Read an Excerpt
"SINCE the last two major college riots, we have to
take what happened today seriously, Alex. I'm urging you to move yourself and your loved ones to one of your residences in the mountains away from the public where you're not so vulnerable."
"We've been over this ground before, Leo. I refuse to let fear rule our lives."
"then at least consider permanently closing off public access to the castle and estate. there are too many radical student elements out there wanting to bring down the monarchy. they never stop thinking up new and ingenious ways to wreak havoc for the sheer hell of it."
"I agree there have always been those fringe elements in society, but I'd rather employ more security than shut myself off from the people."
In Alex's six years as king of the Romanche-speaking Valleder Canton in Switzerland, Leo had kept everyone safe, freeing Alex to attempt to do the job his father had done so superbly over a thirty-year period as sovereign.
He eyed Leo, the forty-year-old widower who'd been Interpol's top agent before becoming Alex's head of state security. They'd grown to be close friends.
"Tell me what happened."
"An extremely attractive American woman came through on the 10:00 a.m. tour of the castle. After it was over she told the guide she had business with you and asked that she be given an audience on a private matter. When told you didn't meet with the public she said, "Not even if I have something of value to return to him?"
"Naturally the guide called for security. they brought her by police car to the downtown office. During my interrogation she said she had a ring of yours and knew you would want it back."
Alex shookhis head. "Where do these crazies come from? the only ring I have is the one my father gave me prior to his death six years ago. you're looking at it."
Leo folded his arms. "it's obvious the woman intentionally created a scene to see what would happen, and of course she got her wish.
"She was searched and her passport seized. When I asked to see the ring, she said she hadn't brought it with her because it was too valuable. But she had photos of it in the purse we confiscated."
A sound of incredulity escaped Alex's lips. "This woman knew she would be detained and questioned. I'm positive she wanted to see how our security system works at the castle. Since the last demonstrators" attempt to storm the north gate, it isn't out of the realm of possibility they're hatching another plan to get the whole canton's attention and stir up trouble. Frankly I don't like it. Especially with your wedding only three weeks away."
"I don't like it, either," Alex admitted in a grim tone. If any of those incidents had hurt one of his family, he'd never forgive himself for not taking greater precautions. Thankfully Leo had been on top of things.
"What do you know about her?"
"She's a resident of Aurora, Colorado, named Darrell Collier."
Alex had been there, but he'd also been to several of the states in the U.S., even lived for a short period in Arizona.
"the woman is traveling alone under a newly issued American passport. She's never applied for one before. Her nonstop flight to Zurich originated in Denver, Colorado, yesterday morning.
"When she deplaned, the douanier asked her the reason for her visit. She said she was taking a short vacation. She rented a car and drove here last night where she stayed at the Hotel Otter. This morning she showed up for the tour.
"I checked her employment. She works for Gold Jet Airlines in the States making reservations. there's no police record on her, no outstanding warrants for her arrest in the U.S.
"I suppose she could be someone with a mental condition who stopped taking her medication. But my gut is telling me she's very much in her right mind and working for some antiroyal group trying to discover the castle's vulnerabilities.
"How many tourists traveling alone go straight from the plane to one castle for a short visit? it just doesn't add up. So far she's been calm and cooperative. She's one cool customer."
"In other words she's willing to sacrifice herself for information," Alex muttered.
The other man cast him a shrewd regard. "She hasn't committed a crime and knew we had to release her. She's been escorted back to the airport in Zurich. I've already alerted the American authorities. Once her flight leaves for the States, they'll keep tabs on her. it's the best we can do about her for now. My main concern is you and your family."
That was twice in few minutes he'd talked about Alex's family. Leo had more than a passing interest in Alex's cousin-in-law Evelyn who lived on the estate and had lost her husband. Nothing would please him more than to see the two of them get together. But since Evelyn was a royal, Leo would never dare to presume.
"Greater measures need to be taken to protect all of you," Leo emphasized again.
Alex decided to help things along. "Let's double the security on the whole estate. it wouldn't hurt if you went along with Evelyn the next time she goes riding or shopping. Warn her and the boys to be extra careful. Coming from you personally, she'll take it better than from me."
"I'll be happy to do that," he answered in a calm voice, but Alex saw the flare of excitement in his eyes. "This is a start in the right direction. I'll take care of it immediately."
As he stood up, he put an eight by ten envelope on the desk in front of Alex. "these are enlarged copies of the colored photos of the ring which could have been purchased in any of the canton's souvenir shops. there's an inscription on the band in Romanche, but the sentiment doesn't send up any red flags. My men are tracking down the regional jeweler as we speak.
"Like I said, she came to the castle with a definite agenda."
After he left the room, Alex reached for the envelope whose contents served as a reminder of his official engagement to Isabella. it wouldn't be long before he was a married man. He hadn't been able to put it off any longer. If it had been up to Isabella, they'd have said their vows several years earlier.
His alliance with the princess of San Ravino, italy, would cement certain lucrative business relationships Alex's father had instigated with the king of San Ravino whenAlex had been in his mid-teens.
On his father's death bed he'd said, " A king needs a wife, Alex, and your mother needs a grandchild. Isabella is an intelligent, beautiful woman and will give you children you can be proud of."
Admittedly Isabella with her black hair turned heads. Nine years younger than Alex, she would be biddable and make the perfect consort. Alex agreed the princess had qualities he admired. there'd be no surprises. Everyone was excited for the wedding. Everyone except him."
With a jerking motion he upended the envelope. Out spilled four photos of a man's gold ring taken at different angles.
As Leo had said, the colorful enamel work showing the Valleder coat of arms appeared on pins, rings, virtually any piece of jewelry a tourist could take home as a reminder of their trip to the heart of the Swiss Alps.
The last photograph revealed the inscription on the inner band in the Puter dialect.Alex looked closer.
More than a cousin.
He closed his eyes tightly in pain.
This was the ring his deceased cousin, Chaz, had given him on his sixteenth birthdaythe same ring he'd somehow parted with during a certain vacation to Colorado when he and Chaz had turned twenty. On that trip his cousin had urged him to forget he was a royal and simply live it up like they were two ordinary guys.
Alex sprang from his swivel chair, hardly able to comprehend that the young woman he'd given it to under fuzzy circumstances could be the woman who'd come to the castle trying to arrange a meeting with him.
these photos were the proof that something of significance had happened on that trip. He didn't like what he was thinking, especially when his recollection of those events was a blur. This had to be an extortion tactic.
With no time to lose he pressed the programmed digit on his cell phone. it was his private line to Leo.
"You've more than earned your pay today, my friend."
"What do you mean? What's going on?"
Alex wished he knew. "it's my ring, Leo. One I parted with a long time ago, but the memory is hazy." Since that experience he'd done everything in his power to be a good king, including agreeing to marry the princess his parents favored. No hint of scandal had touched his life until now, less than a month before his wedding."
"When exactly?, the other man fired.
"Thirteen years ago while I was on a trip, Chaz and I spent a wild night drinking with some girls. Things got out of control. I'd forgotten until I saw the photos."
Leo let out a low whistle. "That doesn't sound like you."
"Don't be fooled. I have a few skeletons lying around."
His friend made a strange sound in his throat. "This one might have come back to bite you, if you follow my meaning."
"I know exactly what you mean."
Depending on this woman's agenda, she could hurt him and the people he loved in ways he refused to let happen.
there was a palpable silence, then Leo asked, "How can I help? I've done everything to keep this suppressed, but you never know."
"Tell me about it," he muttered. "I'm going on a private fishing expedition, Leo. Alert your most trusted men to board my jet within the hour. the second this woman's flight leaves the ground, I want to be notified."
"Consider it done." After another silence,
"I know what you're going to say, Leo. But I'm afraid the time for damage control was years ago."