Read Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) Online

Authors: Rachel Hauck

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Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) (4 page)

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
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“Fine. I’ll let him know, but he is anxious to move forward. Anything else?”

Louis peered at Tanner. Barely out of university, he was the
poster boy for the next generation. Good-looking and hip, a decent chap. In fact, Tanner used his face for his first cultural campaign, plastering Louis’s image all over the duchy.

The End of the 1914 Entail. Do You Know How It Impacts You? Visit www.hessenberg.co.gd.

“Louis,” Tanner said, “what do your mates say about Hessenberg becoming a sovereign nation again—self-ruling, becoming a voice, no matter how small among the nations of the earth?”

“As long as their Euros still spend in the pub,”—he grinned—“I don’t suppose any of us see much difference between being ruled by Brighton or being independent again. We’ve never known anything else.”

“What if being independent means your Euros buy more?” Tanner motioned to Louis’s suit. “More pints, more holidays, more custom-tailored skinny suits?”

Louis’s sense of fashion was the point of office ribbing on a weekly basis. In fact, Marissa, Tanner’s office manager, found it personally offensive that Louis owned more shoes than she did.

“Pardon me,”—Louis feigned a frown and smoothed his tie—“but I say long live an independent Hessenberg if that be the case.”

“Your consideration of our political and economic future, and that of our children, is profound, Louis. Thank you.” Tanner crossed the corner office space to a tea cart. Beyond the arched windows, the drizzle had become a full-on rain shower.

“Why were you ringing me?” Tanner lifted the lid of the teapot and sniffed. Strong and bitter. Just as he liked it. But the tea was cold and he had no taste for that at all. He returned the pot to the cart. He’d get a hot cup at lunch. “You said something about calling me in the corridor.”

“Yes, right.” Louis stood, tucking his tablet under his arm. “The king and his aide are on their way with Brighton’s prime minister.”

“Here?” Panic forged a canyon in Tanner’s chest. “Louis, might you have led off our meeting with this information? What does he want?” Tanner turned a small, stunted circle, surveying the room, jerking down his shirt sleeves. Why had the fashion gods decreed all buttonholes must be smaller than their corresponding buttons?

His office walls . . . He’d not yet decorated them with trendy paintings or classical art or sophisticated decorative accessories. No, he’d only brought his rugby trophies from home and a framed Hessenberg Union poster signed by the team.

More than that, debris and dust flecked the thick blue carpet, and the walnut shelving most likely would not pass a dust inspection. And the remains of last night’s dinner were still in the rubbish bin.

Tanner walked around the center circle of leather and wood chairs, then kicked his rucksack full of sports gear into the small water closet and slapped the door shut.

“Jonathan just said they were on their way. Boarding Royal Air One when he called.”

“He’ll be here straightaway then.” The flight from Brighton to Hessenberg took less than thirty minutes. “Does the governor know the king is coming?” Governor Fitzsimmons’ office and staff occupied the entire second floor of Wettin Manor. He would want to know the king was on his way.

“Yes, and I’ve put security on alert.”

“Are you sure he’s coming to see me and not the governor?”

“Jonathan specifically said you.”

“Get housekeeping up here,” Tanner said, squaring away his desk, stacking his notes and papers, shoving them into a bottom desk drawer. “And have a fresh pot of tea brought round. Ask Marissa to arrange for some fresh biscuits from Loudermilk’s Bakery. She’s to tell them they are for His Majesty. I believe puffs are his favorite.”

Louis was already on his phone. “They are. I read that same article in the
Liberty Press.
Manfred, this is Louis. We need housekeeping up here—” Louis made his way out of the office. “Yes, I’m aware, but the king is coming to the Minister of Culture’s office.”

Tanner slipped on his suit jacket, wondering for the hundredth time in the last sixty seconds,
What does the king want with me?

Louis reappeared, still on the phone, offering Tanner a thin linen envelope. “This came for you while you were out,” he said, still listening to Manfred on the other end of the line. “Listen, do you want the king to see rubbish all over Tanner’s carpet? Who do you think will get the blame?” Louis’s voice faded as he walked out. “See you in two minutes. Thank you.”

Tanner frowned at the envelope. His name was printed across the front in a fancy machine-pressed script. But who was it from? Flipping it over, he read the return address while dropping into his desk chair.

Estes Estate

2 Horsely Hill Road

Strauberg, Hessenberg 93-E15

The name, the address, awakened all those yesterdays he’d fought to put away and forget. Awakened his failure.

His throat constricted with his thickening pulse as he smoothed his hair with his stiff, icy hand. Why in the world would Barbara “Babs” Estes send him a letter? Actually, an invitation? He’d not been to their hilltop mansion since that fateful night eight years ago. But he didn’t have to invoke his lawyer-trained mind to surmise the contents of the envelope. Some details and memories refused to sink into the recesses of forgetfulness.

The twins were turning ten in a few weeks. On five October to be exact.

Tapping the envelope against his palm, Tanner reached for his letter opener, debating the merits of looking inside or just tossing the blasted thing in the rubbish.

He was in a good place, far away from the evidence of his failures and shortcomings. He’d rebounded. Made law review. Joined the governor’s staff before catching the king’s eye for Minister of Culture.

Then he proved his worth by remembering a former professor, ole Yardley Pritchard, who might have a link to a long-lost heir to the Hessenberg throne.

And if Tanner’s instincts proved correct about the professor’s knowledge of the heiress, Hessenberg would be on her way to being a sovereign independent state once again.

So why today of all days—when the king was actually on his way to this very office—did Tanner receive an invitation from Trude’s mum? Did he have so bold a past it could march in on his present whenever it willed? Well, he’d see that it did not.

Jerking open the middle desk drawer, Tanner tossed the envelope inside, shoving it toward the back. There. Out of sight, out of mind.

A technique he had quite perfected.

THREE

V
oices sounded beyond his door and Louis’s deep tone announced the king’s presence.

“Good afternoon, Your Majesty.”

Tanner greeted the king, Nathaniel II, and his aide, Jonathan, at the door and invited them to sit for a spot of tea. Governor Seamus Fitzsimmons, Tanner’s old boss, trailed into the office behind them, the buttons of his silk vest straining.

The conversation was light, casual, with talk of sports and the weather. Twenty minutes passed just sipping tea and eating biscuits.

Perched on the edge of a wingback chair adjacent to the king, Tanner’s nerves were on their last, frayed edge.

What does the king want?

Next to Tanner, Governor Fitzsimmons prattled on about his accomplishments, preening his political feathers without shame.

“Your Majesty, did you see our report? We’ve funneled more public funds toward education. And with parliament’s new tax initiative, the economy is likely to rebound.”

Enough.
Tanner didn’t care if Seamus got mad. He was rescuing the king from this continual campaign-trail drivel. He knew full well what the governor was up to—bolstering his political
future with the king should Hessenberg not gain her independence and find herself a permanent part of Brighton.

Tanner took command of the conversation.

“How are your wedding plans coming on, Your Majesty?”

Since Nathaniel’s engagement to American Susanna Truitt, the media saturated the public with royal wedding news, comparing the pretty, blonde, athletic Susanna to Duchess Kate, wondering if she will adjust as well as Britain’s new darling to royal life. After all, America hadn’t had a royal ruler in nearly two hundred and forty years.

“Very well, Tanner. Thank you for asking.” Nathaniel smiled, and something beyond gratitude lit his eyes.
Ah, ’tis the look of love.
Tanner hadn’t experienced such a feeling, but he’d seen it in others. And envied them.

“Her mother arrived to help with the initial wedding preparations, and I say, you’ve not lived until you’ve watched the Dowager Queen of Brighton spar with the Queen of Georgia Barbecue.” He laughed. “I’m afraid poor Susanna is more referee on occasion than blushing bride.”

“Don’t be fooled.” Jonathan moved toward the tea cart. “Susanna can well handle her own. Give it out too.”

“Never a dull moment then?” Tanner rose himself for another spot of tea, but Louis, who’d finished refilling Jonathan’s cup, stepped in for Tanner’s and refilled it without a word.

“Throw in my brother, Prince Stephen, and we’ve a three-ring circus.” Nathaniel dusted his fingers with his napkin, giving a conferring look to Jonathan, who dipped his hand inside an attaché case for a thin brown folder, and handed it to the king. “But we didn’t come to talk about my wedding.” The king passed the folder to Tanner. “We came to talk about the entail.”

“What news have you?” Seamus huffed and puffed, pulling a pipe from his vest pocket.

“Tanner,” Nathaniel said, cutting Seamus a short glance.
“You were spot-on when you introduced us to Yardley Pritchard. His older brother, Otto, did exchange a few letters with Princess Alice for some years after she left Hessenberg.”

“Professor Pritchard never said for certain he knew of the princess or her whereabouts,” Tanner said, “but he mentioned many times in his courses about how his older brother served as the prince’s reader before he fled the country. So I guessed that some correspondence had gone on.”

“You guessed right, Tanner. Yardley said his big brother rarely talked about his service to the prince and the royal family until his latter years,” the king said. “He’d been convinced by the old duke that if the prince’s enemies found out Otto knew anything about the entail or the royal family,
his
family would be in danger. Or worse, Otto might have been shot as a traitor.”

“Poor brother Otto,” Seamus said. “He was a good bit older than old Yardley, I do believe.”

“Seventeen years,” Nathaniel said. “Times were turbulent after the prince signed the entail, and then came the war. Otto was right to keep his mouth shut.”

“But fortunately the old man Otto had the wherewithal to tell Yardley where he’d stashed his letters from the princess,” Jonathan said.

“Are they in here?” Tanner flipped open the folder for evidence of any letters, thinking he could put them on display in the museum.

“Turns out he had only one,” Nathaniel said. “If there were others, they got lost, displaced, we’ve no idea. But we put a copy of the one in the report for you.”

“We’re not destined to know much about Prince Francis and his family,” Tanner said, scanning the brief letter, wishing he had a quiet, alone moment to read and think.

The illiterate prince kept little to no records of his life. Had television or talking movies, even the radio, been around in his day, he might have had something to say, to leave behind. But
instead, they had one photocopied, water-stained letter. From Princess Alice to Otto. On the eve of her crossing to America.

Tanner looked up. “So it’s most certain the heir to the throne is an American?”

“That will never do.” Seamus leaned over Tanner’s shoulder, tainting the thin air between them with his lavish aftershave. “An American?”

“It will
do
, Governor, because she is the legal and rightful heir. A Miss Regina Alice Beswick. The investigators had a bully of a time tracing Princess Alice’s journey from Hessenberg to Brighton to London and finally to America. Turns out our first Alice was not the
Princess
Alice.”

“Records were a bit shoddy after the war,” Tanner said, skimming the report.

“All of Europe was shoddy after the war.” Nathaniel leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs. “The investigators finally found an Alice Stephanie Regina who married an RAF pilot in London in 1922. She’s our princess. They had a daughter, Eloise, in ’24. Alice’s husband was killed in the second war and she immigrated to America with Eloise in ’46 and eventually married again. Well, you’ll see the information in the dossier. At any rate, Alice’s heir, her great-granddaughter, lives in Tallahassee, Florida.” The king stood. “She’s twenty-nine and—”

“I expected someone older,” Tanner said. “A daughter or granddaughter.”

“As did we all. Alice’s daughter and granddaughter died young. In fact, she outlived them both. Regina is an only child, though she had an older brother who died shortly after birth.”

Tanner finished reading the pages and started to pass the folder to King Nathaniel. But the king refused to take it.

“Tanner, as Hessenberg’s Minister of Culture, a man who knows the entail law, I’m commissioning you to be our ambassador to the new princess. Travel to America and bring her home.”

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
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