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BOOK: The Royal Treatment
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Chapter 4

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

To my grandfather, Edmund Dante I, fell the task of teaching the future queen manners, deportment, and all areas of appropriate behavior for a royal. Subsequently, Dante would have known of the king’s enthusiasm and would have known, in fact, before Queen Christina herself, the role she was destined to play. So it’s likely the entire tone of their relationship was set by their first meeting.

Unfortunately, there are no historical records of such a meeting, so we are forced to speculate what these two strong-willed individuals made of each other….

T
he sergeant—who’d become perfectly nice once she’d gotten the okay from what’s-his-face, screeched to a halt in front of a truly gargantuan door. She climbed out of the golf cart and turned to thank Kenner for the ride, only to see him check his watch, nod, and zoom off.

Well. Sink or swim around here.
That was just fine by her.

She raised her fist—she figured if she stood on tiptoe she could almost reach the middle of the door—when it suddenly swung open and she was eyeball-to-collarbone with one of the tallest, thinnest men she’d ever seen.

He had jet-black hair, a widow’s peak, and eyes so dark she couldn’t tell where his pupils began. He was dressed in a black suit, white dress shirt, black tie, and was deeply tanned. He could have been anywhere from thirty-five to sixty-five.

“Gaaaaaahhhh!”

“Green,” the incredibly scary-looking man said, looking her over. “Not blue.”

She put a hand on her chest to slow her now-galloping pulse. “Wh—what?”

“Good evening, ma’am. Edmund Dante.”

She shook his hand. His grip was firm and dry. It was like shaking hands with a plank of wood. “Is every guy in this country over six feet tall?”

“Yes, ma’am, every single one of us. If you’ll follow me?”

“Where are we going?”

“Your quarters, ma’am.”

“Oh. Super. And it’s Christina, not ma’am.”

After six hallways, an elevator ride, and four doors, she was standing in a small suite of rooms.

“Oh…man!”

“I trust these will be acceptable?”

“Day-amn!”

“Very well, then.”

She flung herself toward the bed, twisted in midair, and disappeared in a billow of down comforters. “Oh, I could get used to this!”

What’s-his-name’s face appeared above her. This was slightly less startling than the first time. “If you have need of anything,” he told her, “just pick up the phone. Tomorrow’s luncheon is at one.”

“Gotta sing for my supper, huh? Well, fair’s fair.”

“Would you like to meet Prince David before then?”

“Why?”

“Oh, perfect.”

“What?”

“Nothing, ma’am. It’s the dry air in here.” He hack-hacked into a closed fist. “It makes me hoarse. I’ll attend to it immediately. Good evening.”

“’Bye.”

He left, moving like a tall, tanned ghost, and she climbed out of the downy bed—took a while!—and prowled the suite.

Cream walls with gold trim. A zillion windows. A bathroom, a room just for hanging out in, a bedroom. Big windows—bigger than her!—that looked out to an emerald green lawn roughly the size of New York’s Central Park. Four phones!

She picked up a receiver, just for the fun of it, and instead of a dial tone heard a cheerful female voice say, “Yes, Miss Krabbe?”

“It’s ‘Krabbe’,” she said, startled. “The ‘e’ is silent. And, uh, nothing. ’Bye.”

She hung up and kicked off her shoes, then flung herself onto the amazingly plush bed again.

Gotta find the catch. There’s gotta be one.

Before she could figure it out, she fell asleep.

 

“D
id you see her?” the king demanded.

“Fine, Your Majesty, and you?”

“Cut that out, Edmund, you harpy. What did you think?”

“A most…” He chose his words carefully. “…
charismatic
young lady.”

“D’you think David will like her?”

“I—”

“She’s just what he needs. She’s tough, she’s cuter than hell, and she’s a no-nonsense kind of gal. She
yelled
at me when she found out who I was. Usually people just sort of…” King Alexander made a vague gesture.

“Scuttle out of the reach of your mighty wrath?”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Your Majesty, since you did ask my opinion—and as your servant I am most grateful for this rare opportunity to air my views—”

“Spit it out, Edmund.”

“—can the prince not choose his own wife?”

“Well, what the hell’s he waiting for?” The king jumped up from his seat by the fireplace and paced the room in his agitation. “He’s going to be thirty this year and he’s not even looking. Hell, he’s not even
dating.
That Yank magazine—
People,
is it? He’s made their Most Eligible Bachelor issue since he was drinking age, so don’t tell me he couldn’t get a date if he wanted to. And you’ve heard him, all this ‘as long as she’s healthy and wants kids’ bullshit—”

“But that’s understandable. Does His Majesty not wish the succession to—”

The king waved that away. “No, no,
no.”

“No?” Edmund teased.

“Jeez, I’ve got five kids—
one
of ’em’s bound to get knocked up, or knock someone up. If David doesn’t have kids, Alex’s kids can run the country, or the other Alex’s, or Kathryn’s, or—”

“I believe I see where you’re going with this, sir.”

“I just want him to
be
with somebody, you know? A partner. A friend. So he doesn’t spend all his time mooning around after those smelly birds. When his mom—uh—left—”

“Prince David took the queen’s death very hard,” Edmund said quietly.

“Anyway, he needs a wife. And if he won’t go get one,
I’ll
find one for him.”

“Lord help us.”

“What?”

“Dry air. I’ll see to it immediately.”

“So, the kid—Christina—she’s settled in and all?”

“She was rolling around on the down duvet when I left her, chortling like a monkey.”

“Excellent. And she’s having lunch with all of us tomorrow?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Make sure David comes, too. It’s not a request—tell him the king and he are having lunch, got it?”

“I had it the first time, sir.”

“Wise guy. Go away.”

“At once, sir. Just one question…I confess to consuming curiosity—”

“What a gigantic fucking surprise.”

Edmund sniffed disapprovingly at the language, but didn’t comment. “I take it you have abandoned your peace-making attempts with Her Majesty the Queen of England?”

“She won’t answer my letters,” he said gloomily. “Her secretary’s been writing back, how’s that for a diss? Uh…no offense, Edmund. When I have you write back for me—”

“It’s because you can’t be bothered—yes, sir, I know. So England remains implacable?”

“Too damn right. Jeez, an honest mistake, and we’re all banned from Buckingham and Sandring-ham for life.”

“The honest mistake being when you mistook one of her prized corgis for a raccoon and chased after it on horseback?”

“I thought it had rabies,” the king whined. “You know all the problems they’ve been having this summer. I was going to kill it for her.”

“As a gesture of good will.”

“Well…yeah.”

“A fortuitous beginning that would cement relations with her house and yours.”

“Exactly!”

“Instead you merely chased her beloved dog to exhaustion, causing it to succumb to dehydration.”

“Hell, it didn’t
die
or anything. Just needed to see the vet. For a few days. Okay, a week.”

“Um-hmm.” Edmund passed a hand over his immaculate hairstyle. “Thus, we can forget about a marital alliance with the House of Windsor.”

“Pretty much.”

“So we’ve resorted to picking American commoners off the street?”

The king jabbed a finger the size of a sausage in Edmund’s direction. “Never mind that snob bullshit. My great-grandma was a nobody and she turned out to be the greatest queen this country’s ever seen. Bloodlines don’t mean shit up here. It’s what you
do
that counts.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Christina’s got the goods. David doesn’t care. And I want them hitched. So that’s that.”

 

From
The Queen of the Edge of the World.
And that, as they say, was that.

Chapter 5

“M
aps,” the blonde said, hurrying into the dining hall. She saw the steps too late and instead of skidding to a halt, simply sailed over them and landed lightly on her feet. She was wearing khaki shorts, a short-sleeved, powder blue sweater, and loafers without socks. “Maps in the rooms.”

“What?” the king said. “What’s the big deal, kid? Lunch at one, third floor. Easy.”

“There are
three
dining rooms on this floor,” she snapped, eliciting gasps from the servants and grins from the royal siblings. “Say it with me—
maps.”

“Well, excuse the hell out of me. Next time I’ll have Edmund escort you.”

“Swell,” she muttered, sitting down at the empty seat beside David. “That won’t scare me to death.”

King Alexander cleared his throat. As were his children, he was dressed in denim and khaki. The watch on his left wrist was worth eighteen thousand pounds, English Sterling (a gift from Queen Elizabeth before relations deteriorated), and he had a rubber band on his right wrist, which was worth about eight cents, Alaskan. “Everyone, this is Christina Krabbe.”

“It’s pronounced
Crab,
not Crabby. The ‘e’,” she said, turning to David, “is silent.”

“Anyway,”
the king continued loudly, “she’s sort of stranded in our country for a while, so let’s make her feel at home.”

“America didn’t want you, huh?” the youngest boy said, and laughed.

“Shaddup, Nicholas,” the king retorted, drawing on his formidable store of child psychology. “Christina, this is my oldest son, David, my oldest daughter, Alexandria, my other son, Alexander the Third, my daughter Kathryn, and my youngest, Nicholas.”

“I know,” she said. “I mean, it was nice of you to introduce me, but I read a newspaper occasionally. Also, you were all prominently featured in
People
magazine’s Wild Royals issue.”

David snorted before he could lock it back.

“The press,” Alexandria announced, “plagues us. Plus, could they have published
less
flattering pictures? Blurgh.”

“Oh, quit it,” Nicholas said. “You know you’re gorgeous, so no more whining about all the bad pictures, ’kay?”

“Pipe down, twerp,” the princess retorted, but she looked pleased.

“I’m
so
glad you shaved,” the commoner explained to the king. “That whole ‘dead animal on the face’ thing was just…yech. Also, as a disguise, it was pretty lame.”

Now the Alexes were elbowing each other and snickering into their napkins while the king scowled.

“Look, let’s just have a nice lunch, okay, brats? Okay?” The king, David could see, was trying not to plead. His brothers and sisters, like wolverines, could smell fear.

The first course, fresh oysters on the half shell, was brought out. David sucked the first one down while keeping half an eye on the woman beside him. She was really something—adorably cute, with bouncy blond hair and freckles sprayed across her nose and cheeks. Beautiful green eyes, the color of forest moss. She smelled terrific, like soap and wildflowers. And the mouth on her! If she was intimidated to find herself lunching with the royal family, she sure didn’t show it. Most people sat stiff as a board and barely touched their meal.

“So, there’s not a lot of bowing and scraping around here, I noticed,” Christina said, eyeing the oysters with a neutral expression.

“Bowing and scraping

Is discouraged by Papa

Plus it takes too long.”

“What was that?” Christina, completely befuddled, asked Prince Alexander.

Prince David leaned close and murmured, “My brother’s in this phase right now. He only speaks in haiku.”

“Why?”

“He lost a bet,” Princess Alex said. “Anyway, back to the bowing and scraping. Our father discourages it.” She drained her water glass and, the second she set it down, a footman glided over and filled it again. “We weren’t really raised to bow when the sovereign enters, bow when called, bow when he leaves, bow—”

“Big damned waste of time,” the king said with his mouth full.

“And this
is
Alaska. We usually have more pressing matters on our mind than royal protocol.”

“Unlike
some
royal families,” David said, looking down his long nose.

“Don’t blame the Windsors

Locked into their traditions

They are prisoners, too.”

“That is amazing,” Christina announced. “You can just—come up with those on the fly? You open your mouth, and poetry pops out? I couldn’t write a poem to save my life.”

Prince Alex smiled at her. Women were not usually impressed with his haiku. Or his fanatic interest in the period films of George Lucas.

“Kid’s right—don’t be slamming the Windsors,” the king said, salting his lox. David thought it was a miracle his father didn’t have a cholesterol level of eight hundred. “They can’t help it. They’ve been doing the same shit for fifteen hundred years. Like Alex said, they’re prisoners as much as any poor slob in jail.”

“That’s nice. Umm…where’s the cocktail sauce?” Christina whispered to Edmund, who had taken up his post by the window, four feet behind her.

Edmund leaned forward. “I beg your pardon, ma’am?”

“The cocktail sauce,” she said loudly and slowly, as if speaking to someone developmentally delayed. “For. The oysters.”

“It comes with a vinaigrette,” David explained. “Try it, I think—”

“I
think I’ll barf if I have to suck down raw oysters without cocktail sauce. You know those annoying people who have to put ketchup on everything?”

“Like the king?” Edmund asked snarkily.

She ignored that. And David found he had to bring his fist up and rest it below his nose to hide the grin. “Well, I’m one of those people who have to put cocktail sauce on seafood.”

“Jeez, what’s wrong
now?”
the king complained.

“Well, hell, my rights are being stomped on!” said Christina.

“Your rights as an illegal alien?” Princess Alexandria asked, and she did not trouble herself to hide
her
grin.

“Alexandria, we’re trying to be nice to her,” the king sighed.

“Matchmaker!” she coughed into her napkin by way of reply.

“Match
maker?” Nicholas repeated, delighted. He barked shrill, boyish laughter.

“For crying out loud,” David muttered.

Completely unfazed by the current discussion, their guest continued. “I mean, Jesus, you guys are lucky I’m even willing to
eat
these things.” Prince David jerked his head back, narrowly avoiding Christina’s waving hands. “The first guy who ever ate a raw oyster was a fearless—or desperate—son of a bitch, I can tell you that right now. Let’s call a spade a spade, here—it looks disgusting. I’m sorry, but there it is—ow!”

A roll sailed across the table from Princess Kathryn’s side, beaned Christina in the forehead, then fell into her plate with a plop. Oyster shells rattled and Christina looked up, but the princess in question was wolfing down her oysters and didn’t return the gaze. Christina stared at her suspiciously for a long moment, then added, “So, cocktail sauce?”

Prince Nicholas had disappeared under the table, the better to muffle his laughter, which was piercing, to say the least. The king was resting his head on his hands, and Edmund was stonily silent.

Martha, the senior server, had reappeared and was holding a silver tureen brimming with, David prayed, cocktail sauce. She set it before Christina, smiled, and moved away with her usual silent, speedy efficiency.

“There! Cocktail sauce. Well,
thank
you.” She twisted around in her seat to glare at Edmund. “Was that so damned hard, Jeeves?”

“Edmund.”

“Whatever.”

David joined his little brother beneath the table.

 

A
fter lunch, Christina wandered around the castle, guidebook
(The Official Sitka Palace Guidebook, revised edition 2003)
in hand. Lunch might have been weird, with a yelling king and giggling princesses and a weirdly silent crown prince who later ducked under the table with his little brother, but the palace was pretty swell; the Cinderella Castle at Disney World had been modeled after it.

Eventually, after many turns and stairwells, she found herself in a long room lined with portraits. The floor-to-ceiling curtains were drawn, to protect the paintings, she figured, but the room was filled with soft lighting.

Here was the king as a little, sneery boy. That pony didn’t look too happy, either.

Here was the king’s mother, a kind-looking, white-haired woman—look at all those curls!—with the king’s laughing blue eyes.

Here was the king’s great-grandfather, Kaarl Baranov, who helped break Alaska away from Russia, and won a crown for his trouble.

Here was his great-grandmother, the legendary Queen Kathryn, who was a chambermaid in the king’s house when she caught his eye. Funny to think of a regular woman helping run the country. Well, they did it in America all the time.

Here was…whoa.

Here was a woman, imposing and beautiful and frightening, all at the same time. Her waist-length hair was deepest black, and her eyes, green as poison, glittered from the portrait. Her dress was made of deep blue velvet and she wore a necklace of sapphires as big as Christina’s thumbs. Her skin was creamy white, unblemished and perfect. Her nose was a blade—Princess Alexandria’s nose. Her mouth was blood red. Her teeth were very white, and looked sharp. The mouth of a passionate lover…or a woman who would bite when she was angry.

“She was something, eh?”

Christina jumped, then replied, “She sort of reminds me of the wicked queen in
Snow White.
You know…she was beautiful, but it didn’t stop her from being bad.”

“Hmmm.”

She turned—and jumped again when she recognized David. “Oh, shit! I just insulted one of your relatives, didn’t I?”

“My mother,” he said.

She clapped her hands over her eyes. “Aaarrgghh! I thought she looked familiar! Jeez, I’m really sorry. It’s been so long since she—um—jeez, this isn’t going to get any better….”

“Well.” She felt him gently grasp her wrists, and pull her hands away from her face. “You’re right, you know. She was beautiful. But she had her terrible side, too.”

Christina couldn’t think of a single thing to say to that, so she just stared at the prince. He was pretty easy to stare at, truth be told…he looked a lot like his father, had the same thick black hair and piercing blue eyes, the same build, almost the same height. She felt small next to him.

And his mother! Queen Dara had flaunted her affairs to the press and the king, respectively. Rumors of divorce had been thick, but then fate intervened. The queen had been killed in a car crash, during a rendezvous with her lover
du jour.
She’d apparently been applying lip-liner and had accidentally driven off a cliff. It was horrible and funny at the same time. A field day for the press.

David, if she recalled her modern history, had been seventeen at the time. Nicholas, the youngest, had just been born. And there had been nasty rumors about that, hadn’t there? About Nicholas maybe being only
half
royal…

“Your family,” she said, because she had to say something, “is really—uh—special. You got a gorgeous sister, a teenage sister who’s gonna be gorgeous but who in the meantime doesn’t talk much, a cute younger brother who only talks in poems—and the boy really needs a milkshake. What’s he weigh, a hundred pounds? And he’s six feet tall? And another brother who hangs out under the dining room table to yuk things up. And they all look the same except Nicholas, who has a head full of curls I would die for! Never a dull moment, huh?”

“I’ve come to ask you something,” David said abruptly.

“Right. I’ll go pack.”

He smiled at her. His teeth were even and very white. He’d inherited his mother’s mouth, if not her less desirable qualities. Christina would kill for the name of his orthodontist. He had a dimple in his left cheek. He was really very yummy, if a little standoffish, but that was—

“—like it here?”

“Huh? I mean, yeah, it’s great. Your dad was really nice to let me come over and stay.”

“He’s a sucker for hard-luck cases.”

“Is that what I am?” she asked, amused.

“But I’m getting off track. Christina…I was wondering…would you consider becoming my wife?”

She laughed. “I thought you just asked me to marry you. The acoustics in here!”

“I did.”

“I—what? Oh.” She considered for a long moment. “You mean it? You’re not teasing?”

“No.” He took her hand, rubbed the knuckles gently with his thumb. “I’m not teasing.”

“Get married, live here forever, be the queen someday?”

BOOK: The Royal Treatment
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