Read Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) Online

Authors: Rachel Hauck

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Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series) (9 page)

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
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“All right, then exactly how does Reg fit into all of this?” Daddy tossed his peppermint wrapper toward the kitchen trash. Sadie commented that he missed. “And really, how do we know you’re legit? How do we know these formal-looking documents aren’t forged?”

“Those are solid, fine questions.” Mr. Burkhardt examined the documents on the table, selecting one to show to Daddy. “You see here, this is the king’s cipher and his seal.”

Reggie listened on the edge, using the moment to examine the Hessenberg visitor with her heart’s eyes. What was in this for him? Just a job? Doing the king’s bidding? Yet, if Hessenberg separated from Brighton, he’d no longer be Mr. Burkhardt’s king.

Was Mr. Burkhardt seeking promotion, position, or just being a loyal servant? A fastball revelation smacked Reggie’s heart . . .

“If I do this, will I be your boss?”

He glanced over at her, his expression, the strong cut of his jaw, reflecting nothing of his feelings. Nothing beneath his surface. He was handsome, built like an athlete with a corporate-guy demeanor.

“You will be my sovereign, yes.”

“And you’d be fine with that? Me? A car enthusiast who cares little about politics other than my right to vote telling you what to do?”

He straightened. “If I say yes, will you come to Hessenberg?” Deep-toned, matter-of-fact, extremely serious.

“Do you ever smile?” Reggie said.

A very soft, faint smile flirted with his lips. “If I say yes, will you come to Hessenberg?”

“Depends.” She crossed her arms. “You saw that Corvette in the yard tonight?”

“What Corvette?” Daddy said.

“Oh, Daddy.” Excitement bubbled in her chest. “Did you meet Urban Jessup? He’s one of Mark’s friends.”

“That big-time lawyer from the serial killer trial?”

“Yeah, that’s the guy. Anyway, he bought a ’53 Vet. One of the originals.”

“Ho, ho, ho, Reg.” Delight sparked in Daddy’s eyes. “One of your dream cars. God is smiling on you.”

“I couldn’t believe it when he drove up. And you know he wanted to restore it himself?”

“But you convinced him otherwise.”

“Yes, I did.” Daddy slapped Reggie a high five.

“Miss Beswick.” Mr. Burkhardt exhaled what sounded like his last breath. “We need you in Hessenberg immediately.” Nothing remained of his slight smile.

“For how long? What will I have to do?” Reggie turned back to him. Al and the boys could start on the Vet. She’d hate to make Urban wait. Either way, she’d be back in time for the good stuff.

Besides, it might be kind of cool to visit Gram’s birthplace, get a taste of her own heritage and roots.

“You will have to . . .” Mr. Burkhardt shuffled the papers, displaying the first nervous break in his steel visage. “This is rather awkward, Miss Beswick.”

“It wasn’t awkward a few minutes ago.”

He met her gaze, his confidence returned. “This will sound unusual to you, an American, but you will prepare to take the Oath of the Throne. Then take your place as head of state, and move toward a full royal coronation.”

“Oath? Head of state?” Reggie, Daddy, and Sadie spoke together, in harmonious surprise.

“Once you take the oath, you will be the official heir and enabled by law to sign the end of the entail and inherit, if you will, the duchy and return her to full nation status once more. Thus you’ll be our leader under which our government can be established.” Mr. Burkhardt offered her a document. “We’ve prepared a summary of events that must take place.”

Reggie hesitated, then reached for the paper. She skimmed the bulleted lines. Return to Hessenberg. Become familiar with the capital city, Strauberg, and the palace, Meadowbluff. Prepare to take the Oath of the Throne. Meet with government leaders.

All to return a small duchy to full nation status? Her heart pinged with increasing alarm. The paper shimmied and wavered in her cold, trembling hands. A second later she couldn’t concentrate enough to read.

“Mr. Burkhardt,”—she let the paper drift down to the table—“I–I don’t understand. How is it possible I can do any of these things?”

“Because you are Princess Alice’s great-granddaughter.” He pointed to a line of the summary. “She’s the direct descendant of one Oscar Augustine, who freed the duchy from Prussian rule in 1602. He asserted himself as the Grand Duke of Hessenberg, a
jewel floating on the surface of the ore-enriched North Sea. The people were serfs in the beginning, but he organized the land into farms and mines, established a constitution and parliament. The people prospered.

“But in the end, Hessenberg was owned by the House of Augustine-Saxon. When the Grand Duke Prince Francis, your great-grandmother’s uncle, gave her up to Brighton, he abdicated his throne and legal rights to the land for one hundred years.”

The picture was becoming clear. “Then the House of Augustine-Saxon gets to come roaring back.”

“If the proper heir was found.”

“And that proper heir is me.”

“Yes, miss, ’tis you.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later.” Reggie headed for the front door without offering a by-your-leave or kiss-my-grits.

From the kitchen, Sadie made a racket wrenching her cookie sheets from the bottom cupboard. Reggie never could figure how the woman managed to bury the baking tools she used the most. But that was her stepmama.

“Reg?” Daddy called.

“Miss Beswick, please, wait.” Mr. Burkhardt hurried after her.

Reggie moved faster. A dog with a bone, that man. “I’ve got to go.”

A princess? An oath? A coronation? It was laughable. If Mr. Burkhardt wasn’t so darn serious, she’d swear someone was punking her.

No woman Reggie ever knew dreamed of being a princess after the age of twelve. Well, except for Mable Torres, who wanted to be Miss Springtime Tallahassee. And Christi Selby, who was crowned Miss Florida. But they were temporary princesses with no authority. Burkhardt was asking her to establish a country.

A country!

Down the front porch steps, Reggie made a beeline for her old ’78 Datsun, fumbling for the keys.

“It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?” A bit of kindness, of empathy, tenderized Mr. Burkhardt’s words.

“Look, Mr. Burkhardt—” Reggie tossed her bag into the passenger seat. “And, please, can I call you Tanner?”

“Certainly.” He stopped next to her, hands locked behind his back.

“I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with your country.” She regarded him in the bright white of Daddy’s driveway luminaries.

“You won’t be alone, Miss Beswick.”

“Please. Reggie. Call me Reggie.”

“You’ll have advisors. We’ve functioned under a constitutional monarchy for hundreds of years, and we can do it again. On our own. We’ve a core of stellar leaders to assist you. King Nathaniel II and his prime minister will advise and aid you in every way. As well as our own governor.”

Daddy’s dark silhouette appeared on the porch. Watching. Waiting. Probably praying.

“After the oath, then what?”

“Sign the end of the entail.”

“Then what?”

He hesitated. “That would be up to you, Miss Beswick. Stay in Hessenberg as a reigning royal, reestablishing the House of Augustine-Saxon, helping to form our new government. Or abdicate and return home, leaving us to find our way without a royal house for the first time in our history. But we will be independent again, and most grateful.”

“Abdicate? You mean quit? Sign me up to be a princess, then make me resign in order to return home to
my
life?” She jerked open the car door and the rusty hinges creaked and moaned. Yes, her sentiments exactly.

“If you’ll just—”

“Look, Mr. Burkhardt—Tanner—this is who I am.” She spread her arms, turning a small circle. “A Tallahassee lassie, born and bred. I love my job, don’t you see? I love my life. Save a certain Mark Harper who’s expecting too much, which I do intend to address, I want for nothing. I have my freedom, my friends and family, my faith.”

She’d just made her case for a firm refusal. “I can’t.” She turned back for the car. “And I won’t. This is crazy. I can’t even comprehend what you are telling me. And frankly, I don’t want to comprehend it.”

“Will you take this? Read it all carefully?” Tanner approached with the attaché case, his subtle scent cleansing the air between them. “Take this. Review the papers. You’ll see you are the true and only heir.” When she didn’t reach for the case, he took another step toward her. “Please. There’s something in there you’ll want to read.”

“Like what?”

“Just read . . .” He offered the case once more. “I’m staying at the Duval downtown. My card is in the side pocket with my mobile number. Call. Please. If you have any questions.”

“Breathe, sweet pea,” Daddy called from the porch. “Take the papers. Read them. Think on it. Pray. Can’t hurt.”

Reggie stepped around Tanner toward the porch. “Daddy, whose side are you on? Do you want me to move away? Far away?” She turned to Tanner. “How many miles to Hessenberg?”

“Four thousand two hundred and twelve miles.”

“Four thou—holy cow. Daddy, do you want me to move four thousand miles away?”

“You know I don’t.” He took one step down, then two. “But I don’t want you to say no to this princess thing without considering the evidence, weighing your options.”

“You mean like you wanted me to go to FSU for accounting because it was a nice, safe career?”

“Was I wrong?”

“But I hated it.” She squinted, shielding her eyes with her hand, trying to see Daddy through the backlight of the porch lamps.

“I think you
came
to hate it eventually. You were restless. Still are, I imagine. But that CPA job was the highway to do what you wanted, Reg. You couldn’t have started that shop without the money you saved reconciling other folks’ accounts. Same might be the case here. You might find you like being a princess.”

She groaned. “Like restoring cars is a highway to being a princess?”

“Maybe.”

Ha! “Daddy, my life is not a Disney movie.” She waved him off, turning back to the car. If she didn’t know him to be a teetotaler, she’d swear he’d been nipping at the cooking sherry.

“You liked playing princess with Gram,” he called. Relentless, her daddy. More of a dog with a bone than Mr. Burkhardt.

“I was six. And she made the best construction paper tiaras.”

“Miss Beswick—”

“Reggie. For crying out loud, call me Reggie.” She’d hit the wall. Tired, frustrated, and confused. There was nowhere to go but straight to irritated.

“Take this.” He reached for her hand and settled the case on her palm. “You’ll want to read it, I promise.”

“Fine.” She grabbed it to her chest, her mind firing thoughts out of rhythm with the beat of her heart.
Read the documents. No! Read them. No!
“I’ll read the papers, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never be getting on an airplane to Hessenberg with you.”

“That’s my girl,” Daddy said. “Way to keep an open mind.”

“Miss Beswick . . . Regina,” Tanner said with a slight bow, “thank you. Hessenberg thanks you.”

She shifted her stance. “What happens if I say no?”

“Simple,” he said, locking his hands behind his back.
“Hessenberg, the nation of your gram’s birth, disappears from the face of the earth. Removed from the world’s maps. A nation with history dating back to ancient Rome will cease to be.”

The last straw had been laid, and Reggie felt she might crumble to the ground. “And all of that falls on me? It’s crazy.” She spoke to her own soul, to the night, as she stared across the street at the shards of light slicing through the neighbor’s shrouding trees and shrubs.

“It’s also true—”

Reggie whirled to face Mr. Burkhardt. “Are you always this confident?”

“No, but—”

“Good, because it’s a bit grating.” She settled the attaché case in the passenger seat. “How long do I have to decide?”

“Technically, until the entail ends. Midnight, October twenty-second. But in truth, we’ll need time, a few weeks, to get you and the people ready.”

“October twenty-second? That’s a month away. So, basically, we’d have to leave . . . now.”

“If possible. In a few days, yes.”

“Y’all had a hundred years to keep track of the royal heirs to this August-Saxon-whatever house, but you lost them. So you come crying to my doorstep giving me a few days to decide. How’s that fair?”

“It’s not, Miss Beswick, I agree. But your uncle Prince Francis abdicated and scattered the family on purpose. To keep them safe, for one. And to honor his part of the entail with Brighton Kingdom. Had we known about you, we’d have stopped by sooner. But alas, your great-gram was difficult to track down.”

Hearing the recap of her royal heritage boiled the confusion in her chest to anger. Her breath burned in her lungs. “I’ve got to go.”

Reggie climbed into the Datsun and fired up the forty-year-old
engine, which rattled and knocked, threatening to stall. Easing down on the gas, Reggie fed the carburetor and shifted into reverse.

Tanner leaned his arm on the door and peered at her through the open window. “Sooner is better than later, Miss Beswick.”

“And you’re leaving when?” She inched the car back down the driveway.

“When you agree to go with me.” He exhaled and stood back. “Or when the Grand Duchy of Hessenberg ceases to be a nation.”

SEVEN

BOOK: Princess Ever After (Royal Wedding Series)
5.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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