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Authors: Rachel Hauck

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BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
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“Me, sir?” He was barely Minister of Culture. Just six months. Surely there was someone more qualified. “I’m honored.” Tanner jumped to his feet, meeting his king eye to eye. “But might you be the proper one to tell her?” Tanner sensed the tension rise in the room, fueled by the governor’s indignation. He bet if he glanced down, he’d see the carpet quivering beneath the man’s big, scheming feet. “Or perhaps,”—Tanner motioned to the longtime governor—“Seamus might be the proper one.”

“Indeed, I quite agree with Tanner.” Seamus stepped forward. Tanner expected no less. “I might be better suited, having been governor these fifteen years now.”

But the king remained unmoved. “You’re too busy and needed here, Seamus. And I’m not the one to go. My diary is much too full. Tanner, you are the perfect candidate.” Nathaniel nodded once as if satisfied with his decision. “Not only do you know the entail, you’re the most current on the House of Augustine-Saxon history. You’re Miss Beswick’s age. Besides, we don’t know how long it will take to convince her to come, to step into her rightful place. It could take weeks, and since you’re new to your position, you’re the most flexible.” Nathaniel pointed at Tanner. “A convenient fact only, mind you. So I can’t leave for any length of time. Dare I say, neither can Seamus. Wouldn’t you agree, Governor?”

Nathaniel’s tone seemed to soothe the elder statesman. “Quite right, I say,” Seamus blustered about. “Quite right.”

“I know you’re just getting your feet under you on this job,” Nathaniel said. “But I believe you are the right man for fetching the princess.”

“Sir, I’ll do whatever you ask.” Tanner released his emotional and mental grip on his heart. On his schedule. For the king he could forgo his own plans, could he not, and move farther from his past failures? “If you feel I am the one to travel to America, to bring round the princess—”

“I do.” Nathaniel smiled as if it were all settled. “We’ve
reserved Royal Air Force One for your travels. I’d like you to leave tomorrow, if you’ve no objection.” The king regarded him, waiting, the casual air about him solidifying into something regal and commanding.

So Tanner was traveling tomorrow . . .

“I’ll be ready, Your Majesty.” He’d be all night clearing his diary. Did he have enough clean laundry? Three of his suits were at the dry cleaners. They closed at half-five. “Shall I go alone or take someone along?”

“Go alone, if you’re willing. The more discreet, the better. We want no press on this. Not one word.” Nathaniel glanced about the room, gathering visual agreement. “Let’s get her here, get organized, then we can alert the media, and I daresay the whole world. Tanner, you’re our sharpshooter, as it were. You have the full backing of the government. The King’s Office has prepared all the formal documentation along with what you have there.” He motioned to the folder. “It’ll be waiting for you on Royal Air Force One.”

“Your Majesty,” Seamus said, “is there really all this need for a rush?”

Nathaniel turned to the governor, calm, steady. Jonathan reared back with surprise in his eyes.

“The entail ends in a month, Governor,” Tanner said.
Seamus, old chap, don’t be a fool.

“What would you suggest, Seamus?” Nathaniel said. “If she doesn’t know she’s the heir, the news will take time to settle in, even more to convince her we need her. If perchance she does know of her heritage, it will most likely take time for her to negotiate her way here, I’m quite sure.”

“Posh.” Seamus jammed his unlit pipe between his lips, mumbling. “What girl doesn’t want to find out she’s a princess?”

“This is not a movie, Governor,” Jonathan said. “Miss Beswick has a life, friends, family . . .”

“What if she refuses?” Tanner went straight to the bottom line. “Rejects the whole lot? Royal princess needed to save the future of a small country and all.”

“You convince her.” Nathaniel squared off in front of Tanner. “Don’t come home without her.”

Tanner’s pulse tapped out his fear.
Can’t fail, can’t fail.

“I’ll do my best—”

“Let’s have no illusions that this is going to be easy.” Nathaniel continued to offer wise, calm counsel. “We can all pray that in some way, large or small, she’s prepared to hear the news. Perhaps all our concerns are for nothing. Princess Alice may well have told Regina who she was before she died.”

“But we really don’t know what Alice knew when she fled Hessenberg in 1914. So we don’t know what she might have told Regina.” Jonathan glanced at his watch. “Your Majesty, we’ve got to go.”

“I’m sorry to rush off, but I’ve a state reception at the palace.” Nathaniel moved with his aide to the door. “But I wanted to ask you in person to take on this task, Tanner. It’s of the utmost importance to us. Jonathan will be in touch with further details.”

“I’ll have Louis notify you when I’m ready to go.” Tanner walked with Jonathan to the door. “Plan on the morning. Around ten.”

“Tanner,”—Nathaniel paused in the doorway and offered his hand—“your king and your country thank you.”

Tanner clasped his hand with the king’s, the significance of this moment a weighty mantle around his soul.

The last one hundred years of Hessenberg’s history had been traveling toward this moment. First with the speed of a ship adrift at sea, then as the decades passed, with the steady force of a motorcar. But now, as the Brighton-Hessenberg Entailment neared its end, the weeks passed with the power of a rocket ship.

And Tanner was the lone pilot who must not fail.

June 13, 1914

Meadowbluff Palace

I’ve my final sitting today in the meadow by the thicket for Mr. Renoir. He claims I am a great beauty and must be painted to perfection. Though he must be weary of me sitting before him day after day. Nevertheless, we are having the most beautiful Hessenberg summer, so I don’t mind being out of doors.

Uncle is quite pleased with Mr. Renoir’s work and has declared we’ll have a great unveiling when the portrait is complete. So, it’s off to the thicket as the light is perfect there midday. It’s quite magical. I feel peace when I cross the lawn to the meadow and the edge of the thicket.

It’s there I say my prayers with the most faith that God is listening. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve asked him for a husband. I rather fancy Rein Friedrich, as does Mamá, but he’s not called at the palace since the spring. Nor have I seen him in attendance at the summer socials.

Lady Sharon says she heard rumor that Rein joined the army. Though which army I don’t know. Hessenberg has not one to speak of. I know because it’s vexing Uncle as his prime minister is insisting he rebuild our armed forces.

I’m not sure what Uncle is thinking, but while in the meadow the other day, waiting for Mr. Renoir, I noticed Uncle moving his beloved Starfire #89 into the stable. I thought it rather odd, but when I asked him about it at dinner, he said he stored it there for safekeeping.

My own art lessons will advance next month. Mamá has invited renowned artist Rose Maynard Barton to spend July at the palace. She accepted and graciously offered to tutor Esmé and me. But Esmé would rather play sports than paint, so I’ll have this talented woman all to myself. I’m delighted.

Alice

FOUR

O
n Friday nights, Reggie held court. At least that’s what Al called it. Reggie’s Court. And he dubbed the crowd of friends and family who gathered at the barn the courtesans.

But Reggie was no queen. Just an ordinary girl sharing her life with the people she loved. The weekly “court” happened rather spontaneously one week right after she and Al opened the shop. A few of Reggie’s colleagues from Backlund & Backlund happened by to see if her blind leap into the car restoration business was worth sacrificing her future as a well-paid CPA.

They had their doubts, but Reggie had a feeling the success of the Challenger restoration would bring them around. Then friends started coming by to watch the transformation of the car. And perhaps Reggie.
Could she do it?

Rafe mounted speakers outside the barn, under the eaves, and around five o’clock on a Friday night, Reggie turned up the music—a blend of country and soul—and ordered a dozen pizzas.

Six months later, it wasn’t just her court anymore. Al’s friends and family came by. Wally’s grandkids. Lately, car enthusiasts and friends of friends joined the Friday night throng.

Tonight Reggie walked out of the barn with a cold bottle of
root beer in her hand. She’d ordered the pizzas and looked forward to an evening of music and laughter.

And maybe, just one or two “I told you so’s” when she recounted the Challenger’s success. Maybe she’d talk Al into dropping a few hints to the courtesans about the Duesenberg.

Perching on the picnic table, Reggie took a swig of her drink and grinned at Carrie, her best friend since forever, trying to teach Rafe a line dance. He moved with the grace of a lumberjack after a long hard day. He went left when he should’ve moved right. He was a soldier, not a dancer.

“Give it up, Carrie,” Reggie called.

“Never,” she called back, grabbing Rafe around the waist and steering him along.

He laughed and glanced down at the petite, dark-haired Carrie. Well, well, lookey here. Something more than friendship was developing between those two.

Good for you, Car-bear. Good for you. Rafe is one of the good guys.

Reggie shifted her gaze to Al as he came out of the shop with an armload of folding chairs. Wally followed with a wicker basket of chips and, hopefully, his famous onion and horseradish dip.

“Great night for holding
court
, Reg,” Al said, leaning the chairs against a tree.

“Don’t start with the court business, Al.”

“Why not? I find it rather fitting.”

“You’ll get everyone saying it.”

But it was a great night for
court
. If court meant being with people she loved. This evening was the first night of fall and the equinox had graced the Florida panhandle with a crisp, thin breeze.

“Hey.” Mark hopped onto the table next to her, causing the boards to pop. The scent of his Obsession soaked the air between them. “Clear your decks. We’re going sailing tomorrow.”


Sailing?
Mark, I get seasick if the bathtub is too full.” Reggie
scooted away from him. Because he sat too close. Because she didn’t want him getting too cozy. She’d kept him within their friendship bounds the other night, but his “I’m not going away” sounded all of her alarm bells.

“You’ve never really tried
sailing
, Reg.”

“What? I’ve gone deep-sea fishing twice.” What was she thinking when she did a repeat of that disaster? She hung over the side of the boat the first time, puking, trying for six hours not to inhale the smell of cut-up squid bait. “And three times Backlund’s Christmas party was on a yacht. I spent the entire time dancing with the toilet. Don’t tell me I’ve not tried it.”

“Not like this, with the wind in the sails and—”

“Mark, I’m not stepping on a watercraft just to puke over the side all day with nary a piece of land in sight.” Really, did he not know her? See her? “I’m sleeping in tomorrow, eating pancakes,”—it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but she liked it—“and working on the books.”

As a CPA, it went without saying that Reggie would handle the shop’s finances when she and Al hung out their shingle.

“All work and no play makes Reggie a dull girl.” His voice rose up and down, in a silly singsong, as he hooked his arm around her shoulders. “Come on, live a little. Devin Swain and his girlfriend invited us to St. George. You remember them from the fish fry. Kate really liked you.”

“What about being queasy and sick, wishing I were dead, is ‘living a little’?” Reggie snapped her fingers by his ear, then leaned closer, whispering, “I’m not going sailing.”

“All right. Sheesh, Reg.” Mark moved off the table. “Say, I’ll be back in time for dinner tomorrow night. I can pick up Chinese and meet you at your place . . . eight o’clock?” He regarded her, brows raised.

But what she saw in his expression wasn’t a successful, well-groomed businessman but a skinny kid longing for attention.

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
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