Read Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) Online

Authors: Rachel Hauck

Tags: #ebook

Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) (8 page)

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Reg, dinner tomorrow night,” Mr. Harper hollered. “Around eight.”

Back in the office, Tanner remained standing. “Let’s just get to the bottom line, shall we?”

“Let’s.” She folded her arms, waiting. “Now, what’s this all about?”

“Your great-grandmother Alice was born December 10, 1897, as Her Royal Highness, Princess Alice Stephanie Regina, heir to the royal throne of the House of Augustine-Saxon.”

“I’ve never heard any of this except her birthday.”

“Her uncle, her mother’s brother, was Prince Francis, Grand Duke of Hessenberg. He had no children, making his eldest niece his heir.”

“Gram? A princess? An heir?” She narrowed her gaze at him. “How come she never said a word—” Beneath the motor oil, her face paled and she paced again, her hand to her forehead. “No, no, no . . .”

“What is it?”

“We used to play princess. When I was a kid. But she never, ever said a word about being a
real
princess. Did you ever meet her? No, I guess not. Gram was the sweetest, most down-to-earth woman you’d ever want to meet. She worked at church, on every committee known to man. Visited the sick and infirm. She wore the same pair of shoes until they wore out. Drove the same car for fifteen years and then lamented when she had to trade it in. She drove her last car until she was ninety-two.” Miss Beswick stopped in front of him. “This is crazy. Gram? A princess?”

Her words were music to his heart. “Miss Beswick, the woman you just described sounds very much like the princess she would’ve been trained to be. Very much indeed.”

“Even the bit about the shoes? And driving herself around?”

Tanner laughed. “Perhaps not. But all the rest.” He set his attaché case on the desk. “Shall we start from the beginning?”

Miss Beswick sat down slowly. “Please. From the beginning.” She made a face. “She was really a princess?”

“Yes.” Tanner handed her the royal dossier. “As are you, Miss Beswick. The Hereditary Princess, the Grand Duchess of Hessenberg.”

SIX

A
t the kitchen table, Daddy read the official document signed by King Nathaniel II. He was too quiet. Too calm.

“Daddy?”

“Hmm,” he said with a grunt. “I’m reading.”

“You’ve been reading for the past ten minutes.”

Reggie looked at her stepmom, Sadie, sitting next to Daddy, her expression somber. Over her shoulder, in the corner of the family room, a cop show was paused, frozen in mid-action, on the television screen.

Still reeling with the news, Reggie had left the shop with Mr. Burkhardt and headed straight to Daddy and Sadie’s. The only thing she craved more than a shower to wash the oil from her face was the truth.

She’d anticipated shock and surprise from Daddy and Sadie when she barged in on their Friday night programs with Mr. Burkhardt in tow, announcing Gram was a princess. Which made
Mama
a princess, rest her soul. And now Reggie.

“Daddy,”—Reggie tapped the table in front of him—“did you know about this?”

Sadie slapped her palm down and scooted back her chair. “I’m in the mood for baking.” Sadie jumped up from the table.
“Who’s up for chocolate chip cookies?” She baked when things got tense.

“Bake?” Reggie peered at Daddy, then Sadie. “Daddy, what are you not telling me?”

“I’m off to the store.” Sadie snatched her purse from the small, inset kitchen desk. Yep, she was a bank president by day and a stress-relief baker by night.

“Sadie,” Daddy said, stopping her with the tone of his voice. “I need your help here.”

“Help?” Reggie glanced between her father and Sadie. At the end of the table, Mr. Burkhardt watched and listened. “What kind of—”

“I told you this would happen, Noble.”

“We didn’t know for sure.” Daddy set the king’s letter on the table and looked at Sadie. “But when I wanted to tell her, you fought me, Sadie. Said she’d get all bigheaded and run off.”

“Bigheaded?” Reggie echoed. “When was this?”

Sadie dropped her bag to the counter with a huff. “Oh, when you were seventeen and going through that rebellious patch. Your dad wanted to tell you, thought it might make you feel special, help you deal with the stress of your senior year, but I said to wait because, really, we didn’t know if any of it was true—”

“What rebellious patch?” Reggie demanded. “I came home late a few times and wanted to study abroad for the second half my senior year.”

“We”—Sadie motioned to Daddy—“thought it best to wait.” She clasped her hands at her waist, her cupid face pinched with thought.

Sadie had been one of Mama’s best friends. A career woman, not a wife or mother. But when Mama died, Sadie stepped up and devoted herself to serving Daddy and Reggie. A year after Mama’s funeral, Daddy proposed.

“To wait for what?” Reggie said.

“I really need to bake.” Sadie started opening cabinets. “Mr. Burkhardt, do you like sugar cookies?”

Tanner stood, buttoning his suit coat, hemming himself in all proper and stiff. “Ma’am, there’s no need—”

“Oh, but there is a need. And a simple ‘Yes, I love sugar cookies’ will do.” Sadie pulled out the flour tin.

He cast a glance at Reggie. “You heard her. Just say yes,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am, I love sugar cookies.”

“Wonderful.” Sadie continued to inventory her cupboards. “Oh look, I’ve found leftover sprinkles from the Fourth of July.”

For a moment, the only sounds were the ones Sadie made setting up to bake cookies, then Reggie reached for the letter.

“So this is true?” She read aloud. “At the end of the hundred-year entail, Prince Francis intended for his heir, whoever he or she be, to return to Hessenberg and reestablish the monarchy . . .”

She read with the intent of understanding each word, but the reality of being heir to this throne—this House of Augustine-Saxon—seemed about as likely as flying to the moon.

Gram was a princess? Alice of Hessenberg? It felt more like she was Alice in Wonderland. Reggie’s heart could not comprehend what her head strained to grasp.

“I’ve got everything I need to bake sugar cookies. No Publix run. How about that, Noble?”

“Not surprised, Sadie-bun.” Daddy’s deep voice resonated through the kitchen. “And, yes, Reg, I guess it’s true.”

“Mr. Beswick,” Mr. Burkhardt began, “did your wife give you a clue? Or perhaps Princess Alice told you the history of Hessenberg and the entail?”

“Well, first, right before Reggie’s mama died, she whispered something to me about Gram’s secret. But she was fading in and out. When I pressed her for an answer, she didn’t seem to know what I was asking. I thought she might have been thinking of when Gram played princess with Reg, you know.” He shook his
head. “She died about an hour later and I, well, I had bigger fish to fry than some murmur about a princess.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Beswick, of course.”

“Don’t be sorry. You weren’t the son of a gun who ran the light and T-boned her car.” In the seventeen years since her death, an ever-present pain darkened Daddy when he spoke of Mama’s accident. And in those moments, a fresh wave of missing her crashed the shores of Reggie’s heart.

“So, then, you asked Gram?” Otherwise, why would he consider telling her during her rebel years?

Reggie shot a glance toward Sadie, busy in the kitchen.
Rebellion
. . . What was she talking about? Reggie no more rebelled than Sadie Beswick missed a Christmas baking season.

“As a matter of fact, I got around to it. A few months later.” Daddy’s voice drew in Reggie’s heart and attention. “One night after supper, I was sitting by her bed and, well, you know”—Daddy chuckled as if it all seemed so silly now—“I said, ‘Gram, before Bettin died, she said something about being a princess.’ ”

“What did she say?” Reggie hooked her hand over Daddy’s arm.

He shrugged. “She said since Bettin had died, Regina was the princess.” Daddy scratched his head and peered at Mr. Burkhardt. “Gram always called Reggie by her full name. Anyway, I asked her what she meant and her eyes kind of clouded over. Then she muttered something about Reg being ‘my princess’ and I thought, ‘Well, there you go, she’s gone to her soft place, remembering the past when she played dress-up with Reg. Same as Bettin.’ Or maybe she was telling me Reg was
my
princess.” Daddy patted his chest. “My girl, treat her like a princess.”

“Her soft place?” Mr. Burkhardt leaned toward Daddy.

“Here.” Daddy tapped his temple. “Those moments when—we thought—she’d slipped from reality. The older she got, the more she talked about her past, her girlhood in Hessenberg, an old stable, someone named Rein.” Daddy ran his hand over his
chin. “Her Mamá, her uncle. Her sister, Esmé. Folks I’d never met. They’d all gone on, passed to the other side.

“We couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Guess we should’ve paid her more mind. But she had so much heartache in her life, being a widow, losing her daughter, then her granddaughter. After Bettin died, Gram seemed to go to her soft place a good bit. Sadie and I figured escaping to her childhood gave her peace, helped her mourn. Shoot, all of her blood kin were dead except Reg. You live to be a hundred, you outlive most of your people. So we just let Gram go on, live in her own brand of dignity. Wasn’t any use in correcting her.”

“What about telling me?” Reggie demanded. “Was there any use in telling me?”

“To be honest, Reg, it didn’t make much sense to me. A princess? For real? I thought about telling you when you were seventeen, like Sadie said, but we talked it out and, well, it sounded kind of silly. Maybe we had no proof, no way of really knowing.” Daddy shook his head, shoving away from the table, and walked into the family room for some peppermints.

When he returned, he offered one to Mr. Burkhardt, who refused with a kind, “No, thank you.”

“She said something else to you that day, Noble, didn’t she?” Sadie stood nearby, a bowl in her arm, stirring a mixture with a big silver spoon.

“What? What did she say?” The need to know, to understand, pressed against Reggie’s ribs.

“More of the same.” Daddy popped a peppermint in his mouth and reached for another one. He was lean and wiry from working hard his whole life. His dark hair was thick and black with only a subtle hint of gray. And when he laughed, his blue eyes twinkled. “She was a good woman, your gram.” His eyes glistened. “I miss her. Anyway, just as I was leaving her room that night, she said, ‘Nobel, you let her go when the time comes, hear
me? She’ll restore the kingdom.’ Then she muttered again about you being her princess.”

“Restore the kingdom?” Reggie’s voice rose with wonder. “What does that mean?”

“Exactly. I dismissed it,” Daddy said. “Thought maybe she was quoting lines from
Star Wars
. We’d just finished a marathon weekend with Sadie’s nephews.” He glanced back at his wife. “Remember that, Sadie?”

“Daddy, you didn’t at least look into it?” Reggie ran her fingers through her hair. She really wanted a shower with slick, warm water running down her face, washing away the remains of motor oil. The remains of this conversation and she needed to think.

Gram . . . Hessenberg . . . the entail thing . . .

“No, Reg, I’m sorry, I didn’t. Connecting Gram and you to a royal house in Europe was like assuming a man could build a ladder to the stars. Impossible. I knew Alice Edmunds for fifteen years and she never, ever hinted at being a royal other than what I just told you. Nor did your mama.”

“The truth is, Alice Edmunds
was
a royal.” Mr. Burkhardt peered at Reggie. “And your daughter is her heir. Alice was right. Your daughter is the one who can restore Hessenberg to its sovereign status. Return us to our own kingdom, as it were.”

In silence, Daddy fixed his attention on unwrapping his next peppermint. “Are you telling me that time is now, Mr. Burkhardt?”

“Yes, sir, I am.” Mr. Burkhardt motioned to the documents on the table. “It’s all there. The agreement between Brighton and Hessenberg ends October twenty-second at midnight. If there is no heir to the Hessenberg throne, Hessenberg will be absorbed entirely by Brighton as a province, much like Normandy into France, and Tuscany into Italy, and lose her status as a sovereign nation. Forever. Unless Hessenberg is willing to go to war and spill blood for her independence. Which at this point is not an option.”

Reggie stood to pace around the table. “I should hope not, Mr.
Burkhardt.” She wearied of addressing him so formally, but as long as he called her Miss Beswick, she was going to call him Mr. Burkhardt. “Why can’t you just void up the entail? The men who made the agreement are dead.”

“This is not a school-yard, spit-in-your-hand agreement, Miss Beswick. It’s legal. Binding. With all the rights and restrictions of any law and upheld by a European court. We cannot just
void
the entail. America has not voided your constitution because the men who penned it are dead.”

“I don’t understand why this is so important. You’ve been ruled by Brighton for a hundred years. What’s wrong with Hessenberg becoming a permanent part of Brighton?”

“If it’s all the same to you,”—Mr. Burkhardt’s countenance steeled—“we’d like to remain a nation. Determine our own destiny. Hessens are a patriotic and proud people. In a more practical word, our two economies are sinking one another. It’s the desire of both nations for Hessenberg to be independent, a sovereign nation again, at the end of the entail.”

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Running on Empty by L. B. Simmons
Hard Target by Jacobson, Alan
The Call of Distant Shores by Wilson, David Niall, Eggleton, Bob