Kingdoms and the Monarchy. We are centuries strong, this family, and one little hellion from America will not displace us from our course. We have signed the contract, true, and it is not our way to break our word. But I will do exactly that and send you back to your homeland if I so much as suspect that you're attempting to finagle your way deeper into Dare's life. Have your fling, your wild nights.” Helina flicked her fingers dismissively. “Also understand a relationship as you know it will not happen.”
The contract, which tethered Chey to the country of Latvala and the Royal family for four months, was a legally binding document. Chey had it checked before she'd departed the United States. Here to professionally photograph the Royals through the encroaching seasons, she was not due to depart Latvala until February. However, she also knew there was language contained within that the Royals could use under duress to release themselves from fulfilling their end of the deal.
“I am here first and foremost to work. That's my main focus,” Chey said, deciding to side-step any mention of a relationship. She and Sander agreed she would see the contract through to the end and at the same time, see where their attraction led. Nothing more, nothing less.
Helina regarded her in silence for a full minute. She sat forward a few inches and cocked her chin just so. “Do you really believe that we would allow you, or our son for that matter, to make such a mistake? Not only the King and I, but the legislators, our counsel—and many, many others. Think on that before you let your heart get too involved.”
Chey read a threat between the lines. A threat that if she did not do as Helina suggested, she might find herself at the bottom of a ditch or some dark, forgotten corner of the castle dungeon. It eerily reminded Chey of the threats she'd received from Elise, the maid who had been hired to kill her. Helina was telling Chey in no uncertain terms that an alliance between she and Dare
would not be allowed.
Period. By any means necessary.
A cold chill raced down Chey's spine.
Helina sat back, reclining once more. She sipped her wine while holding Chey's gaze.
Standing, Chey said, “Is that all?”
“I believe you have received my message as intended.” Helina used her fingers to swish Chey away. A shooing motion.
Infuriated at the rude dismissal, Chey pivoted for the exit. Without another word, she departed the parlor, closing the door with a quiet click instead of a satisfying slam.
. . .
It was just these kinds of situations that influenced Chey to believe she never wanted to live this life style. This wasn't the first time her feathers had been ruffled over her lowly status, and it wouldn't be the last. Sander had warned her that her mettle would be tested, that they faced impossible odds in their desire to have something deeper than a few random dates. And
encouraged her to want to try harder no matter how annoyed she was with Helina. The contradiction did not escape her.
“What a hell of a position to be in,” she muttered to herself as she marched down the hallway of the private wing of the castle. Guards stood at the end, providing protection for the entire floor. Barred from this area unless she was summoned, Chey retreated down the stairs to the second level, where she belonged. It galled her and at the same time, she understood there had to be rules. People could not be allowed to run roughshod through the castle. The Royals needed privacy like everyone else.
Still. It irked her to be constantly put 'in her place'.
Part of her discontent had to do with Sander's subsequent absence. Three evenings ago he'd prepared her a delicious dinner, danced with her, and charmed her for hours.
Then nothing. Since that night, she hadn't heard a word from him except a text that had read:
Under siege. You can guess why. Will see you when it's over.
The King and Queen had likely subjected him to three times the torture she'd just endured. Chey could imagine King Aksel, Sander's father, rolling out demand after demand, using scrupulous means to achieve his end.
In her room, she closed the door and leaned back against it. Not just a bedroom, but an entire apartment that took up a corner of the castle. After the attempt on her life, Sander had moved her here so she wouldn't have to constantly face the fact that someone had died on her old bedroom floor. This sanctuary was more beautiful than the last, with a large living area, separate bedrooms and her own private balcony. Majestic architecture shaped the ceiling and two chandeliers cast sparks and flashes of light through hundreds of teardrop shaped crystals. Works of art decorated the walls and several potted plants added a touch of green.
If she lived here fifty years, she would never grow tired of the splendor. It dazzled her on a constant basis, sometimes bringing her to a dead stop in one hallway or another. Just yesterday, in the back bailey, she'd stared up at the immense castle like a child at Christmas, absorbing all the detail. She'd done so before, while photographing the structure for the Royals, yet every time she saw something new.
What would it be like to become a permanent resident? Any woman with half an imagination would find it as fascinating as she did.
Removing her heels, Chey bent down, picked them up, and padded across Persian carpets toward the bathroom. As large as her apartment back home, the bath had a jacuzzi tub, two sinks, an enormous shower and a walk in closet big enough to house thousands of outfits.
Sliding the heels into a cubby, she peeled out of the suit, glad to be rid of it. Pulling on a long sleeved sweater of faded peach, she donned jeans and was just tugging up the zipper when she heard a knock at her door. Having learned the hard way that it wasn't always who she wanted it to be on the other side, she adapted neutrality on her way through the apartment.
It wasn't Sander who stood in the hall, but Mattias. His brother. The man with hair black as a raven's wing and dark eyes that glittered with intelligence and confidence. He had a tumbler of amber liquid in one hand.
“Hey, Mattias. Come in.” Chey had grown used to spending time in Mattias's company. She felt close to him in ways she didn't to anyone else except Sander. He listened when she needed an ear, supported her in the face of hostility, and was genuinely charming to be around. If there had been heat and chemistry between them when she'd first arrived, Chey's time with Sander obliterated all that.
“How did your meeting go?” he asked, passing inside. Tonight Mattias wore sleek black slacks and a steel gray shirt with the sleeves flipped back to his elbows. Casual elegance, which seemed to be Mattias's usual fare.
Chey closed the door but didn't engage the lock. Following him to the seating arrangement in the living room, she plopped unceremoniously down onto a divan and tucked one leg beneath her. That was the level of comfort she displayed for the second in line to the throne.
“As terrible as you can imagine. It makes me cringe to think what they might be saying or doing to Sander.” She secretly hoped Mattias had news of his brother.
Mattias chose a plush chair to sink down into. Arranging his limbs for comfort, he drew a foot up to rest his ankle across the opposite knee. Taking a drink, he arched his brows in understanding. “I'm sorry to hear it. What did she say, specifically?”