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The Royal Treatment
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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Chapter OneJeremy Wainwright checked his wristwatch, then lifted his gaze to sweep the exterior of the palace. The three-story structure looked like something out of a fairy tale. The gray limestone seemed to shimmer in the crisp, clear November air, and late afternoon sunlight dazzled the gleaming, mullioned window panes. He had a feeling that if he listened just right, he'd be able to hear the clang of long-silent swords and the proud blast of trumpets.
He felt a strong connection to this place and its history. For more than two hundred years, the Wainwrights had been here, on Penwyck, protecting the royal family, guarding the palace. They'd served with pride and honor, every last one of them, and he was proud to take his place among them.
The wind off the sea had a bite to it and made Jeremy grateful for the thick blue sweater he wore. The trees in the courtyard and those just outside the palace walls bore the bright stamp of autumn. Red, gold, yellow leaves rustled in the wind and floated down to litter the palace yard with bits of color.
But Jeremy didn't take time to appreciate the beauty of the place. Instead, his sharp-eyed gaze, alert for trouble, continued a thorough yet quick scan, noting that everything seemed to be as it should be. The Royal Guardwalked the perimeter, rifles at their shoulders. The iron scroll-work gates, which had protected the palace for centuries, stood closed, locked, impenetrable. And the last of the tour groups were just leaving the public half of the palace.
Good. Jeremy never really relaxed until the gates were closed behind interlopers. Oh, he knew it was important for the citizens of Penwyck - not to mention international visitors - to be able to tour the palace. At least the rooms set aside for public viewing.
But tours were a security man's nightmare. There were just too many things that could go wrong. One man getting past a checkpoint with a concealed weapon could turn into a hostage drama.
And then there was the headache of a tourist wandering away from the crowd and finding his or her way into the royal family's apartments. Not to mention the queen's habit of sometimes surprising the tours with a royal visit.
Shaking his head, Jeremy kept an eye on the chattering visitors leaving through the iron gates, and didn't stop watching until those gates were sealed again. Once they had been, he stepped into the tiny guard station to pour himself an end-of-shift cup of coffee.
Taking a sip of the strong, black liquid, he let the heat of it roll through him, and ignored the raised voices filtering to him from the gates. Whoever it was, his guards could handle it. Picked as the best of the best from the Royal Army, and trained by him, they could handle anything. Their duty was to protect the king and queen and the rest of the royal family. And there wasn't a one of them that Jeremy didn't trust to lay down his life for the royals.
And by the sound of things, he thought suddenly, that might just be on today's agenda. Setting his coffee cup down on the desk, he stepped out of the kiosk and listened more carefully to the raised voices.
"Damn it," Jeremy muttered. "Trouble couldn't wait five more minutes?" He checked that his pistol was discreetly tucked on his right hip, beneath the bulk of his sweater, and then headed for the gate.
Naturally, he heard the woman first. Not difficult, since she made no attempt to keep her voice down. He stopped midstep as he recognized that voice. It hit him hard. Just as it did every damn time he dreamed about her.
Jade Erickson. Lover. Ex-wife.
Pain in the neck. "Not too late," he muttered. "Still time to get in your car and let the next poor fool on duty handle her." His shift was over. Let Lieutenant Gimble take care of this. "Hell," Jeremy grumbled with a disgusted snort, "that's like sending a kid with a peashooter up against an armed tank."
He just couldn't do it to Gimble. Penwyck was too damn small, that's what the problem was. For three years, he'd managed to avoid a face-to-face confrontation with the woman he'd once promised to love, honor and cherish forever. But he saw plenty of her anyway. Every time he turned on the news.
Jade Erickson was PEN-TV's latest darling. Once upon a time, she'd been his darling. But those days, he reminded himself, were long gone.
She stood five-foot-five, and packed a lot of curves onto that tiny frame. Curves he remembered all too well. Her shoulder-length auburn hair danced about her face in the sharp, cold wind. He could still recall the feel of that silken mass sliding across his skin, and his fingers itched to touch it again. In memory, he saw her sea-green eyes go smoky and soft with pleasure as he loved her. Now those eyes were narrowed and shooting daggers at the lieutenant.
Thinner than he remembered, she wore a black suit that clung to every curve, a white blouse and a diamond that flashed from her left lapel. When they were together, she hadn't had diamonds. Jeremy couldn't afford them. He'd bought her a small aquamarine - the color of her eyes - set in gold for an engagement ring. But that was gone now, too.
Her long fingers were curled around the scrolled emblem on the palace gates, and as he watched, she gave it a good shake. He laughed shortly. She hadn't changed too much, then. That temper of hers still simmered just below the surface. She made a helluva picture, and Jeremy was male enough to appreciate it even while already working on ways to get rid of her.
He caught the young soldier's glance and waved him off. "I'll take care of this," he said.
"Yes, sir." The lieutenant beat a hasty - and grateful - retreat.
Excerpted from The Royal Treatment by Child Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.