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Royal Rebel

By Jenny Frame

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Jenny Frame

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Royal Rebel

Charity director Lennox King sees through the party girl image Princess Roza has cultivated, but will Lennox’s past indiscretions and Rosa’s responsibilities make their love impossible?

Royal Rebel

© 2017 By Jenny Frame. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13: 978-1-62639-894-8


This Electronic book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: May 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Ruth Sternglantz

Production Design: Stacia Seaman

Cover Design By Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail.com)

By the Author

A Royal Romance

Heart of the Pack

Courting the Countess

Royal Rebel

Acknowledgments

As always, thank you to Radclyffe and the whole BSB family for fostering such a great supportive community for us writers to be a part of. Also, thank you to all the Bold Strokes staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure every little thing is done to bring our books to fruition.

A huge thank you to my editor, Ruth Sternglantz. A lot of writers dread editing, but I always look forward to it with excitement, as every time Ruth helps build my writing skills and I learn something new.

Thank you to my friends Amy and Christine, who always support me and my writing and give me a friendly ear.

A big shout of thanks to all those readers who have bought a book and contacted me with lovely emails and messages. I appreciate every one and your support.

Thanks to my family, and especially my mum and dad, who help me on almost a daily basis.

Lou, you are my inspiration, my strength, and my one true love. Twelve years might have passed since we first became a couple, but I know in my heart that you love me more and more each day, and just like Lex and Roza, I will always be your princess. Thank you for everything you do for me and our crazy Barney boy. I love you, darling.

For Lou

ego dilecto meo et dilectus meus

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine

Chapter One

The ticking of an antique clock mirrored the nervous beat of Princess Rozala’s heart as she waited outside her father’s study. She had been in this ornate waiting area inside Ximeno Palace in Denbourg’s capital too many times over the years, awaiting the wrath of her father the King, but none of her past indiscretions could compare with the situation she was in now.

Rozala’s eyes were drawn to the muted twenty-four-hour rolling news channel playing across from her on the wall. It showed footage of her at various glitzy social events, laughing, dancing, and generally not behaving like the princess she was supposed to be—and that’s why she was sitting here, why she always found herself here, because she wasn’t the princess her father wanted her to be.

The footage changed to her clasping the arm of her now ex-girlfriend, Thea Brandt. It struck her now that she had been letting herself be led around like a lamb by the much older and impeccably dressed businesswoman. She had been introduced to Thea at a party six months earlier. At twenty-seven years her senior, Thea had seemed so strong, so powerful, and Rozala quickly fell under her spell.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered their burgeoning relationship. The first few months, she enjoyed Thea’s controlling personality. She felt safe, protected, and looked after, but it soon began to become suffocating, as Thea told her what to wear, where to be seen, and when to see her family. As much as she began to feel their relationship was wrong, she couldn’t seem to leave and felt panicked about life without her, to the point she had begged Thea to stay with her in their many arguments.

Thea had conditioned her to believe that she couldn’t exist without her, and it was only the recent revelations about Thea’s business dealings splashed all over the media that prompted Rozala to leave. Even now she felt scared about being apart from her.

King Christian’s private secretary, Lord Dahl, came out of her father’s office and bowed to her. “The King will see you now, Your Royal Highness.”

The only time he ever wanted to see her was when she’d done something wrong.

She stood, pausing to follow the private secretary’s gaze to the TV news. It had changed from images of Rozala to footage of UN troops engaged in artillery and bomb strikes in the Middle East, and shame simmered within her. She wondered how things had turned out so badly.

With a sigh she walked into her father’s office, and found him writing on some documents. The King was an old-fashioned man in all ways and didn’t like to rely on computers when he didn’t have to.

She stood silently in front of his desk waiting for him to speak first. King Christian’s office was hung with many paintings of the past kings and queens of Denbourg on the walls, and Rozala felt their eyes stare at her accusingly.

After an age of silence, King Christian said without looking up, “Sit down, Rozala.”

Determined to be defiant as always, she replied, “I prefer to stand, Father.”

He snapped his head up from his papers and gave her a frosty look that matched the atmosphere in the room.

“As you wish.” King Christian put his pen to the side and clasped his hands. “Where do I even start with you, Rozala? You have no idea of the scandal and trouble you have brought to the country and your family. The prime minister has informed me that the media speculation about Thea Brandt is true. She is an arms and drug dealer who is part of a global crime syndicate. She has been selling arms to unfriendly countries and terrorists that have been using them against our own UN troops. Regiments of our troops that—may I remind you—have your cousins and extended family serving in them.”

The House of Ximeno-Bogdana-de Albert, of which she was part, had close and distant relations spread throughout every European royal house, and many of them served as part of their countries’ armed forces. It made Roza feel sick to think that someone she thought she’d loved had put them in danger.

“I swear I had no idea, Father. If I did, I would never—”

*

“Of course you didn’t know. You were too busy partying with your glamorous, unconventional, and criminal friends. Rozala, when will you realize you are not a celebrity? You’re a member of the royal family with many duties to perform. I thank God your brother Augustus was born to be my heir.”

Each sentence from her father’s mouth was like a sword stabbing her in the stomach. It had always been like this. As a little child she had tried to gain her father’s attention and acceptance, but she could never do anything to please him, so she’d started doing the wrong thing just to anger him.

“I don’t need to remind you that your brother’s wedding is in six months’ time, and I will not have this cloud of scandal hanging over my heir. The prime minister believes that with careful diplomacy we can clean up this mess with the country and our allies, but you need to keep a low profile. You’re going to stay with your aunt and cousins in London.”

“You’re sending me away?” Rozala said with surprise.

“George will be a good influence on you, and it will allow this situation to calm down. You will be assigned new bodyguards. The last protection officers obviously failed in their task if they didn’t keep you away from these types of people.”

Rozala was so hurt, and so very angry. “You can’t just send me away like a child, away from my friends, my life—everything is here, in Denbourg.”

“That is exactly why you need to go.”

She folded her arms defiantly. “I won’t go. I’m not leaving.”

King Christian jumped up and leaned across the desk. “You will go and do exactly as you are told, even if I have to carry you onto the plane myself. I will not have the House of Ximeno-Bogdana-de Albert brought down by a girl who doesn’t know how to behave as her station demands.”

The anger and disgust in her father’s eyes shocked Rozala. He had been angry before many times but not like this. Tears started to roll down her cheeks, and she wiped them away quickly.

“I’ve never been good enough for you, have I?”

King Christian sat back down, his anger now under control. “Go back to your apartments and start to make your preparations. You leave tomorrow.”

Rozala walked to the office door, but just before she opened it she turned and looked at the painting of her mother on the wall. “I took her away from you, didn’t I? Every time you look at me, you are reminded of what you lost. I think you wish I had never been born. You wish it had been just you, Augustus, and Mama.”

He held her gaze for a few moments before he simply said, “Go, Rozala.”

She slammed the door and with shaking fingers tapped the mobile phone on her wrist to call her best friend and lady in waiting, Cressida. “Get to my apartment and start packing, Cressie. We’re going on an extended trip to the United States, and we are going to party like we never have before.”

Rozala didn’t stop to meet up with her new secret service bodyguards, but as she sped out the palace gates, she saw their black armoured vehicles pull in behind her sports car seamlessly. Her grip on her steering wheel tightened just as surely as the royal shackles were tightening on her life.

“I’ve got to get out of here.”

Some of the media who were encamped outside Ximeno Palace took to their cars and high-speed bikes to follow her. She tried to switch routes but just couldn’t shake them off her tail.

Since this story about her girlfriend—ex-girlfriend—had broken, the media had gone wild, and they had besieged her. In a way Rozala believed she deserved what she was getting. At least the scales had finally dropped from her eyes and she’d ended the relationship.

Rozala felt a bump to the side of her car as a photographer’s bike got too close, and she swerved dangerously across the lane of traffic, shooting headlong into a pole by the side of the road.

*

Queen Georgina watched with awe as Bea threw her head back and moaned low and long, as the waves of pleasure surged through her body. She straddled George, grinding her hips and sex on the fingers buried deeply inside her, coaxing every last bit of pleasure from her body.

George gazed at her with a mixture of lust and wonderment. “You are so beautiful like that.”

Bea let George’s fingers slip from her body but held her position astride her partner. She grinned and said, “The things you do with your fingers are beautiful.”

“Well, Mrs. Buckingham”—George used the nickname they had coined on their honeymoon. Bea had remarked that she craved the time when they were alone, when she wasn’t the Queen Consort, but just simply George’s wife. In an instant, George had christened her this sweet term of endearment, and Bea loved it—“I have to keep you satisfied, since half the world would like to steal you away from me.” George joked, but there was truth to it.

The world had fallen in love with their new Queen Consort, and just as George had predicted, Bea’s irreverent and approachable style won the people’s hearts and minds.

After a short honeymoon together on the royal yacht, they’d returned to duty and a six-month world tour. Everywhere they went, people wanted to meet the fairy-tale girl who had become a Queen Consort, and no one was disappointed when they met her.

The tour promoting Britain’s business and trade was a roaring success, and when they returned, Bea had thrown herself into her charity work and had become a style icon the world over, helping UK designers make their name across the globe. Yes, George knew she was one lucky monarch.

Bea chuckled and slipped back into bed and into George’s arms. “I think I’m the lucky one, Georgie.”

They lay in silence for a few moments, drinking in the warmth of the afterglow. It was five thirty on a Monday morning at the start of a busy week at Buckingham Palace. George was always up well before Bea, so she had time to work out with her personal dresser and close protection officer, Captain Cameron, in the gym before starting her workday. This morning she’d returned from the gym and was going to dress when Bea enticed her back to bed.

“What inspired your accosting me and taking advantage of me?” George asked with a smile.

Bea ran her fingers from George’s cheekbone down her shoulders and arms. “The way you looked, fresh from the shower earlier. Your muscles were pumped from your exercise and your hair was wet and sexy, and that made me feel wet and sexy.”

George kissed her head. “You’re always sexy.”

“I love this. Just lying with you,” Bea said, burrowing her head further into George’s neck. “I can almost make believe we aren’t in a palace, and the whole world isn’t waiting for us outside those bedroom doors.”

“You do feel at home here, don’t you? You would tell me if you weren’t happy here.” George recognised what a huge change it had been for Bea to go from her small family home with her mum and dad to a big impersonal palace.

Bea said, “Of course I’m happy, but this isn’t home. Windsor is home. It’s where we go every weekend to be together, where Mum and Dad live, where we fell in love, and where I can be just your wife, just Mrs. Buckingham, not the Consort. Buckingham Palace is our office.”

“You’re right, of course,” George said.

She remembered the joy on Bea’s face the day she took her and Bea’s parents to see the large Primrose Cottage on the Windsor estate. Bea’s mum and dad hadn’t said anything, but she could tell they—and Bea—were worried about Bea becoming distanced from them, as Bea’s new duties took her away to all corners of the globe.

With her parents at Windsor, Bea was happy in the knowledge that her family was close, plus George wanted them to be well taken care of. She had become very fond of both Reg and Sarah, and the media intrusion and security concerns made it impossible for them to live at their former home.

“How much time do we have? Can we have breakfast together? I don’t have any engagements until lunchtime,” Bea asked.

“Yes, I have a surprisingly light day for a Monday. I need to finish my boxes by eleven, then take the helicopter to Newcastle. I’m touring a new factory, and then we have the premiere theatre performance tonight.”

Bea rolled on top of her again and held George’s wrists above her head. “Excellent, I’m sure your breakfast can wait for ten minutes.” Bea gave her one of those teasing looks that made her heart and her sex beat in anticipation.

George could have easily removed herself from Bea’s grasp, but she was quite happy to be under her wife’s control for whatever she had in mind.

“Let me wash you, Your Majesty.”

George groaned out loud. That one sentence flashed an image of Bea on her knees in the large shower, making her come with her mouth. Bea was a strong, confident woman, and that made these little moments of apparent submission all the more exciting.

“Yes, yes—now, let’s go.”

*

Bea poured George’s coffee just as her partner walked into the breakfast room. Bea looked to the young footman waiting by the door and said, “You can serve now, thank you, Sam.”

Their food was served and they ate in quiet companionship as the news played on the wall, and they both read morning newspaper websites.

An item came on the news about the upcoming state visit to Britain by President Loka of Vospya. Crowds of protestors were gathered outside both the embassy and the Houses of Parliament every day, creating as much noise and disruption as possible.

Bea felt more and more angry the closer the state visit got. “I don’t know why we’re having him here, Georgie. It’ll make me sick to have him stay and give him hospitality.”

The small but oil- and gas-rich Eastern European country of Vospya had quickly earned the reputation of one of the world’s worst human rights records since President Loka led a coup against the democratically elected government there.

George took a sip of water and patted her lips dry with the cloth napkin. “We’ve already been through this, Bea. We have no choice. We are servants of the government and the prime minister, and we must welcome whomever they wish to offer the hand of friendship to. It’s not always pleasant, but service comes before self.”

“Bodicea Dixon makes a huge thing about Britain being a liberal democracy, but when there’s a trade agreement at stake, she’s willing to shut her eyes to their appalling human rights record.” Bea was barely restraining her temper. President Loka’s military coup had set his country back a hundred years. Gay people, women, and generally anyone not agreeing with him were brutally oppressed.

“It’s the way it has to be. We are servants of the democratically elected government,” George said firmly.

To make matters worse the news channel reported next on a royal exclusive. Bea hated the speculation she got in the press.

“I’ll put it off,” George said.

Bea sighed. “No, I want to know what imaginary story they’ve got about us now.”

The pictures showed the royal couple on a visit to a whisky factory in Scotland, as the voice-over described: “At the end of the tour, Their Majesties were given a sample of the finest casked whisky, but the Queen Consort passed on the offer. Our sources tell us this could be due to a royal baby on the way. We expect an announcement any day now.”

“Bloody idiots,” Bea shouted and threw her napkin onto her plate. “There’s a new story about me being pregnant every bloody week. We have to put out so many denials to the press, I’ve lost count. I feel like a baby-making machine not a person.”

“I thought you wanted lots of children with me,” George said with disappointment.

Now Bea felt bad. Children were a touchy subject between them. George had wanted to start a family as soon as they came home from the world tour, and had in fact given her doctors at their clinic all the stem cell samples needed to create their child as soon as they were married. Bea could become pregnant at the private London clinic anytime, but she was reluctant.

“You know I do, so don’t pout. I just need time to settle into this life first. If I’m not settled, how can I bring a child into the world who will be glared at by the media from the first day of their life? I know you want an heir—”

“If that’s what you think, then I obviously haven’t explained myself properly. I don’t just want an heir. I want a child with you, Bea. A child brought about by our love. A little piece of us, to love, protect, and care for. I don’t see what’s so wrong with that.”

When George put it like that, she couldn’t see anything wrong with that—in fact, everything seemed right with it. In her mind she saw an image of George, so big and strong, holding their baby in her arms, and Bea’s heart fluttered.

They ate on in silence for a few minutes before George said, “Gussy called me about Roza. She’ll travel tomorrow. Are you sure you don’t mind her staying indefinitely?”

“Of course not. She’s family.”

George took her hand and tenderly caressed it with her fingers. “I really feel badly for her. Brought up without her mother, and Uncle Christian is a very old-fashioned father. It seems to me she has just been crying out for love, attention, and affection. That scoundrel Thea Brandt knew exactly which buttons to press with her.”

“I was thinking, Georgie. She needs an occupation while she’s here. Something to give her a new perspective. Why don’t we send her to work at Timmy’s?”

Bea had given up her job at the hospice charity when she became the consort. But Timmy’s was still very close to her heart, and she had now become its royal patron.

“That’s an excellent idea, my darling. There’s nothing better to make you appreciate your responsibilities than trying to help others.”

“My thoughts exactly. I’ll make a call and organize it.”

“Do you think your new director can handle Roza? She’s quite a handful,” George said.

Bea smiled smugly. “Lennox King? Oh, I think she’ll handle her very well.”

Just then a breaking news story on TV caught their attention.

We are just getting reports that Princess Rozala of Denbourg has been involved in a high-speed car crash, not far from Ximeno Palace.”

“Oh God, Georgie.” Bea gasped.

George immediately called her private secretary. “Bastien, Princess Rozala’s been involved in an accident. I need you to find out everything you can.”

Chapter Two

Lennox King pounded her feet on the treadmill below her, trying to strain every last bit of energy from her body. Sweat dripped down her forehead and she quickly wiped it away with her hand. The high tempo music in her ears and the adrenaline shooting through her body were taking her towards that special place that gave her the best natural high she could get.

She glanced down at the timer and saw she had just over a minute left to go. The treadmill was already set on a steep incline, but she wanted more, wanted to push her body further.

“Computer? Incline up two.”

Immediately the running track moved upward so Lennox was running at breakneck speed virtually uphill.

Lennox felt the increased acidic pain in her legs straight away, and that slight moment of panic when her body told her that she couldn’t do it, but she shook that off and closed her eyes.

Push, push, she told herself.

Her lungs burned intensely as if they couldn’t get enough oxygen into them, and then it happened. She got past her body’s point of no return, the point where her body stopped resisting, and she was hit with the most intense burst of pure pleasure.

Lennox let out a groan and finally the timer beeped and the treadmill started to slow and lower to the ground. She fell forward and leaned her upper body over the front of the machine. “Jesus.” She was gasping, desperately trying to get her breath back.

As hard as it was, and as hard as her body was screaming in rebellion at what she had just put it through, the aftershocks of pleasure still spread all over her body. “Better than sex.”

She grabbed her towel hanging on the side and wiped her face and ran it through her sweaty short brown hair. Only then when she came out of her own personal bubble did she notice the other gym patrons.

They were spread over different cardio machines that faced a wall projecting a bank of TV channels. Rolling news and sports, and the music to which her earbuds were currently hooked up. The gym wasn’t too busy, seeing as it was lunchtime, and that’s how Lennox liked it. She hated the gym in the evening when all the people came to be seen, and not to truly work out.

Lennox took a big swig from her water bottle when something on the news channel caught her eye. The breaking news banner flashed across the screen, and she quickly told the computer to switch to the news channel.

She saw footage of a white sports car with its front end crushed into a pole, and then the reporter started to say, “Denbourg’s under-fire royal, Princess Rozala, is in the midst of more drama today after she sped away from Ximeno Palace and her protection team this afternoon, and became involved in an apparent car accident with members of the press. At the moment we haven’t been able to ascertain her condition. A five-mile exclusion zone has been implemented around the palace and the accident, to ensure the princess’s security and for police investigations. This comes on the back of a troubled few days for the princess the media dub the Royal Rebel…”

Lennox watched intently as the footage switched from the scene of the accident to that of the princess attending glamorous parties and hanging on the arm of a much older woman. The princess was a beautiful young woman, Lennox thought, but if the press were to be believed, quite a handful. As she got wrapped up in the story, a woman’s voice interrupted her. “You really push yourself hard. I wish I had your stamina.”

Lennox looked down to her side and saw a blond woman leaning against her machine. She smiled, stepped down beside her, and wrapped her towel around her neck. “I like to keep in good shape.”

Lennox felt the woman’s eyes caress her shoulder muscles and arms, while the woman stroked her fingernails seductively down Lennox’s neck.

“I can see that. My name is Gill, by the way.”

Lennox could tell she was being hit on, and it wasn’t a rare occurrence in the gym. She wasn’t arrogant but knew that her tall, solid body and confident demeanour were attractive to women, and it was something that she had exploited in the past—but not any more.

She took Gill’s hand and noticed the wedding band and large engagement ring on her finger. “Lennox King.”

Gill took a step towards her and gently caressed her biceps. “I’ve seen you a few times in here, Lennox. You work harder than anyone I’ve seen and leave without saying a word to anyone. I just had to come up and introduce myself. Would you like to get some coffee after you’ve finished?”

A few years ago, she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. They would be having sex in the changing room by now, regardless of the rings on Gill’s finger. The shame that her memories brought her were her constant companion. She looked down to the Roman numerals tattooed on her wrist and tried to gulp away the sick feeling inside.

“I’m sorry, Gill. I have to get back to work.”

“Maybe next time? I’m at the gym quite often during the week.” Gill took another step into her personal space and whispered, “It doesn’t have to be anything serious. I appreciate discretion.”

Lennox lifted her water bottle from the holder on the machine and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t do casual.” She took a long swig of water. I don’t do anything any more. Before Gill had the chance to push it any further, she ended the conversation. “Excuse me, I need to get started on my weights or I’ll never make it back to the office in time. Nice meeting you, Gill.”

Lennox walked off and brought the conversation to an end. As she walked away she heard Gill say, “You should learn to relax and have some fun when it’s offered, Lennox. You know where I am.”

That’s the problem, Lennox sighed to herself. She’d had more fun than any one person should ever have.

*

“There’s nothing wrong with me, Doctor.” Princess Rozala lay on a private hospital bed while the doctor ran a handheld body scanner over her body.

“If you’ll permit me, Your Royal Highness. I have to check for internal injuries.”

All Roza had wanted was to get out of the palace without her new security entourage following, meet her lady-in-waiting, and get out of the country and away from her father. That idea had fallen apart when she had swerved off the road into a pole. Luckily she had been shaken up more than anything. When her new security team had gotten her out of the wrecked car, she knew she had lost her chance to get away.

She heard a knock on the door of the hospital room and a familiar voice say, “How is she, Doctor?”

Her brother, Crown Prince Augustus, marched into the room. Dr. Vann bowed to him and said, “Just a few minor injuries, cuts and abrasions mostly, Your Royal Highness. Princess Rozala has been very lucky indeed.”

Prince Augustus shook his hand. “Thank you. Could you give us some privacy?”

“Of course, sir.” He bowed again and left brother and sister alone.

“Did Father send you to reprimand me?” Roza said with heaps of attitude.

A look of anger flashed across the Crown Prince’s face. He strode right up beside the bed and said, “I sent myself because my little sister was in an accident, or do you not think I care if you hurt yourself?”

Her brother’s righteous anger broke through all the emotions she had stubbornly kept locked up inside for the past few days, and tears tumbled unrestrained down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Gussy.”

Augustus took her into his arms and held her tight. “It’s all right, Roza. I’m here. You mustn’t drive yourself around—if you’d been with your security people in your armoured state car, this wouldn’t have happened. You scared me. I couldn’t take losing you. We’ve already lost so much in this family.”

Roza felt her usual stab of guilt at his reference to their mother and held on to him even tighter. He was the only one in the world who would show her affection now, the only one she could be herself with, and she was being sent away from him. “Gussy, please don’t let Father send me away. You’re the only one who understands.”

He pulled back from her slightly and took a handkerchief from his suit pocket. “Here. Dry those eyes.”

Roza dabbed her eyes and tried to pull herself together. Perhaps if she could persuade her brother she should stay, then he might have a word with her father.

“Gussy, I didn’t know what Thea did. She never would tell me. I would never have been with someone who made arms to hurt our people…or ruin your wedding preparations. I loved her—thought I loved her.”

Augustus picked up a seat and brought it over to the bed. “I know that, Roza, and I know exactly why you were drawn to her. I realized over the last couple of days that I’ve let you down.”

“How could you ever let me down, Gussy? You’re my big brother.”

Augustus took her hand and looked accusingly at the ring Thea had given her, the ring whose meaning was speculated on in the press for a few months, while Roza had delighted in the discomfort that had caused their father.

“Big brothers are supposed to protect their sisters. I was so busy, caught up in my royal wedding hysteria, that I left you unprotected from a shark like Thea Brandt.”

Roza’s natural defiance surfaced in a second. “I don’t need protecting and I can choose my own partners, Gussy,” she snapped.

“Ah, my feisty sister’s back. Yes, you do need protecting. Father’s been cold to you, and you’re always seeking acceptance from someone strong and someone to annoy him. Ms. Brandt gave you that in spades. I should have nipped it in the bud.”

Roza pulled her hand back from her brother and twisted the ring around her finger. She should have taken it off as soon as she walked out on Thea, but quite frankly the thought frightened her. “I wouldn’t have let you. My romantic choices are my own,” Roza said angrily.

Now apparently confident that his sister was safe, Augustus sat back in his chair and became all business. “I can’t persuade Father not to send you to Britain—one, because he is immovable on the subject, and two, I think it’s a good idea. It’ll get you away from your champagne swilling set of friends and give you some distance from the Denbourg press. Anyway, you love Aunt Sofia’s family, especially George and Theo.”

That was true. Two of the most stable times in her life had come when she stayed with her aunt and cousins, when she’d attended school and her last year of university in Britain. But as she had been then, she would now be under a more watchful eye than she was used to at home.

“Of course I love them, and Bea is a lovely woman too, but the British court is so much more domestic.”

Gussy laughed softly. “You say domestic as if it was a bad word.”

“It is.”

“Perhaps domestic is what you need, Roza. Without a mother—”

“You and Father would have been much better off without me. Then Father would have had Mama and you just like he always wanted.”

“Don’t you ever say that, Roza,” Gussy said angrily. “Our mama gave her life for you. She wanted you to have a full and happy life, but that you should do your duty like we all have to.”

Her brother got up and started to pace angrily. “I’ve treaded softly with you for too long. I need to step in and take over from Father because he just continues to alienate you. You’re twenty-three, Roza. Time to grow up.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I asked Father to hand responsibility for your future to me.”

“Excuse me? I’m not five years old, Gussy. I don’t need a guardian,” Roza said angrily.

“Clearly you do. You might not like it, but I must try and help you, Roza. You have an important role to fulfil in this family.”

Roza got up from the bed and started to gather her things. She felt absolutely furious. “What important role? Being spare to the heir? It’s like having a pair of old shoes in the wardrobe that you know you’ll never need, that just sit there getting dusty. I have no role, Gussy.”

“That’s the sort of attitude that’s got you into trouble. You have countless engagements you should be taking on to help the family, but you’re too busy partying. You have great privilege, Roza, and you need to pay for that with service to your people.”

Roza couldn’t quite believe the change in her brother. He had never spoken to her this harshly. She picked up her bag and said, “You’re turning into Father, Gussy.”

“I’ll ignore you said that. The royal plane will take you to London tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? Why so quickly? I won’t have time to say goodbye to my friends.”

“So you don’t do one of your disappearing acts.”

That was exactly what she had planned. Maybe she could get out of the country tonight if she and Cressie could sneak away.

“I’ve appointed you a new five-man security team.”

“Five? I’ve only ever had two before.”

“And you had them wrapped around your little finger. I chose this team with advice from the head of Denbourg secret service. Your chief of security is the woman who rescued you from the car.”

Roza recalled the striking woman who’d pulled her from the car wreck. “The tall, silent, Amazon-looking woman?”

Augustus nodded. “Major Ravn.”

Yes, she’ll be putty in my hands. Maybe I can get out, thought Roza. If there was one thing Roza was confident about, it was using her feminine wiles to charm both men and women.

Augustus must have seen the glint of mischief in her eyes. “Don’t even think about trying to use your many charms on her. She was picked for specific reasons. Major Ravn has served in the army and intelligence services for twenty-five exemplary years, has been happily married to her wife for fifteen years, and has two little children. Apart from the fact that she is the consummate professional, I know even you wouldn’t disrespect someone’s marriage just to get your own way. You’re too good a girl for that.”

She didn’t answer but he was right. Infuriatingly right. Just then a message came through on her phone from her lady-in-waiting. When she read it, she became more enraged. “Cressie says she’s been removed from her post.”

“Yes, she was a bad influence on you, Roza.”

“She was my choice!”

“Keep your voice down, please.” Augustus walked to her and tried to take her hand, but she pulled it away.

Augustus sighed and approached her more softly. “Roza, please. I’m trying to help you. One day Father will be gone, and it’ll be down to you and me to carry this family. You have to face your responsibilities.”

Roza was not only angry, she was hurt. She put on her coat and picked up her handbag. “I want to go back to my apartment now.”

“I’ve appointed Lady Linton as your new lady-in-waiting. She was Mama’s best friend from school and her lady-in-waiting until her death. I think you need to be around someone who knew Mama well.”

Roza slowly walked toward the door and held it ajar. Everything that had happened to her was now truly hitting her, and when she saw Major Ravn and her team of guards waiting for her in the hospital corridor, claustrophobia threatened to suffocate her.

She turned to her brother and said sadly, “You were the only one, the only one who understood me, and who was on my side. I’m truly alone now.”

Then she walked sombrely out the door.

“Roza, wait—”

*

Lennox looked into the mirrored interior of the lift, and checked her grey suit and tie were sitting just right. As always they were perfect, and she waited for the lift to arrive at the fifth floor where her office was located. She exited onto her floor of Timmy’s new London headquarters. Lennox thoroughly enjoyed her work at Timmy’s and making a difference. She’d come to Timmy’s with a reputation for making money, having worked in the high-powered London financial district. Lennox had made a lot of money for herself and a lot of companies but now she was determined to make money for those most deserving.

Lennox loved this part of the day—coming back from an intense workout, ready to work hard for the rest of the afternoon. When Danny Simpson, Bea’s old boss, medically retired from work, she applied for and was given the directorship.

Lennox strode purposely to her office, and when her PA Conrad saw her, he quickly got up from his desk outside her office.

“Everything under control, Conrad?”

Conrad was in his early twenties, exceptionally well organized and immaculately dressed. He needed to be, to keep up with Lennox’s pace of work. She was a highly driven individual and expected no less from her staff. But he appeared to be in a state, both nervous and excited.

“Lex, the Queen Consort’s private secretary Lali Ramesh called. The Consort would like an urgent word with you.”

Lex smiled at him. Conrad became awed and star-struck whenever Beatrice called or visited the charity, but he wasn’t the only one. Beatrice had a kind of star quality that endeared her to everyone she met. In the first year of her marriage to the Queen, Beatrice had charmed not only the country, but the world, and the staff at Timmy’s couldn’t have been prouder that she had worked for them. The media had named her the Consort of the People, and they were not wrong. Lennox couldn’t remember a time when the monarchy was as popular as it was now, and all because an anti-monarchist joined their ranks.

“Give me a few minutes and put me through to the palace.”

“Will do, and I ordered your lunch. It should be here anytime.”

Lennox shut her office door and slung her gym bag on the couch, before taking a seat at her desk. The Queen Consort often called her to keep in touch with how things were going at Timmy’s. She had in fact been one of the people that conducted Lennox’s interview for the directorship job. Timmy’s was Beatrice’s baby. She had helped build the charity from a tiny regional charity to a national, and now international, charity, with healthcare centres now being built in some of the poorest countries of the world.

Luckily Lennox and Beatrice had hit it off straight away and enjoyed a good working relationship.

The computer beeped with an incoming call. Lennox straightened her tie one last time and said, “Answer.”

The Queen Consort’s smiling face appeared. “Hi, Lex. How are you today?”

Lennox bowed her head quickly. “I’m fine, Your Majesty. It’s nice to speak to you again. How can I help?”

Bea pushed a strand of dark blond hair behind her ear. She was a beautiful woman and Lennox could easily see why Queen Georgina fell in love with her. She was both beautiful and totally without guile.

“I, or I should say the Queen and I, have a favour to ask you.”

“Of course, ma’am. What can I do?”

“It’s a delicate situation, and we would need your complete discretion, but you’re the only one I would trust to do it.”

“Thank you for your trust. You know you have my word that I will be discreet.”

Bea sighed. “The Queen’s cousin Princess Rozala is coming to stay with us for a while. You’ve probably seen she has been in the media a lot recently.”

That was an understatement. The Denbourg princess’s private life was constantly being splashed all over the news and celebrity websites.

“Yes, I understand she was in an accident this morning. I hope she wasn’t injured too badly.”

“No, thank you for asking. Only a few bumps and bruises. Her father, King Christian, wants her to have some time away from the Denbourg court, until things calm down a bit. The Queen would like her to be useful while she is here, and I suggested that she come and work with you at Timmy’s.”

Lex groaned internally and tried to hide her horror at the thought of babysitting a spoilt princess.

“You know I’m completely at your service, ma’am, but…”

Bea smiled, obviously reading her less-than-enthusiastic response. “But?”

“May I speak frankly?”

“Of course.”

“Is it really the best place for her? I’m sure she would get bored with the day-to-day grind of business meetings and endless emails and telephone calls.”

She watched a smile creep over Bea’s face. “That’s exactly what we want. She needs to experience the real world, a different world from the closeted court of Denbourg and her privileged friends. I want you to show her the business from the bottom up—think of her as a second PA. I’m sure Conrad won’t mind sharing you.”

Sharing her? That was a joke. Conrad would happily give her over completely if it meant working with a princess.

“I don’t doubt that.” Lex could foresee falling behind with months of work because of this. She had no choice but to ask this direct question. “Ma’am? I’m sorry if this is a bit disrespectful, but I must ask. Is this just a PR exercise for the benefit of the Denbourg royal family and world media after the arms scandal Princess Rozala was involved in?”

“It’s not disrespectful, Lex, and I appreciate your honesty. No, it’s not a PR exercise. We want her working hard eight hours a day, and being useful to you. Believe me, I know what you’re feeling. You’re thinking what a waste of your time this will be. I remember when my boss, Danny, told me I was working with Queen Georgina and I point-blank refused. I could only imagine how much it would disrupt my important work. But it didn’t work out too badly in the end, did it?” Bea joked.

Lex laughed out loud and said, “I’m in a slightly different situation, ma’am. I can’t exactly refuse.”

“Maybe not, but then I couldn’t either. Danny told me in no uncertain terms that I was doing it. I want you to treat her as you would any other new start.”

“Will I have your full backing if she doesn’t follow instructions? For this to work I can’t have her running to the Queen with complaints.”

Bea leaned forward towards the screen and said seriously, “You have my word, Lex. We want her to experience the real world, and I’m certain you are the one to do it.”

Lex puffed out her cheeks and let out a long sigh. “I’ll do it.”

This had disaster written all over it.

Chapter Three

Roza had to admit, her new security chief was efficient and single-minded. Despite all the media that had swarmed all over the hospital, she had an easy escape thanks to Major Ravn. Roza had been taken from the building in an armoured car without the press even knowing she had gone.

Her previous team would have followed meekly as Thea led Roza through the clamouring crowds. Thea’d enjoyed the attention Roza’s position gave her. Before she had met Thea, Roza already had her security eating out of her hand, but then Thea stepped in and they followed her lead. They had been seduced by the glamorous lifestyle alongside Thea’s hired bodyguards. But as Roza looked across the state car to the upright and professional Major Ravn, she knew that would never happen with her.

Major Ravn had a strong, steady gaze that appeared incorruptible, and a physique that looked as if she could rip your arm off and beat you with it—and of course that thick gold wedding band on her ring finger.

Gussy had been right. As much as she liked to use her looks to gain an advantage, and as flirtatious as she was, she would never try it with someone who was married. She wasn’t that sort of a person.

Roza sighed. What a shame—she would have had such fun with Major Ravn. She was just her type, an experienced older woman. Just like Thea.

She looked down at the ring Thea had given her, which she still hadn’t taken off. In some deep part of her soul, Thea still had a hold on her, and she wasn’t strong enough to let go, yet. “Ravn? How long till we get back to my apartment?”

“About fifteen minutes, ma’am.”

Roza felt the need to talk, and despite the fact that conversation probably wasn’t her strong suit, Major Ravn would have to do. “Major Ravn—you’re married?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

One-word answers. Great.

“My brother says you have two little children too.”

Ravn looked at her with a hint of suspicion. Prince Augustus had obviously briefed the major on Roza’s penchant for gaining leverage through personal friendships with her staff.

“Don’t worry, Major. I know what my brother probably told you about me, but believe me, I’m only interested to get to know you since we’re going to be together a great deal.”

Ravn hesitated, then said, “Yes, they are ten and five.”

“That’s nice. Are they going to visit you a lot when we go to the UK?”

“My wife and children are coming with me. I’ve rented a house in London for them. I couldn’t be without my family.”

“Wow. Your wife’s very lucky to have you.”

Major Ravn took off her sunglasses and put them in her top suit pocket, before making her position clear in the nicest possible way. “I’m the lucky one. My wife and children are everything to me and there’s nothing in this world that could change that, ma’am.”

Roza’s heart sank. Everyone had such a low opinion of her, and that made her feel sad. No one really knew who she was, not even her brother any more.

She plastered on a smile and said, “That’s nice. You sound like a really loyal person, Major.”

“I am, both personally and professionally. I can assure you that you will be well protected. No one will get through me.”

“Great.” Roza sighed, leaned her head against the car window, and stared out at the passing scenery. Denbourg’s ancient capital of Battendorf was alive with people going to and from work, laughing and having fun, or shopping together. Tears started to roll down her cheeks. They are free.

Freedom was something she would never have, especially after her recent transgressions. This state car might as well be a prison van taking her to her punishment.

Cressida being replaced as lady-in-waiting was the last straw.

They might be keeping me under lock and key, but I’m going to make as much noise as I can, and you’re going to hear it, Father.

*

Timmy’s was a hive of activity after Lex’s earlier call from the Consort. She had passed responsibility for the preparations over to her PA Conrad so that she could continue with real work.

When Lex had first told Conrad that the princess would be joining them, he literally let out a squeal and then jumped into action, organizing teams of cleaners to scour the building with a fine-tooth comb and make every conceivable preparation. Since then word and gossip had spread like wildfire and the whole staff was buzzing with excitement.

They didn’t have to babysit her though, did they. Lex pushed up from her desk with a sense of resignation, walked over to her office fridge, and pulled out one of her protein and vitamin drinks.

As she took a sip, her computer signalled a call.

“Answer.”

“Lex, it’s Mel from PR. I think we need a meeting about Princess Rozala.”

Bloody hell. I’m sick of the girl and she’s not even here yet.

“Why would that concern PR? The palace wishes this to be a useful exercise, not a publicity stunt.”

“Oh, come on, Lex. Bea knows this is going to be huge in the press, no matter what happens, and we have to handle it.”

Lex strode back to her desk and glowered at Mel on the screen. “That would be the Queen Consort to you, Mel.”

She always tried to discourage any sense of overfamiliarity between the Timmy’s staff and Beatrice. She might have once been their colleague, but now their positions had changed and despite the fact that Bea herself was very easy-going about it, the staff had to remember that they were dealing with Queen Georgina’s wife, not their colleague.

Mel looked annoyed. Lex had noticed that her head of PR wasn’t as pleased as the rest of the staff were about Bea’s advantageous marriage. She had been told the two had been like chalk and cheese when they worked together, and it showed.

“Of course. The Consort would be well aware of the press interest and would expect us to use it for Timmy’s benefit.”

“I don’t want it used or hyped up any more than it needs to be, Mel. Prepare a report for me on the likely media intrusion and any recommendations you have. That’s all.”

“But—”

Lex ended the call before she could say anything else. “This place is going nuts.”

She immediately got back to work on the budgets for the overseas Timmy’s medical centres. Only there in the numbers would she find calm in this sea of royal excitement.

A knock on the door was followed by Conrad popping his head in her office. “Lex?”

“Yes?” She was beginning to lose patience with all the interruptions she had been having ever since Bea had called.

“The tech people are here.”

Conrad said it as if she would automatically know what he was talking about.

“What for?”

“To install Princess Rozala’s desk and computer facilities.” He opened the office doors wide and a large group of technicians came in carrying a desk and other equipment.

This was just too much for Lex. She leapt up and said in a menacing voice, “Oh no, her desk is not coming in here. There are plenty of desk cubicles out in the open office.”

Conrad gulped audibly. Lex was a popular boss and well liked, but everyone knew that she had little tolerance for anything that disrupted or slowed down productivity.

“I got orders from Denbourg security, Lex. I emailed you the instructions they sent. They insist that she is situated in a closed office, and in close proximity to you.”

Lex could feel the stress and pressure building up inside her. She was losing control of her surroundings and her job and she didn’t like it. The banging of the tech guys fitting the desk together didn’t help. She took a few deep breaths and tried to calm herself.

Just as her stress started to calm, another call came through—this time from security.

“What?” Lex snapped.

“Lex, we need to have a meeting about the security arrangements for the princess’s arrival. A Major Ravn has been in touch and—”

She was going to blow if she didn’t get away from what was rapidly turning into a circus. “Conrad will give you a time this afternoon.”

Lex shut off her computer and marched out of her office, which now seemed to have an open door policy, and growled in Conrad’s direction, “I’m going upstairs for a while. Make an appointment for me with security for later in the afternoon.” Conrad knew when she said she was going upstairs, that she needed some time alone.

“Yes, Lex.”

Lex got on the lift and pressed the button for the top service floor. The lift doors opened and she walked through a pair of fire doors out into a hidden oasis on the top floor of the office building, the roof garden.

The little garden featured a small variety of well-landscaped shrubs, plants, and flowers, plus benches and the calming sound of running water from the water feature. The roof was her sanctuary when she needed to breathe, and get out of the high-pressured office environment.

Lex walked over to the steel and Perspex railing that surrounded the roof area and looked out over the London skyline, and let out a long breath.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on the sounds around her and her breathing. Serenity wasn’t Lex’s natural state. She was impulsive and didn’t deal with stress well, but these flaws in her character were something she was well-practised in attempting to keep under control.

Lex looked down at the tattooed date on her wrist under her watch and felt the fear of losing that control. Losing control had taken her down a dark road before and she never, ever wanted to go there again. She couldn’t shake the feeling she was on the verge of a storm that was brewing, but Lex promised herself that she would use every tool she had to ride out whatever was coming her way.

*

The Denbourg royal plane was coming in to land at Heathrow. Roza caught her new lady-in-waiting, Lady Linton, gazing at her and said, “Is there something I can help you with? You keep gawking at me like I’m some exotic animal at the zoo.”

Despite the sharpness of her tone, Lady Linton—Perri, as she had instructed everyone to call her—smiled and said, “Forgive me, ma’am, but you look so much like your mother. She was my best friend and I haven’t seen you since you were a baby. It’s a surprise to see so much of her in you.”

Roza shifted uncomfortably in her seat. There it was again, that feeling of inadequacy. Everyone who had known her mother saw a facsimile of Queen Maria, but were then disappointed in Roza’s character.

She had felt her new lady-in-waiting’s eyes on her quite a few times since they had met last night, and it was beginning to annoy her. Lady Linton was an elegantly put together older lady, who had fashionably let her hair go silvery grey but looked remarkably young for her age.

The flight from Denbourg’s capital to London was fast, but Roza’s anger and resentment seemed to grow with every second of the journey. She was being sent into exile by her family, the ones who were supposed to love her the most, and stripped of all her friends.

Her bad mood wasn’t helped by Perri. They had already come into conflict that morning when she had laid out a rather sober looking outfit for traveling in. Roza completely ignored her advice and wore the shortest minidress she had, short enough that eyes, as well as the flashes of photographers, followed her all the way through Battendorf airport.

At the time, she had gotten satisfaction from the thought of her father seeing the pictures on the newspaper sites he read over breakfast, but now she just felt empty and a little silly in a dress more suitable for clubbing than meeting with her cousins.

Major Ravn and her team started to take their places by the exit as the plane taxied into the royal terminal.

Roza stood up and got her handbag from the overhead locker, her resentment growing arms and legs. She looked down at Perri and said, “I’m sure I’m a great disappointment to you, Perri. No one can compare to the perfect Queen Maria, can they?”


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