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PRINCE DONAL'S PLANE GOES DOWN IN WORST STORM OF THE CENTURY
Today the world prays as superstorm Allie rages, hindering search and rescue attempts from reaching the plane carrying Donal and Helene Ettenburl, Prince and Princess of Kardana. The royal couple left the principality of Pasadonia traveling with other dignitaries for a weekend of skiing in the French Alps. There was no indication when the plane left Pasadonia that the two cold fronts pouring rain and snow over most of Europe would collide into an ice storm. The death toll is in the hundreds and continues to grow as utility outages leave hundreds of thousands without power. A distress call came from the royal flight late Saturday morning and there has been no contact since. French officials have elite search and rescue teams ready to go as soon as weather conditions allow. Prince Julian Ettenburl met with the French officials and rescue teams en route to Pasadonia to be with his nephew, the royal couple's thirty-two-month-old son, Samson Alexander Ettenburl, who remained behind, a guest of the Pasadonia royal nursery. On the plane with Donal and Helene Ettenburl were
Julian flipped the news screen off with a sharp flick of his thumb and dropped his phone in his pants pocket. He knew his purpose for being in Pasadonia. Knew the plans for rescue included not only France's best cold weather rescue crews, but Kardana's as well. He'd provided the best vehicles, the best equipment, the best people available to find his brother and the future king of Kardana.
The news of the crash nearly killed his father, already frail from a mild stroke a year ago. Julian needed to gather his family and return home as soon as possible. And that included his brother, lost on the side of a mountain. For now he'd settle for his young nephew.
The train trip, the only mode of transportation capable of managing any distance in the storm, had been interminable but had allowed him to make the arrangements for the searchers. Though Prince Jean Claude had invited Julian to wait out the storm in the comfort of the palace, Julian preferred to begin the return trip. He hoped the nursery staff had Samson ready to go.
He arrived at the nursery and was greeted with subdued courtesy by the Matron, a pleasant woman, her plump figure and serene smile giving her a motherly appearance.
"Your Highness. May I express my wish that your brother and all those on his plane will be found soon, safe and sound?"
"Thank you. May I see my nephew?"
"Of course. But Master Samson is sleeping." Matron advised him. "I hate to disturb him as he's been restless and distressed missing his parents. You may see him, but I recommend letting him sleep."
"Thank you, Matron" Julian inclined his head in acknowledgment of her comments. Fading sunlight flooded the large room through the many windows. Colorful rugs covered the gold marble floor, while masterpieces of fanciful art graced the walls. White furnishings added a crisp cleanliness to the room. He spotted three attendants besides the matron. He had no doubt Samson had received the best of care in these rooms.
"It is my desire to return to Kardana as soon as possible. Please have the Prince's things packed and ready to go. And have his nursemaid report to me." He was surprised not to spy Tessa, Samson's nursemaid, somewhere nearby.
She always seemed to be hovering about, eyeing him. With the encouragement of his sister-in-law. Tessa was a dear friend of Helene's, and always struck Julian as more of a companion than a child care specialist. He made it a point to avoid them both.
Now he hoped for Helene's safety.
"It's best he return home," he advised the woman before him.
Matron nodded. "It is good he will have people around him he knows. However, he is quite exhausted and likely to be very fussy if you wake him now. Might you wait for a bit?" Her gaze cut to something behind him and back again as she made her plea. "Perhaps after you have dined?"
"Unfortunately, time is an indulgence I cannot allow. Please take me to my nephew," he demanded, denying her request for a delay.
"Of course." With a sigh, she gestured toward a door behind him that led to another room.
In here the drapes were closed and the lights turned low. Samson slept in a low race-car-shaped bed in the west corner. An older child occupied a canopied daybed nearby. As Julian stood over him, Samson jerked in his sleep and his tiny brow pinched as if stress followed him into slumber.
So innocent. So important.
Looking down on him, Julian felt totally inadequate to care for him. The thought that he might be responsible for raising this child to be King outright terrified him. He was a bachelor by choice. He liked his tranquil life behind the scenes. Being Minister of the Treasury suited him, the numbers, the strategy, the quiet.
One more reason to pray for his brother's safe return.
"Julian, ami'" Princess Bernadette, a regal blonde, swept into the room. She flowed forward and embraced him in warm arms, kissing the air over both cheeks. "I am so sorry. Tell me you have good news of Donal and Helene?" He shook his head, his gaze going to the thin woman with short platinum blond hair, who followed the Princess into the room. Tessa. Good.
"There is nothing new to report. The weather prevents a full-scale search. America sent a SEAL team to help. They are leading a small group of extreme weather experts on an extraction expedition, but it is slow going and communication is spotty."
"At least it is something." She squeezed his hands. "Please know we pray for their safe return."
He nodded an acknowledgment. "You can understand I am anxious to return to France to oversee the rescue operations."
"Indeed." She looked down on Samson. "Poor baby knows something is wrong. He has been fussy. He will be happy to see you. He needs the familiar and to be with family."
Right. Julian couldn't remember the last time he'd held the child.
"Thank you for your care of Samson. It has been a relief during these trying hours to know he is in good hands. Now, however, we have a train to catch." He nodded to the bed. "Tessa."
With a flick of pale blue eyes, the nanny stepped up to the crib and reached for the toddler. Samson jerked awake. Blinked at Tessa then Julian and let out a scream.
A shrill scream woke Katrina Vicente. She sprang up in the small bed, her fuzzy mind immediately going to Sammy. The toddler wasn't dealing well with his parents' disappearance. He totally rejected his nanny. The dolt, and Katrina didn't use the word lightly, had told the boy his parents weren't coming back. Of course he went into hysterics.
Tessa quickly realized her mistake and had tried to correct herself by telling him his parents were lost and everyone was looking for them, but the not-yet three-year-old didn't comprehend the nuances of the situation. All he knew was he wanted his mama and papa, and they weren't here.
From that point on he wanted nothing to do with Tessa. She was familiar but not his mother, and he was smart enough to know when he saw her it meant his mother wasn't back yet.
Hearing his screams she pushed to her feet, ready to take on the dark-haired man who'd dared to wake her charge.
"Mon Dieu." She rushed forward. "You best have a good reason for waking this child. Or I'll have your head." She sent a chastising glare toward the Matron, hovering behind the man's broad figure.
"K'tina." Sammy twisted toward her voice and held out his arms.
She reached for him, the pitiful wail wringing her heart.
"Who are you?" The man stepped back, turning so Sammy was beyond her grasp. He stared down his aristocratic nose at her. The deep timbre of his voice easily cut through Sammy's renewed screams even as the boy thrashed wildly in his arms. "Samson, be still, child."
"I am the one who got him to sleep." She'd worked so hard to get him settled. In total despair, he hadn't been sleeping or eating. The poor baby was completely out of sorts.
He'd been in the middle of a screaming fit when Katrina came on duty early the day before. As nursemaid to the children of Prince Jean Claude and Princess Bernadette, she had become well adept at soothing such scenes. She'd wrapped him in her arms and sang softly to him. He shrieked and thrashed, but she'd held him securely, rocking and singing as he cried. Finally he'd slept for a couple of hours. Bringing much-needed peace to the nursery.
From then on he'd latched onto Katrina and she'd gladly stayed to care for him. She managed to calm him some, got him to eat a little through the day, but he rarely slept more than a few minutes at a time before he woke screaming. Nightmares, Dr. Lambert diagnosed.
And now this man had awoken him from his first decent rest.
"He's going home," the man stated.
"Give him to me." Undeterred by the man's imposing stance, she invaded his space to reach the boy. Focused on the child's cries, she tried to take Sammy, but quickly learned she was no match for the man's strength.
"It's okay, baby." She stroked Sammy's light blond hair seeking to reassure him. "It's okay. Katrina is here."
"Mama!" Sammy cried out at the same time he threw himself backward in the man's arms.
Unprepared for the sudden movement, Ka-trina was unable to elude him, and his hard head conked into hers. Pain exploded across her temple and black dots grew into bigger dots until darkness threatened to overcome her. She swayed and felt a hard band circle her waist. Slowly the dimness receded, and she found Sammy was in her arms and she was in the stranger's. Her legs felt weak yet she had no fear of falling. In the background voices buzzed.
"Call the doctor."
Sammy clung to her, his small head resting on her chest, his wails growing into full-fledged screams. Disoriented, she blinked up into rich amber eyes.
"I have you." Warm breath tickled her neck. He led her to the daybed she'd been sleeping in until a few minutes ago. "Sit. We must check out your head."
"Sammy first," she insisted, grateful to be off her feet. Though curiously disappointed to lose the security of his arms. The bump on the head obviously distorted her thinking.
Dr. Lambert arrived within minutes. Light bounced off his bald head, and bushy white eyebrows topped expressive eyes. He smiled kindly and spoke in English, the official language of Kardana. "How is our little man tonight? I hear he actually got some sleep before trying to knock you out with his head. I'll want to look at you, too."
"I am okay, but Sammy has a sizable knot on the back of his head." She sent Prince Julian a chastising glare. Oh yeah, she'd finally recognized the gorgeous, dark-haired man. "But, oui, he slept for a couple of hours before he was disturbed."
"Well, let us see what the damage is."
The doctor had been by to see Sammy every day, so he didn't try to move the toddler from her lap. Instead he talked gently to the boy, telling him what he was doing and why. He felt the child's head, looked into his eyes and listened to his heart. And when he was done with the boy, he did the same with Katrina. Again without disrupting Sammy.
"Did you lose consciousness?" He shone a light in her left eye.
"No." Katrina carefully kept her attention on the doctor and not the tall, brooding man standing arms crossed over a broad chest on the periphery of her vision.
"She came close," a deep voice put in.
The reminder brought to mind the feel of his strong arms cradling her. She'd been pressed against his hard body, the warmth of his masculine heat reviving in her moment of weakness. The memory sent blood pounding through her veins, adding to the throb in her head.
She didn't care for the thought of spending the night in the medical wing, so hopefully the doctor wouldn't attribute her racing heart to the bump on the head.
No, that came from the brilliant action of telling the Prince of Kardana she'd have his head for waking his nephew.
Not that she hadn't meant the reprimand at the time. Sammy needed the rest. But he also needed family. Ever since Tessa disclosed his parents were missing, Katrina had taken to following the doctor's example of talking to Sammy, explaining what had happened and what was being done to find his parents. It seemed to calm him.
He may have a limited vocabulary, but he understood a lot more than he said.
The one thing she'd promised him, again and again, was his family would come for him and then things would be better. He'd be with people who loved him, who would care for him, who would do everything they could to bring his parents back to him.
Unfortunately Julian Ettenburl didn't quite fit that picture. Warm and loving were not words she'd use to describe him. Cold and stoic fit him better. And impatient. Though that was more a feeling than anything he did.
His utter stillness revealed nothing of what he felt, nor did his fine-hewed features or his intelligent hazel eyes under straight brown eyebrows. His brother was touted as the handsome one, being blond and eye-catching. A soldier in the royal corps, he was seen as a man of action, a man in control. The world viewed him as a true Prince Charming.
Julian was darker, his features more defined, his demeanor more brooding, a testament to his preference to shun the limelight. Having seen them both, Katrina found the younger brother more attractive if infinitely less charming. She ducked her head, not that she had any interest in him, or in any man.
She had little doubt the dark prince would wield his considerable power and influence to find his brother. Sammy, however, might get lost in the shuffle as his uncle concentrated on the bigger goal.
"A bit of a concussion for both of you." The doctor sat back and regarded her and Sammy. "And you're both exhausted. I recommend twenty-four hours rest at the minimum."
"Can he travel, Doctor?" Julian asked, squaring his shoulders into an even-sharper line. "He can rest on the train."
Katrina tensed at the suggestion. Sammy stirred against her, and she patted him softly, adjusting so she covered his ear with one hand while lightly running her fingers through his hair with the other. Surely the man didn't intend taking Sammy tonight?
"Your Highness, I understand your urgency to return to France and the search for your brother, but the boy is traumatized. He was told his parents weren't coming back."