Authors: Rachel Hauck
he cold air of his hotel suite felt good on his hot, sticky skin. Had he known Florida nights came with such a concrete wall of humidity, Tanner might have reconsidered his late-night run.
But he had to move, stride, work out the kinks in his weary muscles and tired mind.
Down the elevator and out the front doors of the Duval, he hit the pavement, his legs refusing to coordinate at first, leaving him to trip down the city streets like an old man.
About ten minutes into the run, he found his strength as he forced his body to move and kicked up his heels, cutting in and out of the bar parties spilling into the streets. Seemed the whole town was lit for this football match tomorrow.
For forty-five minutes he ran and thought of nothing—
—but striding, breathing, and maintaining a steady pace.
Back in his suite, he stripped off his sweaty shirt and lifted a bottle of water from the mini-fridge. Finding a hand towel, he wiped his face and arms, then ordered a late-night dinner. Salad? No, dessert. A slice of chocolate cake à la mode.
Collapsing into the chair by the window, he fixed on the burst of amber-hued city lights flickering above the city. And like
a rising moon, way off in the distance, the arching white glow of the university campus.
Tanner pressed the cold water bottle to his forehead, then took a drink. He liked this town, humidity aside. Tallahassee was a blend of government, higher education, and what Americans called rednecks.
He knew a few rednecks back home, except they were called
—an old term, given to the coal and ore miners when they came up out of the belly of the earth after a long day’s work with a ring of coal dust or dark clay about their necks.
The national rugby team went by Ringers until the 1914 entail. After World War I the Hessenberg and Brighton rugby unions merged and the Ringers simply became the Hessenberg Union.
Another swig of water and Tanner tipped his head back and closed his eyes. A thread of sleepy peace drew him toward slumber.
So much history gone by . . . so much time past . . . never to be undone . . .
He jerked awake, sitting forward, when Miss Beswick’s face flashed across the palette of his drifting thoughts. He stood, taking another gulp of water, and moved closer to the window.
She’d gotten to him. Slipped under his skin. He’d been curious about his reaction to meeting his future monarch. Would he have feelings of respect? Admiration? Relief? Or perhaps disdain and loathing?
Any number of feelings were possible, but not the fluttery ones, not the sensation of infatuation tickling across his chest, making his stomach sink to his toes.
She was rattling him with her womanly charms.
But it was more than her fine features and mass of golden-red hair that tapped his soul. It was her determination. Her commitment to the life she’d made for herself. Her ability to stare at conflict and ask, “Why?”
He, on the other hand, surrendered the moment conflict reared its ugly head. Tanner had his demanding yet devoted
father to thank for his shrinking from confrontation. The man demanded obedience, to live a life of honor, and set aside his ambitions.
Somewhere along the way, Tanner chose his own way and took a wrong step. A very wrong step. Then another. And another.
Ah, never mind. You’re beyond your past mistakes. Are you not?
Back to Miss Beswick. Tanner liked that she had a mind of her own. Pushovers and people pleasers didn’t make good leaders. Or legendary royalty. Prince Francis proved how fear of man could destroy a family dynasty. Indeed, a whole nation.
He also loved how Miss Beswick bore a strong, almost eerie resemblance to the Renoir of Princess Alice. Almost as if the former heir to the throne had stepped out of the 1914 portrait and into the twenty-first century.
Perhaps she had.
All that aside, would Miss Beswick travel with him to Hessenberg? Tanner had no idea. Would the investigator’s report and the entail edicts in the attaché case have any bearing on her heart?
One must hope. He must hope.
Turning back to the room, Tanner downed the last of his water and fired up his laptop.
Had he overplayed his hand? Put too much on her? If someone informed him the future of a nation rested on his shoulders, would he step up?
He hoped so. Especially after his past mistakes. He wanted to make good. Help others. And if possible, forget that he had dau—
Don’t awaken the pain, chap
He shoved the almost-thought from his mind, leaving his heart reaching and yearning. What was done was done. If he’d been a wiser young man, he’d have paid closer attention to his actions and their effects on his life. But he’d been foolish and it cost him his future.
Which was how he came to owe a debt of thanks to old Seamus Fitzsimmons. Tanner had been offered a new path and a new beginning.
Launching e-mail, Tanner also reached for the telly remote and surfed to a sports channel, looking for some American football. He’d watched a few exhibition matches in Hessenberg when the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts came to play. He fancied it a fascinating sport.
Finding a game, Tanner set down the remote and fixed on his messages. He had several, rather a lot, from Louis and one from the King’s Office requesting an update as soon as possible.
He was about to wade into work when a new e-mail popped in from Louis. He was awake early, tackling e-mail on a Hessenberg Saturday.
The subject line disturbed Tanner’s peace: Envelope in Your Desk.
Oh, bother. Louis, what have you done?
Tanner ran his hand through his damp hair and exhaled.
His stellar memory aside, Tanner could compartmentalize his thoughts and emotions. If he chose to forget an envelope in his desk, he did. But now Louis reminded him of what he wanted to forget.
He clicked on the e-mail and read his aide’s brief note.
Looking for your office key . . . found it in the middle drawer . . . saw the envelope . . . thought it might be something for your diary . . . a personal invitation . . . tenth birthday party . . . Britta and Bella . . . Sunday the 5th. Shall I schedule . . . apologies for entering your personal mail.
Tanner stared at the message, reading it once more. Birthday party . . . and
was invited? He imagined an invitation inside the fine linen envelope but he didn’t believe they’d really
It didn’t make sense. Not in light of the past eight years. Britta and Bella were the two “things” in his past he could not compartmentalize, shove aside, and forget. Though he’d thoroughly tried. For their sake. For his.
But he’d not forgotten the twins were turning ten on five October. He was just prepared to ignore their birthday. Like every other year.
Tanner took another water from the fridge and strolled around the suite. He was finally cooling off when this business with the twins sparked a flame in his heart.
On the telly screen, a player ran down the field, ball tucked under his arm, the crowd cheering.
Tanner read the e-mail again.
Shall I schedule?
Setting down his water, he clicked a reply.
He wasn’t even sure if he’d be home with Miss Beswick by the fifth. And even if he was home . . .
Tanner snapped up his mobile. Why did Trude even invite him to the girls’ party? Did Mum know about this? She was the only one who had kept in touch with Trude over the years, even if it was only at Christmas.
He started to dial home when he realized it was five in the morning Hessenberg time. On a Saturday. His parents would be sleeping.
Tanner tossed the phone back to the desk and stripped for a shower.
Just when he had life managed, contained, all roots to his past severed and the ground well covered, a force like Trude
Estes Cadwallader came wheeling by with her rotary tiller and reminded him he was not the man he pretended to be.
Just inside her back door, Reggie hit the light switch, igniting a floor lamp and kitchen track lights. She was home where finally her world would settle down and make sense again.
She had driven home with the wind whipping through the old Datsun’s windows, feeling knotted and irritated. Mad. Frustrated.
And challenged to the core of her being.
What was a girl to do when someone came along and told her she was not who she believed herself to be?
The idea sliced through her heart into her soul and dissected everything she believed about herself. Her life.
The force of it all toppled her truths and turned her convictions at right angles.
Setting her purse on the kitchen counter and Tanner’s attaché on the table, Reggie stared at the smooth brown leather of the case for a long moment. He seemed convinced something among the documents would convince her she belonged in Hessenberg. At least long enough to deal with this entail business.
Dumping out the contents of the attaché, she spread them on the table, scanning each one.
A letter from King Nathaniel II. She sighed. Okay, that was cool even if the rest of this was
Shuffling through the papers, she noticed the oil stains still on her hands, and pressed her thumb against the black streaks. She’d need a hot shower and good scrubbing.
But she’d also need time to understand these events that had suddenly burst into her life. What in these papers could convince her to leave everything behind and go for the unknown?
See, when Regina Beswick woke up every morning, she knew
who she was, where she was going, why, and how. And she liked it. Change was not necessary or required.
With a resolve to dig in to the attaché contents, Reggie pulled out a chair and sat down.
That Tanner was something, wasn’t he? Strong. Assertive. Yet charming and polished. Sincere. Not smarmy and pushy like Mark. Despite his suit-and-tie formality, he was kind of sexy, and that hair . . . long, coiffed blond hair. He wore it well.
Reggie fingered over the documents, separating them one from another, willing herself to find nothing interesting among the state and legal documents.
She’d shuffle through the papers one last time and call it a night.
Near the bottom of the pile, however, she discovered a chart with names and dates. Lifting the page, her hands trembled with a surge of adrenaline.
Compiled by Lieberman Investigators LLC.
Reggie spied Gram’s name. Alice. Married Harry Pierce, Captain, Royal Air Force, England. Her first husband, a flyer killed in action.
Gram immigrated to America in July 1946 with daughter Eloise, Reggie’s grandmother. Attached was a photocopy of their entrance through Ellis Island.
Alice Pierce. Eloise Pierce.
Gram married William Edmunds in October 1947. He died before Reggie was born but she remembered Gram telling stories about him.
Eloise married Charles Hiebert in June 1948, giving birth to Mama two years later in 1950.
Reggie’s memories of her grandparents, Eloise and Charles, were short and sweet since both of them died when she was young. Seeing their names stirred a certain longing for them.
Grandma Eloise was a Pierce, not an Edmunds, who became a Hiebert. Did Reggie know this family tree had so many short branches? Did anyone ever tell her?
She tossed the chart to the table, familiar with the rest of the details. Mama married Daddy, Noble Beswick, in January 1979.
Reggie’s older brother was born in 1981. But he died six months later. Then, in March 1985, she came silently into the world. Actually, that was a fact she did remember. Mama said Reggie came into the world so peacefully, without one sound, as if to say . . . How’d Mama put it?
Hello, world, aren’t you happy I’m here?
Tears of missing Mama burned in her eyes. Back to the chart, Reggie regarded the names, trying to see the people, trying to remember a history she never knew.
Scanning the death dates, the short life spans, a tightness formed in her chest. All except Gram and, of course, Daddy died before the age of seventy. Reggie smiled.
Gram, you defied death more than once, didn’t you?
Yet what did this prove? None of this information specifically declared Gram to be Princess Alice. Certainly it didn’t name Reggie as heir. The contents of the attaché case only confused Reggie more. Why didn’t Gram ever speak of this life?
Tanner seemed to think there was something in this case that would convince her she was the long-lost princess. But so far, all Reggie found was a well-documented family tree.
With a sigh, Reggie sifted through the last few documents, spying the edge of a photocopied letter. Pulling it free, she recognized Gram’s sprawling handwriting.
It’s been so long since we’ve corresponded. But this war has taken it out of me. Eloise and I lost Harry in ’45, and we cannot seem to get away from the pain of missing him.
Esmé, my dear sister, invited us to stay with her in America, and we are setting sail tomorrow. I pray there is a new life, a new joy for us there. London is so ravaged from the war. I fear we will never laugh again. I so desire to put this all behind me. Hessenberg. Brighton. The wars. Death. I must begin again if I wish to survive this life.