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The Royal Mess
By MaryJanice Davidson
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 MaryJanice Davidson
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Holy mother of God!" King Alexander II yowled.
Jeffrey Rodinov, who had been casually leaning against the closed door of the king's office, instantly sprang back, then went through the door. He didn't open it and run through. He went through the door, his nine mil in his left hand. The safety was off. It was always off.
"Sir, get down!"
"I'm having a heart attack here, Rodinov, so don't point that thing at me." The king had a piece of paper crumpled in a large fist. "Holy Jesus! My God!"
Jeffrey snatched his two-way from his right hip, pressed the Call button, and barked, "Code seventeen, the Boss's office, yesterday." In other words, Dr. Hedman, get your ass up here pronto.
"Can you believe this? I can't friggin' believe this." The black-haired, blue-eyed king, head of the Royal House of Baranov, was normally the picture of florid health. Right now he was as pale as the paper he was clutching.
Jeffrey had never seen him like that, not even after he'd been shot four years ago. (The first, and last, vacation Jeffrey had ever taken. Left the country for one damn month and the whole place fell apart.)
"Sir," Jeffrey began, only to be interrupted as Edmund Dante, the king's majordomo, galloped through the shattered doorway, then screeched to a halt in front of the large mahogany desk.
"My king," Edmund gasped. "How may I assist you?"
It was a day for surprises; Jeffrey had never seen Mr. Dante so rattled. The king's special assistant was as tall as His Majesty, but thin as a stick. He had served the Baranovs since time out of mind and as such, had no fear of any of them.
He also had two master's degrees, one in Alaskan history, the other in Alaskan literature. The princesses had nicknamed him Ichabod Brain, something no one—not even the king—would dare say to his face.
Edmund Dante ruled the royal family with equal parts love and uncompromising ruthlessness. The RST (Royal Security Team) had as much respect for Dante as they did for any of their charges. They also took bets on whether Mr. Dante had ice water for blood or nothing at all.
"Is anyone going to tell me what's going on?" Dante asked mildly.
Jeffrey shook splinters out of his hair. "He yelled. I came. Nobody's here; it's clean. Doc's on the way."
"I don't need a damned doctor!"
Edmund stared critically at the doorway. "No, but you certainly need a carpenter. At the risk of wasting time by repeating myself, my king, how can I be of service?"
The king gargled in reply and thrust the smushed paper at his assistant. Edmund read it in four seconds, then read it again.
"That's it? Hmmm? I'll hmmm your scrawny butt, Dante."
"I tremble before your wrath, my king. May I see the envelope?"
"I thought you screened all the king's mail," Jeffrey asked, dying to know what was in the mysterious letter, but too proud to ask.
"Ninety percent," Edmund replied absently, glancing at the envelope, which had been neatly slit by one of the battalion of royal secretaries.
"Yeah, and I keep telling you to ramp it up to ninety-five," the king said, gesturing to the piles of paper all over his desk.
Mr. Dante ignored the king; he was probably the only person in the country who could get away with it. "A few things slip by. Perhaps one of the admins read it and felt it was for the king's eyes only."
"Ya think?" The king ran his blocky fingers through his thick black hair. Although in his early sixties, he looked fifteen years younger, with very little gray in the hair he had passed on to nearly all of his children. "I got another kid running around?"
"Or not." Edmund was now looking at a piece of paper that was still in the envelope. "DNA tests can be faked. This entire thing may be a fake. You have not forgotten you are the seventh richest man on the planet, I trust."
"Well, holy old cripes, I guess it slipped my mind."
"Mr. Rodinov, will you kindly holster your weapon? Goose season is several months away."
"Yes, sir." Jeffrey didn't bother to point out that a nine mil would be a poor weapon for hunting geese. "Majesty, if you don't need me, I'll be at my post."
"Thanks, Jeff." Only the king got away with that; he hated the nickname. "And thanks for the response time. Sorry I scared you. Cancel the doc, okay?"
"Quite all right, sir. And I will." Jeffrey bowed but, as Baranov royal protocol was much less rigid than most other royal protocols, was able to turn his back on the king and walk out.
He canceled the code seventeen, then took up his usual position, but since there was no longer a door, could hear everything. That was fine. That was more than fine. He liked being invisible. It made his job infinitely easier.
The Boss and Mr. Dante's voice drifted into the hallway. Jeffrey took it as a mark of trust that neither of them bothered to lower their voices. "My king, there is one question on my—"
"Yeah, you know I had doubts about marrying Dara."
"I was always surprised you went along with an arranged marriage."
"Hey, my dad was sick and it was what he wanted. And you know how it is—a crown prince without heirs makes everybody nervous. But I still felt like they were jamming that wildcat down my throat. So I had a fling before the wedding. Nice gal. Really nice gal. Bartender, like the letter said. The woman made a mean Rusty Nail and that's no lie."
"We had a good time. She knew who I was and didn't give a ripe shit. I liked that. Hell, I loved it."
"And then ...?"
"And then I got married. She knew the score; we had a nice good-bye and that was that. She never told me about any baby. Why didn't she tell me?"
"I'm still trying to deduce why she bedded you," Edmund admitted.
"Shaddup. Not a peep. Never asked me for a thing, never wrote me, never called. I just thought ... you know. A nice memory and that was it. Then Dara got knocked up right away with David and we were off to the races."
"So you're saying it is biologically possible."
"You kidding? I was barely out of my teens. I could go all night in those days. And we did, believe me."
"Majesty, could you hand me that trash can? I'm feeling the uncontrollable urge to vomit blood."
"Knock it off, tight ass. First thing we gotta do is find out if this, uh—"
"Yeah, if this Nicole is the real deal. And then—"
"Perhaps it's best if we take it one thing at a time, my king."
"I will contact the lab that did these tests. If they verify the blood work, I will make arrangements for our own tests."
"Yeah, but she says she doesn't want any more needles."
Jeffrey heard a short silence, and then a distinctive sound: Edmund snorting. "You are her king, sire, and your will is Alaska's will. Her wishes have no bearing on the situation."
"Great, Edmund. Spoken like a true Nazi."
"I live to serve, Majesty."
Chapter TwoNicole Krenski, bastard princess of Alaska, daughter of a bartender and a king, counted to ten.
"Hey, I almost got that one," her client chirped, yanking on his fishing rod with all his might.
"That'd be great, Jim, if we were fishing for pine trees. Give that to me." Before I stick it up your ass. With a few practiced tugs, the Daredevil lure freed itself from the tree and plopped into the water. Nicole slowly started reeling it in, and felt a nibble. "Okay, you got a bite. Now remember what I told you." Twenty-five times. "Carefully set the hook and—"
He snatched the rod from her hands and gave a mighty yank, which only ripped the lure out of the fish's mouth.
"Hey, I think I'm getting the hang of this!"
Nicole scowled at the short (her height) balding stockbroker on vacation from New York City. "Jimmy?"
"Do not call me babe. And if you ever take a fishing rod away from me without my permission, you'll be shitting five-pound test line for three days."
Jimmy gulped and managed a smile. Nicole knew full well that clients hit on her when they got a look at her tits and eyes and whatnot, and gave up when she proved she had nothing in her veins but river water. At least as far as her customers were concerned, she'd sooner lay a grizzly than someone who paid her bills.
Jimmy sketched a mock salute. "You got it, boss lady. Ready to try again?"
"Sure." One. Two. Three. Four. Five. "Nice and easy. Use your wrist, not your arm." Six. Seven. Eight. "Release the bale. And—you've caught another tree."
Meekly, Jimmy handed back his rod. "Could you get that out of the branch for me, please?"
"My pleasure," she groaned. Oh God, please save me from tourists. Especially big city tourists.
"Maybe we should try a different spot."
"Maybe I should try a different client."
"That's cold, babe. I guess we really are in Alaska."
"You don't know what cold is. And don't call me babe."
Chapter ThreeExhausted—more from Jimmy's refusal to learn anything other than any real physical exertion—Nicole dropped him off at the Juneau branch of the Outer Banks Co. office and drove to her trailer, faking a cheerful wave as she sped off in her pickup. At least this one hadn't tried to grab her boobs when she bent over to tie on a sinker. And when did that guy get out of the hospital? Her boss had told her but she'd forgotten.
As always, her spirits lifted at the sight of the neat brown and cream mobile home at the far edge of the Juneau town limits. It was small, but she didn't need much space, and the large shed held all her hunting and fishing equipment.
Best of all, the trailer backed up to 500 acres of wilderness. She'd had deer, possums, raccoons, snakes, rabbits, bears, and moose in her yard. Sparrows, woodpeckers, blue jays, hummingbirds, chickadees, plovers, and terns visited the dozen birdfeeders she kept full. And occasionally, Great Gray Owls swooped down and helped themselves to a plover or chickadee. Ah, well. Nature red in tooth and claw and all that.
Once a gut-shot deer had staggered into the yard and she'd put the poor thing out of its agony with a quick shot to the head with one of her rifles. The doe had never had a chance; it had been trailing viscera through her yard. She'd then called the game warden; when he showed up, he'd offered her the venison. She had declined, having a freezer full of wild game. She hoped the idiot who hadn't bothered to track his kill would contract malaria in the near future.
Nicole carefully put her equipment away, locked the shed, then went through her front door. The place was immaculate, as usual, and sparsely furnished, as she liked it. Perfect order, perfect solitude. Her CDs and books were alphabetized; all the cans and boxes in the pantry were lined up. If only her mother had—
But her mother's death was too recent and raw, and she shoved the thought away, hard. Her mother had left her enough money to buy the trailer new, for cash, and not much else. Oh, and her mother had also left her a favor. A last wish, as it were.
Her answering machine was blinking. She knew it wasn't the office; they didn't guide at night. She knew it wasn't her dead mother. She had no friends, only acquaintances, and hadn't been laid since her mother had gotten sick. Therefore ...
She stabbed the Play button and heard a cultured, cool voice say, "Miss Krenski, my name is Edmund Dante and I am calling from the Sitka Palace regarding a letter you sent King Alexander. His Majesty the king requires an audience with you at once, as well as an examination by the royal physician. Please call me at 907-263-9331 at your earliest convenience. Thank you." Click.
Nicole chewed her lip and thought about it. And thought about it some more.
And then she erased the message.
Chapter FourNicole erased the new message the next day.
And the next.
And the next.
Chapter FiveNicole dropped her client, a perfectly pleasant family practitioner named Sandra Dee, of all things, at the Outer Banks Co. and pocketed the generous tip.
Sandra Dee, also from New York City, had caught on at once and spent the afternoon kicking ass and filling the live well. The small redhead nearly staggered under the weight of the fish on her stringer. Nicole unhitched the boat trailer, mentally promising her boss she'd come back first thing in the morning and hose it down.
Nicole couldn't help but laugh as her giddy client bounded up the steps to the office with one final wave over her shoulder. These were the best days for her: showing someone a skill they had not known they possessed. Showing a stranger the utter and mystifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness and recognizing the look on their face, the awe of someone at a stirring church service.
She swung by Chicken Lickin' for a three-piece meal, hold the biscuits, extra gravy. Mmm ... gravy. She'd drink it by the glass if she could. The thought made her grin.
Her smile faded as she saw the long black car parked in her driveway and the two men loitering on her front lawn. She didn't slow and didn't look in that direction again. She stared straight ahead—nope, nothing wrong here, and I certainly don't live there, which is why I'm not looking at you two—and kept going past her trailer.
She found the back trail leading into the woods, got out of her truck and locked the hubs, then got back in, engaged the four-wheel drive, and bounced and jounced until she was only half a mile from the south side of her property.
Muttering under her breath, Nicole popped open her glove compartment and pulled out the .38. A poor weapon at long range, but she had every expectation of getting nice and close. Besides, the rest of her guns were in the shed. She cursed herself for not installing a gun rack in the truck. Well, maybe next week.
Nicole locked the truck (some of her rods were custom made) and stole through the forest on foot, noisy as a salamander. She came up on her trailer from behind, knelt, and carefully slid aside the panel to the left of the back door. She belly crawled beneath her trailer until she was beside her porch.
One of the men was sitting on her porch; the other one—the armed one, no mistaking the bulge on his hip, even from the road—was standing beside him. In fact, he was standing about nine inches in front of her face.
She supposed most single women might wonder why armed strangers were waiting for her in her yard, but she'd never been one to sweat the why of things.
She noiselessly slid the panel back, reached, clutched his ankles, and yanked. The man hit the ground face-first and in a flash she vaulted from cover, sat on him, and pressed the barrel of her gun to the back of his head.
"That's a .38," she informed him. "Normally a pea shooter, but at this range, it'll ruin your week."
"Ow," the man said calmly into the grass.
She relieved him of his sidearm, a spotless nine millimeter, and tossed it behind her, beneath her trailer. "When you get it back, you might want to break it down and hit it with some gun oil. It's pretty dirty under there. Also, I don't like surprises."
"I never would have guessed," the stranger mumbled into the turf.
"Oh, for God's sake," the man on the porch said in a deep voice, sounding exasperated and charmed at once. She turned her head, not moving the gun.
"Me," the King of Alaska replied agreeably. He was dressed in jeans and a blue oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He had his chin cupped in his hand (he needed a shave) and took her in at a glance: the brunette hair, the blue eyes, the dirty shirt and jeans, the gun.
"Yep," he said, sounding almost ... cheerful? "You're one of mine, all right. Nice to meet you, Nicole."
Chapter Six"Go away," Nicole said warmly.
"Aw, don't be like that, kiddo. And would you mind putting away the pea shooter? You're hurting Jeff's feelings."
"Not to mention my kidneys," the man mumbled into the ground.
She carefully got off the man but kept the gun at her side.
"That's better," the king said as Jeff climbed slowly to his feet. "So, I'm Al, your dad. And we know who you are. That's Jeff, head of my detail."
She smirked. "And you're not dead yet?" She was being nasty because she was so completely distracted by the bodyguard's size. When he stood, he went up and up and up. Well over six feet and probably 220, none of it fat. He was built like a linebacker. He hadn't looked so big from the road. Or so gorgeous.
Excerpted from The Royal Mess by MaryJanice Davidson Copyright © 2007 by MaryJanice Davidson. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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