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Prince of Solana
The Royals of Solana
By Susan Sheehey
Y&R Enterprises, LLCCopyright © 2017 Susan Sheehey
All rights reserved.
"Double down" André loved the thrill rushing through his veins. This game was more fulfilling than the pair of busty brunettes on either side of him. The glittery gowns he'd purchased for them earlier that day accentuated their cleavage, but he didn't care about that anymore. Or the vibrating cell phone in his pocket. Only the game mattered.
Life was no different than Blackjack: exciting at times, frustrating at others, but ultimately the house always wins. Which is why André left all responsibilities as Royal Price of Solana at the door of each casino he entered. Life was about having fun whenever he could. The very motto that caused his father to cast him out, and pass the throne to his younger brother. Tulio hadn't filled the headlines with philandering ways and irresponsible spending. Those traits belonged solely to André. Now here he sat, or at one of a dozen other casinos every night for the last eight years. Either in Vegas, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Macau, or Dubai, each one only left him searching for another thrill — an escape.
The dealer turned over another card on the gold felt in front of André, eliciting a smirk from the half-drunken prince. A king — eighteen. "Stay," he muttered.
One of the brunettes — he couldn't remember her name — nuzzled against his neck.
She threw him a scowl and sipped on her fourth Cabernet.
The two women clutching his elbows reminded him of his mother, Queen Esperanza, with their cascading ebony hair and tan skin. But as he'd become more acquainted with them over the last few hours, the similarities were only skin-deep. Now he regretted buying their evening gowns at the resort boutique. That meant they'd hang all over him the rest of the weekend. Granted, he'd asked Javier, one of his bodyguards, to arrange the transaction simply so he'd have arm-candy through his stay.
Come on baby, gimme a thrill. The dealer turned over the last card. A queen.
"Mierda!" André burst out, pounding the table with his fist. Over the rim of his bourbon, he watched the dealer pull back $50,000 worth of his chips. His ninth straight loss. At least the shame of losing was kept at a minimum in the high limit lounge of the Bellagio in Vegas, with only a few other high-rollers losing money around him. He wasn't getting anywhere with this table. Perhaps a new game.
He tossed a black chip at the dealer, and split his remaining stack of chips between the girls on either side. "Here, querida. See how long you can make that last while I take care of business."
André pushed back from the table and adjusted his evergreen tie. That should keep them away for twenty minutes. Enough to drain my royal jewels and get more spending rocks. As he headed to the restroom, the three men who'd guarded his back all night — his entire life, actually — stepped forward. He handed his bourbon to the man in the center, and waved off the other two.
"Just a break, Carlos. Tell Stefano to keep those girls away from me for a bit. I need space. Bathroom first."
Carlos nodded and touched his earpiece, quietly relaying the information into his microphone in his sleeve. André tapped his foot on the marble floor as he waited for his security detail to clear the bathroom, along with the attendant. The impeccably dressed attendant was a luxurious convenience for the other high rollers, but no one was to enter while the prince occupied the bathroom. It was a shame his bladder had to wait every time he needed to piss.
The restrooms in the Bellagio were ornate, but André had seen better in Monte Carlo. The reflection in the mirrors was the same though. The dark, wavy hair was his mother's favorite feature, next to his coffee eyes. Maybe that's why his father didn't like him. He was his mother's spitting image. A constant reminder of what they'd lost.
André washed his hands and stopped, studying the family's gold ring on his finger, the design emblazoned with a flying hawk. The Hawk of Solana. The eye of the hawk was an amepphire stone, the rare, light-blue gem with purple tinges mined only on Solana.
He missed his country. He missed its sugary beaches, its people, and the dark silhouettes of smaller South Pacific islands only visible on the horizon at sunset. The Polynesian and Micronesian waters were bluer than anywhere else on Earth. A true paradise. He hadn't been back for eight years. Eight years of living off the enormous trust fun, despite his exile. It didn't matter Tulio was named Crown Prince. He'd be better at running the country anyway. What stuck like a thorn in his mind were his father's last words: "You are a disgrace. You know nothing of love for your country, your people, or your family. Your mother, God rest her soul, would be ashamed."
His father was right about one thing. His mother would have been ashamed. Which is why he stayed away. Because he loved his country and family. "They're better off without me," he murmured to his drunken reflection.
"I will continue to disagree, Your Highness."
Stefano's hardened, pristine frame stood by the door, hands folded behind his back in his usual domineering stance, but with the calm and gentle eyes he reserved for André.
"You're biased." André dried his hands on a linen towel and adjusted the cuffs on his flawless Dolce black suit.
"Most certainly, sir."
The beginnings of a headache stopped André mid-step. Pinching the bridge of his nose did nothing to relieve it.
"Perhaps you should switch to water for the night, sir. Would you care for a painkiller?"
"You babying me again, Stefano?"
"If a twenty-eight-year-old baby doesn't know how to handle an early hangover, yes."
"The only babies in the casino are off spending my money and flashing their cleavage in bustiérs I paid for."
"Then perhaps His Highness should put away his toys and call it an evening."
"One more drink and a round of craps. Then I'll turn into the responsible frog everyone wants me to be." He pulled out his cell phone and saw the missed calls from his sister. Shame tightened its grip on his heart, and he shoved it back in his pocket.
What time is it there, anyway? Why is she calling so late?
"And the ladies?" Stefano asked.
"They can kiss whatever toads they want. The only royal chivalry left in the world is in Solana, and he's already married. Besides, I don't think those infants can even spell Solana, let alone locate it on a map."
Five minutes later as André picked up the dice to roll anything but a seven, a drunken woman spilled her drink across his chips. Carlos helped the woman aside — to check her for weapons — while André reset his chips. The girls had returned to the table, the twinkle in their eyes brighter, no doubt hoping to swizzle more chips from him. But André's gaze was on the dice in his hands.
"Make it rain," he called with a smile and threw an eight. The table cheered and the payouts flurried.
"One more time." He grinned. The familiar adrenaline-high kicked into gear, and someone pushed another bourbon into his hand. He blew on the dice, waiting for the silence to hit the crowd around him.
"Breach! Breach!" Carlos yelled. The larger bodyguard gripped André's arm like a vice and yanked him through the crowd. In one swift move, another guard ripped the bourbon from his hand as Carlos and Stefano forced him to run across the casino floor.
They gripped the pistols they'd pulled from their coats. The bells on the surrounding slot machines whizzed past him. The glittery lights from every corner blurred his vision. Or perhaps it was the bourbon. The tiny clanks of roulette balls filtered through the haze along with other gamblers' cheers.
"Pull the car to the side entrance, thirty seconds!" Carlos barked into the microphone at his wrist. André caught a few of the passing faces of nearby strangers, no doubt baffled by the sudden and forceful exit of a bunch of armed thugs. Catching his breath was impossible as André's men rushed him through a narrow hallway. Crashing through the double doors at the end drowned out the joyous sounds of the casino.
The adrenaline from a security breach was more terrifying and toxic than the rush from gambling. Over the years, the few false alarms they'd run him through had scattered his nerves and caused a furious rage that took hours to dissipate.
"What's going on?" André barked, surprised he sounded more collected than he felt.
"Breach over the wire, sir," Carlos clipped.
Just as the three pushed through the double doors, their black SUV screeched around the corner and passed the jostled valet. Covering his head with their torsos, the muscled men shoved him into the vehicle and Stefano dived in after him.
Another two men were inside, guns drawn. "Your Highness."
"Everyone regroup to back-up location," Stefano called into his mic, bracing himself against the tight turns of the SUV as they sped down the streets of Las Vegas. André forced his mind to focus and grimaced at the bourbon splattered across his coat. Yanking a handkerchief from his pocket, he swiped at the mess and raked his fingers through his hair.
"This better not be another damn paparazzi issue. Ruined my favorite suit."
After endless turns and frantic heartbeats, the SUV stopped at the back of another hotel, the bright skyline of the Vegas strip still visible in the distance. His bodyguards rushed him inside and into a smaller room, much less extravagant than his suite at the Bellagio. But at least it had a decent view of the Vegas lights.
What a mess of an evening this had become. He'd been on a roll at the craps table, the thrill of winning on his fingertips, and the buzz was obliterated by a ridiculous security breach. Probably just an overzealous fanatic wanting an autograph, or a maid entering his other hotel room without clearance.
The bodyguards cleared the hallway while André assessed the damage to his jacket in the bathroom. The marble floors, counters, and Jacuzzi were spacious enough for his needs. His poor suit would have to suffer through hotel dry cleaning.
Many insufferable minutes later with no answers, André shoved the satin loveseat to the window and plopped down. Studying the city lights did little to assuage his anger.
"Can someone please get room service up here to restock this pathetic excuse of a bar?" "Yes, Your Highness," one man replied. Everyone was on a cell phone, ignoring his agitated rants. His headache worsened.
"Where the hell is Stefano?" The door opened and his trusted bodyguard slipped in, composed façade as always, but eyes clearly panicked. He shut the door behind him. The room instantly silenced.
"My Prince," he began, voice strangled. "The palace has been attacked."
The room stopped. The only thing André could see was the anguish in Stefano's face.
Don't say it. Please, don't.
"Your father is dead."CHAPTER 2
"Que Dios vendiga el Rey," a few men muttered after an incalculable moment of silence.
André couldn't breathe. God Bless our King.
"Your father was assassinated. Along with your brother, sir." Stefano never moved his gaze from André. The prince struggled to his feet. His numbed legs wouldn't let him balance. Stefano reached out and held his shoulder, more of a comfort than assistance. A sign of affection he had never shown in front of others.
"Dios mio," André breathed, the air sucked out of his lungs. "When?"
"An hour ago. Bendetto and his men stormed the palace and have taken over the Royal Square."
"Bendetto?" André choked. "From the Lozano cartel?"
"Their top general, for lack of a better word," Stefano growled. "Monster is more accurate."
André's phone now felt like a bowling ball in his pocket. His heart sank along with it. Alanna called me for help and I didn't answer. "Alanna? Where is my sister?"
"She is missing, Your Grace."
"But ... she just called me."
"Not an hour ago, she called my phone but I didn't answer."
Stefano's face hardened again and he held out his hand. "May I, sir?"
André handed over the phone, but after his bodyguard called several times there was no answer.
André's throat constricted. "What of Tulio's wife, and little Alejandro?"
The lines on Stefano's forehead deepened and he lowered his eyes.
"No ..." André nearly choked. His nephew meant more to him than a crown. Other than shaming his mother's name and the legacy of two hundred years of Peraltas, leaving Alejandro behind hurt most of all. For the love of God, please no.
"I'm so sorry, Your Highness," Stefano managed after he cleared his throat. "They were killed when Bendetto took the palace. He shot them to get your father to reveal where you were hidden. He refused."
André turned to the window as Stefano relayed the events. Royalty wasn't supposed to show vulnerability, especially the prince, but André didn't care. The tears flowed as he sobbed into his hands, and collapsed. He knelt in front of the window, bracing his arm on the glass.
He'd lost his family all over again. Only this time there was no one to trust the crown to: not his brother, sister, or nephew. The legacy was over.
"Prince André," Stefano moved behind him. "Since your sister is missing, you are now the king."
Stefano's words swallowed all air in the room. King André. The weight of a royal crown never felt so suffocating and oppressive.
A king, already on his knees.
"No," André breathed.
"Your Majesty —" Stefano tried to continue, using the title reserved for his father.
"No!" André glared at him. "The crown is for Alanna. Find her."
"Sire, we have to assume —"
"I will not give up hope." André pushed himself to his feet. "She has to be alive. Besides, an exiled prince cannot inherit the throne."
Stefano paused, seeming to swallow back his words before he continued. "We have to get you out of Nevada. Tonight."
"He's put an order on your head, Your Highness. His men are on their way to kill you, probably as we speak."
The bodyguards began to pack their equipment and clear the room. All in silence. When only the prince and Stefano remained, André still couldn't speak.
"We must put you in hiding, sir. Somewhere no Royal Guard secret file has listed as an approved location."
"What does he want, Stefano? Why would he do this?"
Stefano strangled a sigh. "The Lozanos in Manila want Solana's strategic position at the edge of the Pacific for drug distribution to the Americas. It's the only island with an airport large enough to suit the cartel, but small enough to be overtaken easily without foreign assistance. And Bendetto's always had a grudge against your father."
Drugs. His family and legacy were dead, because of money and drugs. The agreement his father had made with the United States for military assistance had done nothing. Now he had to hide. Like a coward.
"For how long, Stefano?" André murmured. "A week? A month? Would you have me hide for a year while my father's people are brutalized by that lunatic?"
Stefano pulled a chair beside André and they both sat, letting the casual gesture speak for the equality he only shared in private.
"Your father died defending his people and his family. Including you. Now that Bendetto is suppressing the army, we must wait for the UN to intervene."
"The UN?" André barked. "They'll take months to move, if at all!"
"Sir, we have no power, no resources to confront Bendetto directly. The United States must seek approval from Congress to intervene, which will take time. CNN has already had your and Alanna's photos plastered on TV this hour. With their help, the US and UN will be urged to act. Let them handle Bendetto in the International Criminal Courts. Then when it's safe, you can return."
"Solana would never forgive me for hiding in their hour of need. I could not forgive myself."
"Let us secure your safety first, Sire, before we decide our next steps. How can you reclaim the throne if you are dead?"
"Don't call me that. We must find my sister." André stood and dried his eyes with a rough knuckle. "The Peraltas have ruled Solana for over two hundred years, helped the people thrive despite the Spanish American war and two World Wars. I'll be damned if we're wiped out by some ridiculous, Filipino drug lord. Find out where the generals are. Where is Parliament? The army? We have to get them back, otherwise the people are helpless."
Excerpted from Prince of Solana by Susan Sheehey. Copyright © 2017 Susan Sheehey. Excerpted by permission of Y&R Enterprises, LLC.
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