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Authors: MaryJanice Davidson

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BOOK: The Royal Treatment
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Chapter 8

“W
hat the hell is wrong with me?”

“I have no idea,” Princess Alexandria replied truthfully. She was seated at the far end of the galley, an easel in front of her, her denim workshirt and cargo pants spattered with primary colors. She was shoeless, and her toes were small and pretty, and French manicured. She appeared to be painting the scene outside the window, which was interesting, because the curtains were drawn. “Frankly, we’ve all been wondering.”

“Har, har. I mean, your brother, a perfectly nice guy—if a little obsessed with flightless waterfowl—asks me not once, but
twice
to marry him, and I blow him off like I can do better. I mean, what the hell?”

“Maybe you can,” the princess suggested, shoving her brush into Caribbean Blue and smooshing it around. The brush spread into a fan shape and the blob of color on her palette doubled in size. “Do better, I mean. I love my brother, and he’s quite cute, but there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

“Not at the rate he’s feeding those penguins.”

Alex snickered, but didn’t comment.

“Are you doing that devil’s advocate thing?” Christina asked.

“No, I’m doing the polite conversation thing. Frankly, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. He’s nice, he’s cute, he’s rich, and you’re the first female he’s shown any interest in forever.”

“Sure, ramp up the pressure, see if
I
care.” Christina flung herself into the chair nearest the princess. “How about you? Any marital prospects?”

“Plenty,” she replied, drawing a bold blue stripe across the easel, “but they’re all fortune hunters. And boy, did they come flying out of the woodwork when I turned eighteen. It’s enough to make a girl renounce the marriage market. At least Kathryn’s spared that for a couple more years.”

“Didn’t I read something about you and Prince William…?”

She sighed. “I wish. He’s perfect for me—good house, good manners, good bloodline, great body. And we’re exactly the same age. But it was tabloid fantasy, unfortunately.”

“That’s tough. And never knowing if they like you or your title—that can’t be much fun, either.”

“Mm-hmm.” The princess looked at Christina sideways and cocked a dark eyebrow. She, like her older brother, shared the king’s coloring. Even casually dressed, the princess was breathtaking, with blue-black hair, dark blue eyes, and a porcelain complexion. Sitting next to her, Christina felt like the village frump. Which she probably was…if the royal family was any example, Alaska’s general populace was ridiculously good-looking. “I suspect that’s why my brother is anxious to reel you in, so to speak.”

“Enough with the fishing metaphors.”

“Fine, I’ll put it this way. Your indifferent, uncaring attitude is a breath of fresh air.” The princess managed to say this without the tiniest bit of irony.

“So, not giving a shit is a big selling point, huh?”

Alexandria snickered. “I’m afraid so.” She shoved a hank of dark hair off her forehead and sobered. “Let me level with you, Christina, woman-to-woman.”

“Or princess-to-commoner.”

“My brother hasn’t cared about much of anything since my mother died in that stupid, senseless accident. He was focused on school, and duty, and occasionally penguins. Now all of a sudden he’s chasing you all over the palace. My father’s all for the match. And you, pardon my bluntness, have nowhere to go. So what, exactly, is the problem? There are about a zillion worse things than eventually being the queen of Alaska.”

“Mmmm. A zillion, huh?”

“So marry him, or don’t. But in my so-humble opinion,” she added, “it’s rude to enjoy my father’s hospitality when you have no intention of giving anything back.”

“I knew there was a catch,” she muttered.

“A rather large one,” the princess agreed.

“Accept an invitation to lunch and now I’ve gotta be a princess.”

“It’s not so bad. All right, that was a lie.”

Christina laughed unwillingly.

“Maybe it would help you to consider what your parents might have wanted for you.” A yellow stripe joined the blue one, followed by a shaky red one. The painting looked like a fucked-up rainbow. “If they were still around, what would they say about it?”

“Well…” Christina leaned back and stared at the ceiling. Which, in addition to cherubs, gods, and goddesses, had a large rainbow on it…so
that’s
what she was painting. “I never knew my dad. And my mom worked pretty hard most of her life…she usually had at least two jobs. We had to move around a lot…I never really got to make any friends. It was just the two of us. And then—and then it was just me. So, there’s really no contest. She would have told me to go for the brass ring, and kick the crud out of anybody who got in my way.”

Alexandria pursed her (perfect, pink) lips and nodded. “Well, then.”

“Except…what makes me different from the rest of the throng, if I take your brother for the dough?”

“The very fact that you’re asking that question makes you different. Also, we all enjoy it enormously when you yell at the king, so you simply must linger.”

“What am I, the court jester?” she grumbled.

“No. But you might be a princess.”

“Great.”

Still. Alexandria was certainly giving her a lot to think about. She was beautiful, and sly…asking the
what would your mama say?
question clinched it. Her mom would have been overjoyed, thrilled, ecstatic. It would have been worth putting up with the pomp of a royal wedding just to see her mom’s face light up.

So was it stupid to do something to please her mother lying in her grave these ten years? Or was it the beginning of compassion?

 

“O
kay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll marry you.”

David accidentally ran the cart into the wall. Silver platters flew everywhere with a clang.

“For crying out loud,” Christina said, watching scrambled eggs soar through the air, “maybe I should have broken it to you more gently.”

She’d met him just outside the gallery—in fact, he’d nearly run over her foot with the damned cart.

“I’m just—surprised, that’s all. Happily surprised,” he added hastily. He moved to her to take her hand, slipped on a piece of bacon, and she ended up steadying him. “You won’t regret it, Christina,” he gasped, leaning on her for support. “You’ve made me a very happy man.”

“We’ll see, Penguin Boy,” she said. “And listen—if it gets too weird—not that
that
could
ever
happen—I’m outta here, and the engagement’s off, got it?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, of course. And, of course, that applies to me, too.”

“Sure, that’s fine.”

“Well, no. That was a bluff. I could never break our engagement.”

“Okay.” Weird. “I guess…should we kiss? Sort of to seal the—mmph!”

The guy was a mind reader! Or he’d slipped again and fallen on her mouth. Either way, they were sealing the deal. And it wasn’t bad at all. He either hadn’t spent enough time in the penguin room to reek, or she’d gotten used to it. All she could smell was bacon, and his own clean scent. His mouth was firm on hers, his hand on the back of her neck was wonderfully strong—normally she didn’t care for that, but with David it was like she was protected rather than smothered.

“—my father right away.”

“Mmmm—huh?” Nuts. All done kissing. She stared at his mouth. Really, truly all done? Yes, dammit. Worse, he was still talking.

“—said, let’s go tell my father right away.”

“Oh. Okay. Uh…but maybe not the rest of the world? Right away?”

“As you wish.” He grinned at her, his blue eyes twinkling, grabbed her hand, and they ran through the spilled food.

Chapter 9

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

As one can imagine (and if one has been paying close attention to this tome), the king was as overjoyed at the news of the crown prince’s engagement as Edmund Dante was appalled.

Princess lessons were to begin at once, designers and planners were commissioned, and a date was set for five months hence…April the second. Normally that would be a shockingly short time for a royal engagement, but the general consensus seemed to be to “get it done” before the bride-to-be could change her mind and flee the country.

But first, Edmund Dante was to try one last time to talk the feisty commoner out of her wedding. It is difficult to tell if he did it for his own sake, the country’s, or the future queen’s.

And Queen Christina’s reaction to this attempt gives historians another tantalizing glimpse into what drove this foreigner of uncommon strength to take a crown.

“M
iss Krabbe…”

“Call me Christina. Or Chris. Anything but Tina…yech. My mom hates her name her whole life, and what does she do? Slaps it on the end of
my
name. Nice!”

“Miss Christina, are you sure you have considered this
very
carefully?”

“And by that he means, congratulations,” the king said, glaring at Edmund from his seat.

Edmund forced a smile, which disappeared as quickly as it formed. “You haven’t been in the country a week, you barely know His Highness, and frankly…ah…frankly…”

“I’m not the princess type?” She tucked her legs beneath her and grinned at him. “Tell someone who
doesn’t
know.”

“Edmund…”

They were in one of the sitting rooms, and the king had called for beer to celebrate the announcement of their engagement. He’d downed two in rapid succession and apparent relief. Christina had taken a sip, masterfully concealed a shudder, and handed her glass to David.

“Your Majesty, please. It must be said. And it appears to have fallen to me.”

“Who says?” the king whined. “You’re gonna queer the deal, and then I’ll be forced to break both your legs.”

“A lively ending,” the prince commented, “to an unparalleled career.”

“It isn’t fair,” Edmund said quietly. “Look to the House of Windsor if you don’t believe me. She must be warned.”

“Fine, fine, but get it out of the way. And don’t
bug
her, for Christ’s sake.”

“Too late,” Christina sang. David, in the act of sitting down beside her, barked surprised laughter and fell to the sofa with a thump.

Edmund turned back to Christina. He towered over her like a tree dressed in fine linen. His hands were clasped—clenched—behind his back. “I—
we,
rather, wish to be sure you know what you’re getting into. It’s not all palace living and cocktail sauce.”

“It’s not?”

“As a member of the royal family, not only will the eyes of the world—”

“Not to mention
People
magazine.”

“—be on you, but you’ll have heavy responsibilities. Also—”

“Also,” she interrupted yet again, “my children will never have to worry about their next meal. They’ll never have to pay taxes, they’ll never have to worry about how to afford to send their kids to college. They’ll always have the option of a solid roof over their heads, and three squares a day. There will always be people around to look after them and protect them. They’ll never, never be alone. And if they see something wrong, they’ll have the power to fix it.”

Dead silence.

“That about right?”

“Yes.” David nodded, studying her intently. “That is exactly right. All that, and more. And all that goes for your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children.”

“Well. All right, then.” She smiled, and instantly felt like she’d jettisoned ten pounds of stress. Maybe twenty. “If there’s nothing else, Edmund, let’s get this show on the road.”

PART TWO

Lady

Getting married’s probably not so bad. It’s all the screwing around beforehand that gives you a migraine.

—Lady Christina of Allen Hall

Chapter 10

“A
h, Lady Christina, I’m not sure how to ask this…”

“Well, first off, I’m not a lady,” she said.

“No kidding,” David said, grinning. He stopped grinning when one of the royal wedding designers forced a pointed black shoe onto his left foot. “Uh, can we try one that’s not so—er—Machiavellian? Also, I can’t feel my toes.”

“I mean,” Christina said, flipping through one of eighteen sketchbooks, “it’s not my title or anything. I’m just plain old Christina.”

“Not true,” David grunted, trying to free himself of the shoe.

“Oh, so I’ve had a title all these years that I never knew about? Hmm, let’s think about this; do you think I inherited it from my truck driver dad or my waitress mom?”

“With due respect, my lady, the king tells me your title is Lady Christina of Allen Hall.”

She nearly fell out of her chair. “Since when? And where the hell is that? And do ladies wear blue jeans? Because, if nobody’s noticed, jeans make up about ninety-eight percent of my wardrobe.”

David snickered. “Allen Hall is the part of the palace where Dad lets me keep the penguins.”

“Oh, ugh! Very fucking funny. Remind me to kick the king in the slats when I see him next.”

“Looks better on the invitations if you’ve got a title, even if it’s minor. I thought you’d be happy.”

“Then you haven’t been paying attention the last two weeks, boy-o.”

“You’re right,” he admitted, shrugging into the black silk coat held by another designer. “I didn’t really think you’d be happy. But you know Dad…once he’s got his mind made up…”

“Oh, yeah, he’s not like
anybody
else I know.” Christina glared at David for good measure, completely overlooking the fact that she could be talking about herself. “Now, what were you asking me, Harry?”

“Horrance, my lady. And I was asking—ah—if your dress—your wedding gown, rather—if it—ah—”

“White,” she said firmly.

“Right, then,” Horrance said hurriedly, clapping a sketchbook shut and unwrapping a fresh one. He squinted at Christina and started sketching broad swoops across the paper.

“Reeeeeally?” David asked with a friendly leer.

“Sure,” she replied evenly. “It’s my first wedding, isn’t it?”

“Ah…hmm.” The six people in the room could easily read the MYOB vibes Lady Christina was giving off, so David acted the gentleman and changed the subject. “What d’you think of this suitcoat?”

“I think it makes you look embalmed.”

Horrance whimpered.

“Hey, it’s nice and all,” she added, backpedaling madly, “but it’s just not him. You know what you should wear? White. It’d really set off your hair.”
Your gorgeous, thick, black-as-sin hair…mmm…

“The bride wears white,” Horrance’s assistant—what was his name? Jerry? Jerkin?—said firmly.

“Well, were you in the military? Because you could wear your uniform—”

“No. I was busy getting my doctorate in marine biology.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Alaska doesn’t require military service from its royals.”

“Whatever. So, on top of everything else, you’re an egghead. Well, I can overlook that.” Was it Jeremiah? Julian? “Fine, don’t wear white. But don’t wear a tuxedo, either. I hate the penguin look. No offense, Dr. Prince David of the Penguins.”

“Mock all you will…”

“Okey-dokey!”

“…but I remind you, you’ll be Mrs. Dr. Prince David of the Penguins.”

“Oh, barf. Is there time to cancel this thing yet?”

 

S
he heard a light tap at her door and groaned into her pillow. After a moment, she rolled over and said, “Nicholas! It’s after midnight, you little twerp! Enough of these weird, late-night excursions! Go to sleep!”

A head poked into the room. Not Nicholas’s. “Remind me to have a talk with the royal twerp,” David said. “Although I can hardly blame him for being unable to stay away. May I come in?”

“What
is
it with you people? Don’t any of you need sleep?”

“We take long naps in the morning.” He stepped into the room. “Interesting day today, hmm?”

“If you say so. But if I have to look at one more
peau de soie
shoe, I’m going to barf. What the hell is
peau de soie,
anyway?”

“You’re asking me? And there’s no way your shoes are going to be less comfortable than mine.”

She laughed as he sat down on the edge of her bed, and propped herself up on her elbows. “Since I plan to wear flats—and I thought the designer dude was going to cry when I told him—I’ll give you that one. And d’you know what’s worse? This was just, like, preliminary stuff. We’re going to have meetings and meetings, every day. Flowers, shoes, dresses, food, cakes, time, place, shoes—”

“While we’re on the topic of fashion…” She could see him a little better now, in spite of the room’s gloom, and once again wondered if his hair would feel like it looked…like coarse silk. “What’s this about a white wedding gown?”

“Oh, are we gonna do
that?
Because the time to do
that
was before you asked me to marry you.”

“I’m just curious,” he said mildly.

“Sure you are. Let’s put it this way: I’m not a virgin, but I’m not a slut, either.”

“You can’t know,” he said, perfectly straight-faced, “how relieved I am.”

“Listen up, wise guy—I can count the number of partners I’ve had on one hand.” She paused and added pointedly, “Can you?”

“Ah…not on
one
hand, no…in fact, I think I might need a third hand…maybe…and possibly a few of my toes…”

“Hypocrite!”

“Well, I
am
six years older than you. Oof!” He said “oof!” because she’d swung her pillow, sidearm, into his face. “Ah-ha! Now the truth comes out—you’re going to be an abusive wife, I can sense it.”

“Sure I am. Look, if you really want chapter and verse, we can do that. I mean…you’re right, it’s a fair question. But I expect reciprocation.”

He shook his head. “No need.”

“Chickenshit.”

“No, it’s like I said, I was just curious. It’s in the past, it has nothing to do with me, or us, and besides that, it’s your own personal business. That’s not the main reason I came in here, anyway.”

“Yeah? Other than keeping me from much-deserved sleep, what are you doing here?”

“I like teasing you. It’s…something different. Your reaction, I mean.”

“Super. Listen, not that this isn’t fascinating and all…”

“You’re
fascinating.” Was he leaning in? He was! The lean-in! Oooh, prelude to a kiss. Their
second
kiss. Excellent. She’d been ready to make a move herself if he wasn’t going to. “I didn’t expect that. I knew you’d be pretty, but…”

He’s really got to work on this romantic prince thing. Because he just sucks at it. Well, maybe princes don’t have to try as hard.
“Thanks.”

“…but I didn’t expect…the sheer excitement…I think it’s the force of your personality…”

“David. Will you shut up and kiss me?”

“…it’s really extraordinary, you fairly vibrate with life…”

“David. Seriously.”

“…and—ack!”

He said “ack” because someone had grabbed him by the shirt collar and hauled him off the bed. A very large someone, even broader than David. In fact, it was—

“Ah-
ha!
Trying to get some nookie before the big day, eh?” The king shook the prince like a terrier would shake a rat. “Nice try.”

“Al!” she said furiously. “Get lost! Go to bed!”
On top of being weird, they’re all insomniacs…bizarre!
“Don’t make me kick your big butt out of here.”

“Save it, sweetie. And you…time to go to your
own
room. I’m a modern guy—”

“A modern idiot is more like it,” Sweetie snapped.

“—but I can’t have premarital royal sex going on under my rooftop.”

“It’s none of your damned business if I want to have sex with a
duck!”
she screeched.

“No,” Prince David said, extricating himself from his father’s grasp, “but it’s mine.” He straightened his shirt and jerked his head, tossing his dark hair out of his face. “Oh, and my lord king, if you ever yank me away from my fiancée again, I’ll break out all your teeth.”

“Whoa,” the king and Christina said in unison.

David treated them to a frigid bow. “Good night.”

“Did you hear that?” the king cried as the door slammed. “He threatened felony assault!”

“He’s not the only one.”

“On his sovereign! Awww, they grow up so fast.” He tapped his chest, which was currently covered with a T-shirt that read,
I’M THE KING, WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
“Gets me right here.”

“I’m
going to get you right there. Go away.”

“Calm down—I’m going, I’m going.”

What a bunch of nutjobs,
she thought, lying back down.
I must be out of my mind.

Sure you are. Then how come you can’t wipe that silly grin off your face?

Sleep was hard in coming; she spent entirely too much time thinking about the lean-in, and replaying the look in his eyes. For the first time, she didn’t worry so much about what she was getting herself into.

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