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Authors: MaryJanice Davidson

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BOOK: The Royal Treatment
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Chapter 2

From
The Queen of the Edge of the World
by Edmund Dante III, © 2089, Harper Zebra and Schuster Publications.

King Alexander II, head of the House of Baranov, was, as was most of the royal family, a conundrum. Raised to wealth and privilege, he had a common streak. However, he was rarely allowed to “get down and dirty,” as His Majesty might have put it, due to his responsibilities, the hovering of his majordomo, Edmund Dante, and his bodyguards.

Often His Majesty would let his beard grow and take a group out fishing. This drove people mad, in particular: (A) his security team, (B) Edmund Dante, and (C) the people in his fishing group. King Alexander was always surprised to be recognized, and once he was, quite a lot of the fun went out of the group. It was difficult for Alaskans to enjoy a day of leisure when they realized their sovereign was the one driving the boat and gutting the fish.

“W
e’re catching tons of fish, but you haven’t cracked a smile all afternoon.” The captain of the boat plunked down beside her, stretched out his long legs, and stared at the toes of his rubber boots. “What’s the matter, kid?”

Christina shrugged.

“Oh, come on.”

“Well…” She looked at the other members of the fishing party, who were all huddled on the other end of the boat, staring at them. Weird. It had been a pretty jolly group earlier, and now they were walking around like there was glass in their boots. “I’ll tell you my problem, if you tell me theirs.” She jerked her head in the direction of the group.

“Done.”

“Okay. Well, I kicked the shit out of my boss for copping a feel, got myself fired, again, I’m marooned in a strange country, again, and I used my last fifty bucks to come fishing. I mean, how dumb am I?”

The captain looked puzzled. He was a big man, wide through the shoulders, and quite a bit taller than she—and at five-ten, Christina wasn’t short. He had bushy, salt-and-pepper hair, an equally bushy beard threaded with silver, and blue eyes that smiled even when his mouth didn’t.

“How dumb are you? About which part?”

“The ‘spending my last dime on this boat’ part. I mean, hello, I could have waited until I found another job, right? Dumb. No excuse.” She sighed and stared out at the ocean. “But I just wanted to—wanted to—”

“Do something you loved for a change. I don’t think that’s so dumb.”

“No excuse,” she said gloomily. “Work first. Assuming I’ll be able to work in this country. I mean, I’ve got a passport, but—never mind, I’m getting off track. Because the rest of it, not so dumb. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Let him grab? Forget it. He’s lucky I didn’t kick his balls up into his throat.”

The captain was nodding, which cheered her up a little. “Damn right. He got what he deserved. If somebody did that to one of my daughters…” His hands closed into fists that were, she observed, the size of bowling balls.

“Right. No mercy.”

“Damn
right.”

“Right. We’ve now established that kicking ass is the way to go. But that doesn’t exactly help me out. I’ve got to find a job. I guess first I have to find out if I can stay.”

“You can stay,” the captain said.

“That’s nice, but I’d better check it out for myself, don’t you think?”

He shrugged.

“Right. Uh…you look kind of familiar. Have I seen you on TV or something?”

“I’ve got that kind of face,” he said vaguely.

“Oh. Anyway, all my worldly possessions are in a locker at the library, but—”

“What about your folks?”

“My dad took off when I was just a baby, and my mom died when I was in high school. There’s just me.”

“Jeez, that’s too bad.”

Now it was her turn to shrug. She certainly wasn’t getting into the whole “been on my own since I was sixteen” thing. He seemed like a nice, friendly, older guy, but there were limits.

“What do you do?”

“I’m—I mean, I
was
—a cook on a cruise ship. And spare me the whole ‘cruise ships are ruining Juneau’ speech—I’ve heard it before from the townies.”

“I’ve heard it, too. We’re working on it.”

She stared at him. “Seriously—you look
really
familiar. Are you sure we haven’t met, or—”

“What are you going to do when we get back to port?”

“I guess I’ll see if any of the hotels needs a caterer or—”

“You can work for me.”

“Thanks. That’s really nice of you.” She was sincere, but being mate on board a fishing boat was not her idea of a good time. It was messy, it was hard work, the pay sucked, and the tourists were annoying. “And I might take you up on it.” Beggars, after all, couldn’t be choosers. “But I’d better look around myself, first.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Captain, am I going to have to kick
your
ass today, too?”

“Haw! You’re young enough to be one of my kids. I’m too old for that shit. But I’ve got a son, he’s a little older than you—what are you, twenty-three, twenty-four?—and I think you’d be—”

She held up her hands like a traffic cop. “No, thanks. The last thing I need right now is a blind date.”

“Well, where are you sleeping tonight?”

“Seriously. Am I going to have to kick your ass?”

He laughed again. It was comforting—he had a big, booming bear laugh—but strange. It was like he got a huge kick out of being threatened. Like it never happened to him, so it was funny when it did. Most people did not laugh when she threatened them with bodily harm.

“Take it easy, uh—”

“Christina.”

“Christina. I’m Al. Look, I live in a really big place and there’s plenty of room for you. And there’s always a zillion people around, and all my kids still live at home, so it’s not like you’d be—uh—compromised. And I hate the idea of you sleeping on a park bench. I mean, I really fuckin’ hate it.”

She had to smile at his anxiety. And earnestness. “Thanks, Captain, but I’ve been looking out for myself for a long time.”

He sighed. “Suit yourself, but if you change your mind, just call this number and this guy’ll set you up.” He fished around and finally extracted a business card. He left a large grease smear on it, but otherwise it was perfectly legible. “It was really nice talking to you, but I guess I’d better get back to it.”

He strolled to the back of the boat while she read the card.

 

Edmund Dante
Chief Secretary to HRM King Alexander II
Juneau, Alaska
Audentia aeternum audentia
763–223-3215

 

At first she thought it was a joke—his name was Al, not Edmund. And what was with the Latin? She knew that slogan, she’d seen it on TV or something…what was it? Boldness, something. Boldness, ever boldness, that’s right. But that was the family—the royal family’s—

She watched the rest of the group.
En masse,
they shuffled uneasily when the captain approached.

“Your Majesty,” a few of them muttered, staring at the deck.

“Majesty,” another one said, slightly louder, and he bowed from the waist.

“Hey, on the boat, it’s just Al, okay, you guys?” He scratched his beard. “How’d you recognize me, anyway?”

“Hey!” she yelled, crumpling the card in her fist.
“Hey!”

“What?” he demanded, turning.


The king?
You’re the goddamned king of Alaska and you’ve got
fish guts
under your fingernails?”

“Hey, everybody likes to get away once in a while.”

“Get away?”

“You call my guy if you change your mind, Christina. We got lots of room—”

“At the Sitka Palace, for God’s sake!”

“Well…yeah.” He grinned at her. She shook her head and scowled at him, but inside, she was smiling. It had been a pretty good joke on her, and that was for sure. Shame on her for not recognizing him sooner, beard or no beard. The guy was on television or in the papers almost every month, after all.

Assaulted my boss, insulted a king. All in the space of three hours. Can’t wait to see what’s in store this afternoon.

Chapter 3

H
is Royal Highness David Alexander Marko Dmitri Baranov, crown prince of Alaska, leaned forward and said, “Open up, little lady. You know you want it.”

The sleek king penguin, thigh-high to him, opened her beak and wolfed down the proffered smelt. David resisted the urge to pet her. The deceptively cute bird was more than capable of a painful jab if she felt threatened. He had the scars on the tops of his hands to prove it.

He watched the baker’s dozen of kings swim and move about the twelve-hundred-square-foot habitat. His home-within-his home. Here David felt truly at peace, here he was able to—

“His Highness, heir to the throne, once again among the waddlers.”

“Kings don’t waddle, Edmund,” he said without turning around. “They’re about the only kind of penguin that walks instead of hopping.”

“Fascinating, sir. It’s only because I’m so riveted that I’m falling asleep standing. Of course, I dare not sleep talk and suggest you leave your sanctum sanctorum and take a meal with the king and your royal siblings.”

“Why would I do that?”

The special assistant to the king sighed. “Never mind, sir.”

“So Dad’s back from his fishing tour?”

“Two hours ago, sir.”

“He got busted again, didn’t he?”

“The king remains unaware of his easily recognizable features.”

David snickered. It was just too damned funny, the king sneaking off for some private time—how well he understood the urge! And his dad was always crushed when locals recognized him.

“Want to feed the birds?”

“I am overwhelmed at the invitation, but as a simple man, I do not share your family’s infatuation with dead fish.”

“Smart-ass,” David muttered. Edmund Dante had been looking after the royal family since his grandfather’s time. As such, while Edmund deeply respected the institution, he had no fear of it.

David’s earliest memory was of Edmund bowing deeply and calling him sir, then spanking him for booting Princess Alexandria off the dock and into the harbor.

“Sir, I—ah—hesitate to bring this up—”

“You? Hesitate? Whatever you’ve been sniffing, can I have some?”

Edmund favored him with a sour smile. He was tall—as tall as the king—but whip-thin. He also had two master’s degrees, one in Alaskan history, the other in Alaskan literature. His sisters had given Edmund the nickname “Ichabod Brain.” “Your wit is as devastating as ever, sir. I wondered if you were aware the king is…ah…seeking a bride.”

“Dad wants to get married again?” he asked, actually looking away from the penguins. “Holy mother of God, wasn’t once enough?”

“Not a bride for him, sir. For you.”

“Oh. That whole ‘the crown prince needs an heir’ thing, huh?”

“I would imagine so, yes, sir.”

David shrugged and picked up another bucket of smelt. “Well, he can choose away. I mean, it doesn’t really matter, right? As long as she’s young and healthy and wants to have kids.”

“As you say, sir. Really, the only qualities one would wish for in a wife.” Edmund said this with a perfectly straight face and, despite the fact that David narrowed his eyes at him, didn’t change expression. Sometimes it was impossible to tell if the man was teasing or not.

Edmund opened his mouth but—thank God—was interrupted when his cellphone/walkie-talkie beeped at him. He pulled it out of its holster and pressed the black button on the side.

“Dante.”

“Ah, yeah, Mr. Dante, this is Sergeant Kenner at the east gate?”

“Go ahead, Sergeant.”

“Well, there’s a girl here—a lady, I mean—and she says—”

“Is that him? Give me that thing.” The woman’s voice, a faint contralto, suddenly became much clearer. And louder. David straightened from the penguins and cocked his head, listening to the tinny, strident voice. “Is this Edmund Dante?”

“Y—”

“Good, listen, my name’s Christina Krabbe and I met the king on a fishing boat today. And don’t even say anything—I know how it sounds. But it’s true! He was pretending to be the captain and he was wearing what appeared to be a dead muskrat on his face.”

“Fascinating.”

“Well, anyway, he said I could stay at the palace if I wanted. And he gave me your card. And at first I said no, thanks, but then I said, why the hell not? I know how it sounds.”

“Indeed. Ma’am, would you put Sergeant Kenner back on the line, please?”

“Huh? Oh, sure.” There was a thud, followed by a crackle.

“Kenner here.”

“Sergeant, does the lady in question have shoulder-length blond hair, green eyes, and freckles? And does she come up to your shoulder?”

“Her eyes are kinda more blue than green, but everything else is spot-on.”

“And is she as obnoxious in person as she appears over this phone?”

“Well…yeah.”

“Very well, escort her to the west gate and I will meet her there.”

“Right away, sir.”

Edmund clicked off and reholstered his phone.

“Who was
that?”
David asked. He forgot to let go of the smelt and one of the kings pecked him. He barely felt it.

“Oh, just someone your father met today,” Edmund said airily. “It’s of no concern to
you,
Highness.”

“Fine, be that way. You’d better get moving. It’ll take you at least twenty minutes to walk to the west gate from here.”

“Sir, I have told you a billion times not to exaggerate. It will take no more than twelve.” Edmund bowed slightly. “If I have your leave, Your Highness…?”

“Like you need it,” David grumbled, and waved him off.

Christina Krabbe, he thought after Edmund left. Weird name.

Nice voice, though.

BOOK: The Royal Treatment
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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