Read Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) Online

Authors: Rachel Hauck

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Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) (28 page)

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
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“Not awfully. St. John’s was hit with bombs during both wars.” Tanner trailed after her. “Most of the windows were blown out except that one right there.” He gestured to the image of a resurrected Christ at the end of the nave, behind the pulpit.

When Dad served here, Tanner used to stare at the image the whole service, imagining the return of Jesus, seeing him in the clouds, and Tanner nearly scared himself out of the faith.

What if he wasn’t worthy . . . well, he wasn’t now, was he? Not that God couldn’t or wouldn’t forgive him. Tanner just didn’t see how he had the right to ask.

“What are these?” Regina bent next to the gold plates on the sides of the front pews. “Ciphers? Here’s one like the one in Gram’s fairy tale. GD PF I R.”

“Grand Duke, Prince Francis the First, Regent. St. John’s is the coronation abbey.”

“Gram’s coronation would’ve been held here?”

“Most likely.”

A forceful whisper came from the back of the sanctuary. “Might I help you?”

“Begging your pardon, we’re just looking.” No way was Tanner going to introduce himself to the bishop as the Minister of Culture wearing a bad wig and psychedelic bell-bottoms.

“Yes, you can.” Regina skirted around Tanner and toward the bishop. “Do you still have prayer meetings here?”

“We do, yes. Every morning at six and seven. Every evening at nine and ten.”

“Good.” Regina nodded with a sigh, hands back in her coat pockets. “That makes me feel good.”

Tanner couldn’t confirm it—he wasn’t even sure Regina knew—but he had a subtle feeling some part of her heart had just made a decision about her future as Hessenberg’s regent.

NINETEEN

A
long about sunset, Reggie sat on a knoll in Wisteria Park, still dressed as Cher, watching a serious rugby pickup game with a bunch of college dudes. The breeze through the trees was cold on her face, but the setting sun on her back warmed her heart.

It had been a fun day. Touring the city, seeing the business and shopping districts. Eating something called puffs at a bakery not far from here.

“What was the name of the bakery? Where we got the puffs?”

“Loudermilk’s Bakery.” Tanner, still dressed as Sonny, jumped up, hands cupped around his mouth. “Pass, you blooming ox, pass.” Then he moaned and sat down. “Everyone wants to be a star.”

“Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Want to be a star?”

“I want to go for supper. I’m famished.” Up on his feet again, shouting instructions to the team with the ball. “Call a ruck! Call a ruck!”

Regina laughed, reaching up and tugging him back toward the ground. “You’re like Dad when he watches the Seminoles play.”

“I used to be out there with the lads. But now all I do is mostly
watch on the telly or from the sidelines of a park. Most depressing is that I get to spend all day cooped up in an office wearing a suit and tie.” Tanner returned to his seat on the knoll. “I really need to get in a city league. Play on the weekends,” he murmured. More to himself than to Reggie.

“Tanner, what’s with you and your dad?”

“What do you mean, what’s with me and Dad?”

She thought he might not like her asking, but she couldn’t help herself. “You know, the archbishop? Burkhardt. The one with the same last name as you. The one who tried to talk to you in your office this morning and you were all like”—she lowered her voice, trying to sound masculine—“ ‘Anything else, sir?’ ”

“I’m sorry, but such questions are not allowed.”

“Not allowed? May I ask why not?” She leaned to see his face, but he focused on the rugby game.

“That-a-way, lads. That’s how to score.” Tanner applauded the scoring team.

“Tanner?”

“You hungry?” He stood, reaching for her hand, helping her up. “The Fence & Anchor has the best stew and warm sourdough bread. Just a few blocks this way.” He led her down the knoll and across the park.

From the corner of her eye, Reggie spotted Clarence moving in front of them, and when she glanced back, Todd was only a few feet behind her.

“What happened? Did he misunderstand your youth? Was he a mean father? What?”

Tanner stopped short, causing Reggie to bump into him. “Don’t go analyzing my relationship with my dad from a sixty-second exchange.”

“He was trying to talk to you in your office and you all but ignored him.”

“He was prying.”

“No, he was asking you about a party that your mum is super excited to attend. Is this a family event or something?”

“Regina, let’s just say I have a different relationship with my father than you have with yours.” Tanner headed around the side of the park toward another tree-lined avenue.

“One where you are rude when he’s being kind?”

“I know my father. Don’t try to second-guess me. He wasn’t being nice.”

“Wow, really. Then I’d hate to see what you consider cruel.”

“Change the subject. I don’t care to bother with this conversation. We are supposed to be having fun and all that.”

“Sometimes it’s fun to, you know,”—she mimed pulling something from her heart—“let go of stuff, air it out, get free.”

“And you are an expert on this?” A certain edge sharpened his words.

“No, but, boy howdy, I’ve had to do my share of letting go. Can’t hang on to stuff when your mama is there in the morning and gone that night.”

“Then let me ask you . . . What’s with the chap, the one with the dark hair and capped teeth? Mark Harper, was it?” Tanner moved out of the park, stopping at the corner light.

“What about him?” He noticed the thing between her and Mark? “Nothing. Well, not much. Just an old friend. And his teeth aren’t capped. I know. Crazy. Those are his real choppers.”

The light changed, and Tanner charged into the street with his Sonny wig flopping about his angular jaw. Reggie scurried to keep in stride.

“Tanner, why do you ask about Mark?”

“Are you honest with him? He’s into you, Regina, in case you didn’t know.”

She laughed. “I know, but the question is, how did you know?”

“I’ve got eyes.”

“Are you jealous?”

“Certainly not,” he barked.

“Hallo, Sonny and Cher,” a male voice boomed from the direction of the waiting cars. “I got you, babe.”

Tanner sprinted to the curb while Reggie swung around to see an older man hanging out of his car window, waving. She smiled and waved back. But Clarence and Todd closed ranks fast and escorted her out of the street.

“Regina, don’t draw attention to yourself,” Tanner clipped.

“I wasn’t. I was drawing attention to Cher. I’m sure she’d thank me.”

Tanner muttered under his breath. “I’ll get Melinda for talking me into this.”

Reggie stopped. Smack in the middle of the sidewalk. “If you’re going to be grumpy, let’s just forget this.”

Grumpy
faced the street, hands on his hips, his jaw tense. “My apologies.” He fixed his blue gaze on her. “Nothing but frolicking fun from this moment on. Frown gone.” He forced a smile while adjusting his attitude. “Grumpy to happy.”

“Just like that?” She grinned and started down the walk with him. “You’re a zero-to-sixty kind of bloke, aren’t you?”

He sighed with a slight shake of his head, adding in a light laugh. “Regina, I do believe you’ve solved a mystery I’ve been trying to unravel for thirty-two years. Yes, I’m zero to sixty.”

The Fence & Anchor sat on the corner of Gilden Avenue and Fleet Street. The exterior was of hewn stone and stained wood with multi-paned windows shaded by a green awning. When Tanner opened the door for her, the wind kicked up around the corner and skirted in ahead of her, causing the place mats on vacant tables to flutter to the floor.

A male voice commanded, “Close the door, you bloomers.”

Reggie squinted through the dim, yellow light toward the sound of the voice. A wiry-haired man at the bar was flagging them in with his hand.

“Let’s sit back there.” Tanner lightly touched her elbow, leading her to a corner booth.

Scanning the room, Reggie felt she’d been here before, the same sense she’d had in the chapel sanctuary. Like a home. Warm and cozy. As if she’d been invited into some inner club or sanctum.

Scooting into the booth, Reggie removed her coat. “I love this place already.” Up front, Clarence and Todd had taken a table by the door and were already engaged with the server.

“Wait until a match comes on. The place will fill up and you won’t be able to hear your own thoughts.” Tanner hung his coat and hers on the rack behind the booth. “And I’m losing this thing.” He slipped off his wig. “Good-bye, Sonny Bono. No more American hippie for me.”

“Can’t say the costumes didn’t do the job, Tanner. We walked around all day without being harassed.”

She watched him as he took his seat across from her, combed his fingers through his hair, then removed the faux suede, fringed vest. He was so controlled on the outside, but something untamed boiled beneath, trying to be free.

He caught her staring and she glanced away. His eyes, so blue, so intense, disturbed her. “Do you want tea?” he said.

“No . . .” she croaked, removing her wig. “Um, yes, tea. Hot for a change. Sweet.”

“Welcome to the Fence & Anchor.” The server stepped up to the table. “My name’s Gemma.” She was short and round, wearing a lifetime supply of blue eye shadow and pink lipstick. She squinted at Reggie, wagging a pencil at her. “I know you, right? But from where?”

Reggie shifted in her seat, shooting Tanner a look.
What do I do?

“She’s from the telly . . .
Talent Factor
. . . the American dancing juggler.” Tanner spoke without even a hint of a smile. “I’m her, or rather
his
”—he chuckled and winked—“talent agent, Malcolm Jabberwaller.”

“You don’t say?” Her blue-lidded eyes widened. “You’re that dancing juggler? I loved your act. Can I have your autograph?”

Reggie made a face.
What now, genius?

“Actually, we’re . . . . shh,”—Tanner touched his finger to his lips—“on the down low. We’d appreciate it if you’d keep this to yourself.”

“Oh, right-o, naturally.” Gemma lowered her voice and leaned toward Reggie. “I thought you were really good.”

She smiled, trying not to laugh. “Thank you.”

“Gemma, bring us two pots of tea, one sweet, one bitter, a basket of your freshest, warmest, sourdough rolls, and two steamy bowls of lamb stew.”

When she scooted off, Reggie gaped at Tanner, then snorted behind her hand. “A dancing juggler? For real?”

“There actually was a redheaded dancing juggler on
Talent Factor
, whom I believe was not a
she
but a
he
and his act w as horrid. You can’t make this stuff up, Regina. And he-she was American.”

“And you think I can pass as a horrid he-she juggling act?”

“Oh, and lower your voice a bit when you speak.” He grinned, scratching his throat, the lingering somberness fading from his eyes. “And try for raspy.”

Reggie hammered the table with her fist. “You beat all.” She flicked her gaze at him. “This is payback for making you dress like Sonny, isn’t it?”

“You betcha.” He was so adorable when his confidence rode high.

Voices rose from the bar where a cluster of men wearing the same color jerseys gathered, talking and gesturing at the televisions mounted in the corners and behind the bar. At the tables, several men in work shirts and matching trousers sat with their hands clasped around their beer glasses, eating chips.

She sighed.

“What?”

She peered at Tanner. “Nothing.”

“You sighed.”

“I like this place.” From her coat pocket, Reggie’s phone pinged. She retrieved it and smiled at the name on the screen. “It’s Al. He says ‘Going to miss u @ court 2morrow night.’ ”

She replied.

Just thinkn same thing. @ a pub drinkn hot sweet tea.

“Where did this court thing start again?”

“Al. He dubbed the Friday night gathering my court. When I left the corporate world, my friends wanted to see what I was up to and started coming to the shop Fridays after work. We ordered pizza the first night and next thing I knew, a tradition was born.”

“Maybe Al was seeing something of the future.”

She shook her head. “Ha! I doubt it. Daddy never told him about Gram, or me, being a possible princess.” His inflection and quick gaze awakened unfamiliar flutters in her heart.

Gemma arrived with their tea and basket of bread. “Stew’s a-coming.”

Reggie reached to pour her tea, looking up when the front door opened and a cluster of young-looking professionals entered. Men in suits with their ties loosened. Women with handbags swinging, smoothing their wind-bounced hair. Gathering in the center of the pub, they shoved three tables together, talking all the while, casting the broad shadow of youth over the older, tired-looking workmen.

Tanner filled his cup, taking a long sip. “Everyone comes here. The union blokes, the professionals, mums, dads—”

“Ministers of Culture.”

He scoffed, reaching for a roll. “Yes, even the mighty Minister of Culture. And the Princess of Hessenberg, don’t forget.”

“Why do you do that?” Reggie raised her tea to her lips.
Hmm, might need more sugar.

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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