Suddenly Royal
Author:Nichole Chase

Suddenly Royal by Nichole Chase
Royal Donors Cause Congestion on Campus

—College Daily

To say my day was not going well, would be like saying the French Revolution had been a bit troublesome for Marie Antoinette. My truck had coughed and sputtered all the way to school. Only half of the students in my first class showed up, and then I couldn’t find the tests I had spent the entire weekend grading. My entire day was turning into a bad country song. By the time lunch rolled around I had been more than ready for a break. I snagged a sandwich and ate it on my way to the library. The server for our building was down and I needed to do some research.

That’s when I ran into all of the people. It was like the entire student body had gathered in the middle of the school for a pep rally. Hordes of giggling freshmen were pushing their way to the front and one of them elbowed me, making me drop the notebook I was carrying. The fraternities and sororities had painted signs and hung them on trees to welcome someone. I grimaced when I realized one of them was actually a sheet that didn’t look very clean. I looked from the signs to the crowd and realized I would never be able to make it up the stairs to the library. Standing in the middle of the steps was a group of people, but my eyes focused on the tall blond man. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from him. He was joking with a girl while she batted her eyes and twirled a lock of hair around her finger.

I tried to see exactly why everyone was so excited, but none of it made sense. Donors came to the school all the time and most of the self-absorbed student body never noticed. The man on the steps was attractive enough to be a movie star and had to be what had brought the mob out.

“Do you see him, Sam? The prince?” One of the girls in my first class pulled on my arm.

“Prince? Yeah, I see him.” A prince? A real-life prince with a crown and throne? No wonder the masses were out in the snow. A royal donor would bring out everyone. Movie stars were one thing, but a prince? That wasn’t something you saw every day. I wondered why royalty would be donating to our school, but standing out in the cold watching some guy flirt was not part of my plans. I only had a little longer before I had to be at the research center and a lot to get done in the meantime.

“He’s gorgeous,” the girl gushed while her friends made noises of agreement.

“Yeah, I guess.” I rolled my eyes.

“Even you have to admit he’s hot.” She laughed at me. What the hell did that mean? I wasn’t blind. Of course I noticed he was hot. What the hell kind of good would that do me? I’d never see him again. He was a freaking prince!

Spinning on my heel I headed for a side entrance only to see it was blocked by police. Gritting my teeth I stomped through the snow to the back entrance. It took forever, because I was dodging mobs of people. I almost tripped on a cord and the news reporter hollered at me. I gave him my best eat-shit-and-die look, but he wasn’t fazed. By the time I reached the back steps I was ready to murder someone.

There was a group of cops standing at the door, but I didn’t care. I marched up and went straight for the entrance.

“You can’t go in there, miss.”

“Why not? I pay tuition so I can use this library.”

“It’s closed right now. Should be open again in an hour or so.”

“I’ll be busy in an hour.” I gave him my best imitation of puppy eyes. “I just need to use the Internet and check out some books. Please? I’ll be good. One of you guys can come in with me.”

“Sorry.”

I took a deep breath, the cold air stinging my lungs, and turned back toward the parking lot. I went straight to my truck, cranked it up, and headed for the center. The stars had aligned and I would not be doing what I had needed to, so I might as well throw myself into the other part of my work.

Working with the birds brightened my mood. After checking through the cages to make sure there were no problems, I moved to weighing and measuring the birds. When I got to Dover, an owl who had been hit by a car, I cooed softly. She had lost an eye, so tended to be nervous when people approached her mew.

“Hi, sweetheart. Time for some food.” I unlocked the cage door and stepped in slowly. I untied the string that held her to her perch and gave her a good look-over.

Once I had her in the office, I weighed her, careful to note the exact amount in our logs before getting her food.

“Eat up. You know you want it.” I lifted the mouse to her beak but she turned away. “Aw, c’mon, Dover. It’s yummy mouse guts. Your favorite.”

She ruffled her feathers and sighed. Dover was beautiful, but getting her to eat was always a frustrating process. I lifted the mouse to her beak again, making sure she could see the food out of her good eye. Delicately, as if she was doing me a favor, she took a small bite.

“That’s it,” I hummed. “Eat up.”

Slowly she lifted her claw and grasped the mouse. I sighed in relief. She needed to eat to keep her weight up. It was also how we administered her medicine. Dover was a smart bird and I suspected she knew we were putting something in her food.

Once she was done, I took a few measurements and took her back to her mew. I checked the cage quickly and then cleaned up any mess she had made. I checked all our log books to make sure nothing had been missed, made a few notes about a Harris hawk with an injured wing, and closed up shop.

I felt much better by the time I was ready to leave. The annoyances from earlier didn’t seem like such a big deal and I was looking forward to getting home. After double-checking the medicines and the food for the next day, I flipped the lights and headed out the door. I fished out my keys to lock the gate as I neared the entrance. No one else would be in until the morning.

“Samantha Rousseau?”

I looked up at the man standing just outside the gate to my research center. Dark pants met with a black blazer and an equally boring tie. The only thing remarkable about him was the expensive pair of sunglasses sitting on his nose and the little gizmo tucked into his ear, complete with a curly cord running down into his shirt collar.
 

“Yeah?” I finished locking the bottom of the gate and stood up. He wasn’t a very tall man, possibly my father’s age, but he radiated power. Since I tend to have issues with authority, I immediately disliked the guy. He hadn’t really given me a reason to not like him, but people that think they’re better than you or know more than you make me itch.

“Are you Samantha Rousseau?” he asked again. He didn’t introduce himself or make an attempt to appear friendly. No offer to shake hands.

“Who wants to know?” I slung my bag over my shoulder as I headed toward the old pickup I drive. Authority dude followed close behind, making my hackles rise even farther.

“If you are Samantha, I need to speak with you privately.”

I threw my bag into the back of my truck and turned around to look at him. I didn’t bother to keep the annoyance off my face when I realized how close he was standing to me. “Well, if I was Samantha, you’re in luck. There isn’t anyone else around.” I motioned toward the unoccupied parking lot. We were the only two people.

His frosty expression seemed to crack a little and he gave me something that could almost pass as a smile. “Miss Rousseau, I would like to ask you to accompany me. I have someone who would like to speak to you downtown.”

“Uh, yeah. That’s not going to happen, Mr. Uptight. Look, if you’re here about my father’s medical bills, I made a payment today. If he could make any more payments, then we would, but since he can’t work I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon.” I yanked open the door to my truck and started to climb in. A hand landed on my shoulder and I reacted without thinking. Grabbing his fingers, I twisted as I turned and swung my other arm around in an attempt to clock him. Unfortunately he seemed to be expecting this move and countered smoothly. Taking his hand back, he ducked under my swing and danced out of way.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Brushing some of my brown hair out of my eyes, I glared at him. The fact that his weird smile had grown made me even more irritated.

“Nicely executed, Miss Rousseau. You almost had me.” Authority Dude nodded his head at me. I clenched my fists at my sides to keep from trying to cream him. What a snide little…

“Here is my card. My name is Duvall. It would please my boss a great deal if you could meet us for dinner tonight. She is staying at the Parallel and has dinner reservations set for eight thirty at the restaurant downstairs.” I looked at his card and then back to his face. What on earth could this be about? The Parallel was the nicest hotel in town. I looked back at his card and noticed the odd crest at the top. A small bird rested on a branch that wrapped around a blue shield. Who was this weird little dude wearing an earpiece?

“Who’s your boss?”

“The Duchess Rose Sverelle of Dollange.”

I looked at him for a moment to see if he was joking. Nope, his face was still set in that frosty, serious expression. I blinked slowly and looked back at his card before returning my eyes to his face.

“I think you have the wrong Samantha. There is no reason a duchess would be looking for me.” I climbed into the driver’s seat and he closed the door once my leg was in, attempting a smile. It looked weird on his face, as if he wasn’t used to doing it very often. I rolled down the window and tried to hand him back his business card, but he waved a hand to signal I should keep it.

“You are Samantha Rousseau, wildlife biologist specializing in raptors? Graduate student, daughter of Martha Rousseau?”

“Uh, yeah, but—” I shook my head when he stepped a little closer to the window.

“I am very good at my job, Miss Rousseau. I was told to find Samantha Rousseau, and I have. The duchess’s reasons are her own.” He shrugged. “Of course, falconry is a large sport in our country. Perhaps it has something to do with that.”

“And what country is that?” I looked back at his card as if it might offer some answers.

“Lilaria.” He stepped away from the car and nodded to me. I looked at him for a moment in confusion. Eventually I threw the business card onto the pickup bench next to me and stuck my key in the ignition.

“Okay, Duvall. I might be there, but I’m a pretty busy person. Got to check the calendar first.” With that, I threw the truck into reverse and backed up.

“Of course.” He nodded at me as I switched to drive and pulled out of the parking lot. From the way he smirked at me, I was pretty sure he knew I was lying about being busy.

I watched him get into his black sedan, noticing for the first time the little flags on the hood. What on Earth would a duchess want with me? How had I ended up on some royal’s radar? I hit the switch for the radio and leaned back into the old driver’s seat. My mind worked through reasons that someone from a country I barely knew existed could possibly want to speak to me about. Maybe she was interested in the research center. But why would she come to me? Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to contact Dr. Geller? He would be the one to handle donations or any sort of involvement on her part. He was out of town; maybe he forgot to tell me this lady was coming.

The truck coughed as it switched gears and I entered the on-ramp for the highway. The clock on the dashboard said it was almost five thirty. Dr. Geller would still be in the field, so there was no point in calling him to find out what was going on. I’d just have to wing it. I snorted and sped the truck up. I didn’t have much time to change and make it back downtown.

It wasn’t like I had anything else to do and she might be able to help the research center. The staff was making do with half the supplies they really needed to rehabilitate the injured raptors in their care. The cages were much smaller than they needed to be and medical supplies were expensive. We’re always cutting out things from the budget to afford more medicines or training equipment.

When I pulled up to the little house I shared with Jess, I sighed and parked at the curb. Her boyfriend was parked in my spot again, not that it mattered since I was leaving soon. Yanking the key out of the ignition, I hopped out and grabbed my bag from the truck bed. When I opened the front door, the smell of fresh chili wafted to my nose and I groaned. It smelled delish. I dropped my bag and kicked off my boots before walking to the kitchen.

Bert was wearing a flowered apron and stirring the chili with a large wooden spoon while Jess sat on the counter next to him. He held up the spoon for her to taste and she laughed when some of it dropped onto her legs. The little TV was on and there was some type of news show playing, which surprised me. Jess liked to watch all the pregame shows.

“We made chili! Ready for the game?” When she saw me she smiled and waved me over.

“I forgot about the game.” I looked over Bert’s shoulder at the chili and my stomach growled. “I made plans.”
 

“Sam!” Jess groaned. “What could be more important than this game? It’s the most important game of the year.”

“Every game is the most important game of the year to you.” I rolled my eyes and looked back at the TV. “What are you watching?”

“Don’t,” Bert whispered. But it was too late.

“Some idiot prince and duchess are in town and all the news stations are acting like it’s some kind of big deal.” Jess glared at the old television set. “It’s not like they’re from an important country or anything. I mean, I’m missing the stats from the other games!”

“Oh.” I looked back at the TV, interested. There on the steps of the university’s new museum was the good-looking guy and an older, dignified woman. She used a gold pair of scissors to cut a red ribbon and waved at the people around her. The prince was speaking to a blond co-ed near the front door. He was definitely not a frumpy prince. Nope, not frumpy at all. Short blond hair, long legs, and broad shoulders. Even without the royal credentials, he would probably have snagged all the female’s attention. And from the cocky grin, it was obvious he knew it. I really hoped he wouldn’t be at dinner. Mainly because I didn’t want to stare at him like a dumbass. I was already nervous about meeting royalty.

“So?” Jess’s voice cut through my thoughts and I tore my eyes from the screen.

“What?”

“I asked what your big plans were.” Jess frowned. “Quit staring at Prince Yummy and pay attention.”

“Prince Yummy?” Bert pulled off the apron and frowned at Jess. I tried to not laugh.

“That’s what the undergrads were calling him. It’s annoying, but it stuck in my head.” Jess hopped down and wrapped her arms around Bert’s neck. She wasn’t a short girl, but she looked petite next to her boyfriend. I started to leave to avoid their PDA, but she wasn’t ready to let me escape. She leaned back and frowned at me. “You didn’t answer!”

“I’m going to dinner with Prince Yummy’s dear old aunt.” I smiled at her shocked expression and made my way to my tiny bedroom.

I was flicking through the clothes in my closet when my bedroom door banged open. Jess was looking at me like I was crazy, so I just shrugged.

“You’re serious.”

“Yeah. I’ve got to be at the Parallel in less than three hours.”

“Oh my God. You’re going to have dinner with a duchess? Is Prince Yummy going to be there too?” Her eyes were huge and I frowned. It would be much better if someone like Jess went to this dinner. She was gorgeous and people tended to like her immediately. I, on the other hand, rarely dressed up and couldn’t remember the last time I painted my fingernails. What was the point if I was going to be scraping dirt out from under my nails in a few hours?

“I don’t know about Prince Yummy.” I shook my head. I needed to find out his name so I didn’t accidently refer to him that way.

“Why?” She sat down on my bed and watched as I pulled out the few dresses I owned. I held up a bright summer print and she shook her head.

“I don’t know. Some guy showed up at work and said the duchess wanted to have dinner with me. I guess Dr. Geller forgot to tell me she was coming.” I looked at the dresses in my hands and put the blue back. Black was probably the safest option. That way if I spilled anything on myself, it wouldn’t be overly obvious.

“Some guy said she wanted to have dinner with you. Why do you think this has anything to do with Dr. Geller?” Jess crossed her legs and I realized she wasn’t leaving. “Seems pretty fishy. Are you sure he is who he says he is?” Jess was pretty practical when things boiled down to it.

“I think so. And if not, then I’ll have only wasted one night.” I shrugged. “Why else would a duchess want to talk to me? And she was at the school earlier. Maybe she’s a donor or something.” I laid the dress out on the bed and thought about jewelry. “I have no idea how to talk to her. I mean, do I address her as Duchess? My lady? Your Highness?” This wasn’t something I’d grown up knowing. It wasn’t like I was from England.

“The Internet is our friend!” Jess grabbed my laptop off the bedside table and popped it open. She typed for a moment and then looked up at me. “They are from Lilaria, right? Says here they’re big into birds, so I guess it makes sense.”

“Okay. What about their royalty?” I turned to look back at my closet, realizing I didn’t have an appropriate jacket.

“Just the usual stuff. A prince is addressed as His Royal Highness.” Jess skimmed through the link she was reading. “Address the duchess as Duchess Whatever. But it says you should adopt their type of formality.”

“So, I shouldn’t call him Prince-dude or her Royal-lady?”

“I think you nailed that one on the head.” Jess closed the computer. “You’ll be fine. Just be the charming person I know you can be.”

“Note to self: Don’t eat with fingers or burp in their faces. Got it.” I smiled at Jess and she laughed.

“We’ll save you some chili.” Jess got up and looked at me. “Text me when you get there and let me know it’s legit.”

“Sure.” I smiled at her over my shoulder as I headed for my bathroom. Time to make myself presentable. Thank God, I had time to shower.

Royals in Rags

—The Chicago Gazette

My truck sounded like it was on its last leg as I pulled up to the hotel. The traffic had been terrible, so I didn’t have time to park the thing myself and avoid the embarrassment of valet. Cursing under my breath, I tried to stuff some of the garbage from the bench under the seat before the attendant opened my door. Looking up I smiled at the young guy.

“Sorry, the Bentley is being detailed.”

“Looks to me like you traded up, ma’am. This is a classic.” He held his hand out and helped me out of the car. I smiled gratefully at him because I had let Jess talk me into wearing heels tonight. He handed me my ticket and I gave him my keys.

I tried to not cringe as my truck made a coughing noise before it pulled away. The hostess was watching me through the glass doors, so I took a deep breath and held my head high, all the time quietly praying I wouldn’t end up busting my ass in the damn shoes. The doorman opened the door for me, but even he had a look of disdain as he studied me.

Chili was already sounding much better. Hopefully the food would be decent. And not overly expensive. I’d just sent three hundred dollars to the hospital for my dad’s monthly payment. To say I was scraping the bottom of the barrel would be putting it nicely. I smiled at the hostess, hoping that being polite would smooth over the truck fiasco.

“Hi. I’m meeting Duchess Sverelle for dinner.”

“Does she know you’re coming?” The blond woman’s voice grated on my ears. It was high and nasally. Why would they want that for their first impression? There are lots of blond, modelesque women who would love a job like this. Her eyes narrowed and ran over me in disgust.

“Since she’s the one who invited me, I would assume so.” Operation Nice was over.

“Uh huh. And what’s your name?” The woman looked down at the list in front of her with so much seriousness you would think it was full of people waiting for a heart transplant.

“Samantha Rousseau.” I watched her as she looked at the list and then back to me. “I’m from the university.”

“I see. Just a moment.” She walked away, her hair swishing behind her like she was walking in a wind tunnel for a photo shoot and I found myself wondering how she did that.

She returned a moment later, accompanied by a man with a bored look. He was tall, thin, and older, and reminded me of Alfred from the Batman movies. But without any of the humor or intelligence. His eyes traveled over my big winter coat and glimmered with disgust. He lived here, didn’t he? How could he think it was weird to wear a big winter coat?

“Miss…” He looked at me expectantly.

“Rousseau. Samantha Rousseau.”

“Miss Rousseau, your name isn’t on the list.”

“I’m sure it was a simple mistake.” I narrowed my eyes at the man. “Perhaps you could go check with the duchess.”

“I’m sure the duchess would have informed me had she been expecting someone else for dinner.” He smiled at me and I had to take a deep breath before answering.

“Well, as close as you apparently are with the duchess, it must’ve slipped her mind.” I leaned forward. “Look, I’m just trying to keep an appointment here. Can’t you go ask her if she was expecting me?”

“I’m afraid it is against policy to bother guests while they are dining.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I brushed the hair out of my eyes and glared at mini-Alfred. “Just go ask her.”

“Miss Rousseau, this is a very respectable restaurant. I suggest you leave and not cause a scene. I will call security if I need to.”

“I suggest you go ask the duchess if she’s expecting me, or go ahead and call security and you can expect a scene. Then when she sees you escorting me out of the restaurant, you can explain why you sent me away.”

“I’ll go. This once.” He eyed me for a long moment before sighing heavily. “If it turns out you are not an invited member of their party, I will be returning with security.”

“And you can apologize when you get back with your tail between your legs.” Operation Pissed was coming into play. I had a hard time holding my tongue when I got into that mode.

The man sniffed again and I was tempted to offer him a tissue but bit the inside of my cheek instead. “We’ll see.”
 
He walked away from the little podium and the blond hostess took his place. She ignored me as if I wasn’t there, and that was just fine by me. I slid closer and looked at the sheet in front of her. Just before she covered it with her arm, my eyes landed on my name.

“Oh, now that’s just rude.” I turned away and quickly followed the old man to a table in the center of the room. Those petty jerks were trying to keep me out because they thought I didn’t belong? Because of my truck or my clothes?

My furious stride made quick work of the space between the door and the table Alfred was standing next to. I caught up to him in time to hear the last of his words.

“She looks rather questionable.”

“The ‘rather questionable’ woman is standing right behind you.” You stupid little dildo. I glared at his head, barely registering the people at the table until they stood up.

“I was told the Parallel, and I would assume its restaurant, was used to hosting dignitaries and royalty.” The woman’s voice was calm and cool. “Your tone would be embarrassing no matter who you thought Lady Rousseau was.”

My eyes jerked to the woman and I wondered if the duchess was losing her mind. Perhaps it was appropriate to address people by Lady or Sir in their country. Her mouth twitched in amusement as she watched the man grovel and I decided she must be teaching him a lesson. She might be my hero.

“I’m so sorry, I had no idea….” The Alfred-wannabe was sputtering apologies and it took all my willpower to keep from rolling my eyes.

“No, don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Lady Rousseau.” Her eyes twinkled when she looked at me.

“My apologies, Miss—I mean, Lady Rousseau.”

I bowed my head a little. “Accepted. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to judge next time.”

“Yes, my lady. May I take your coat?”

I shrugged out of my coat and that’s when I felt his eyes on me. Looking up, I realized Prince Yummy had indeed come for the dinner. Jess and the undergrads had been wrong. He wasn’t yummy, he was delicious; a feast to be savored. Dark blonde hair hung a smidge too long, eyes so blue it was like looking into the heart of a glacier. Built like the statue of David; the contours of his suit hugging every delicious muscle. Laugh lines around his mouth and eyes brought him into the realm of humanity, and gave him a personality. As his eyes ran over my face and down my body slowly, heat washed over my skin. When I handed the jacket to the ma?tre d’ I felt naked. There was something about his bright blue eyes that left me feeling exposed.

“Thank you, Alfred.” I mumbled the words, feeling completely off guard by the look I’d just received. The man left without a word, and I really hoped he didn’t do anything nasty to my jacket.

“Alfred?” The prince’s mouth quirked on one side, revealing a dimple, and I wondered if a dimple could kill a person. It was possible I was having a heart attack right now. “Is that his name?”

“Oh, you know. He looks a bit like Batman’s butler, but without the wicked sense of humor.” I winced. I was speaking to a prince, a real live prince, and my first interaction was describing a comic book character. At least I wasn’t a slobbering mess looking at him.

“I vaguely recall something about Batman and his butler.” The princes’ eyes glittered mischievously. I felt my mouth twist a little, relieved he had gotten my ill-timed sense of humor. “I would have pegged him more as Jarvis. Slow, annoyed voice.”

“Samantha, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” The Duchess held her hand out for me and for a brief moment I panicked not sure if I was supposed to bow over it or shake it. I decided if she was in America I was just going to shake it. Her fingers were dry and warm, her grip surprisingly tight. “I’m Rose.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” Jesus. I should have read that article myself. I had no idea what to say or how to act.

“This is my nephew, Alex.” I turned toward the outstretched hand and hoped my palms weren’t sweaty.

“An honor to meet you.” As soon as the words had left my mouth, I regretted them. Why had I said that? Why didn’t I just say it was nice to meet him? Surely it hadn’t sounded like a come-on. I was just being paranoid. How had I lost control of this evening already? Who was I kidding? I’d lost control as soon as that weirdo, Duvall had approached me.

“The honor is mine. Trust me.” Instead of shaking, he lifted my hand to his mouth and his lips brushed across my knuckles gently. They were warm and full, and my body tingled at the contact. I stopped breathing for a moment and had to remind myself that oxygen was important. When he lowered my hand, his thumb ran over my knuckles. He knew how to affect a woman, that was for sure. Stepping around me, he pulled my chair out. I don’t think anyone has ever pulled a chair out for me. It was weird. What did I do with my feet? The stupid heels caught on the floor and almost came off, so I just lifted them up until he was done.

He moved around to his aunt and helped her into her chair as well. She was watching me with bright, intelligent eyes and I wondered what she was thinking. I felt a bit like she was measuring me. She motioned to the waitress standing off to the side and I was offered a glass of wine. I took it, but only to be courteous. I was already feeling out of my element.

“I apologize for that terribly inappropriate behavior, Samantha.” Rose frowned.

“It’s okay, Duchess. I’m sure he was just trying to keep people from bothering you.” I was being generous. I was mentally debating egging the hotel.

“Please, call me Rose.” She smiled at me and I smiled back.

“Thank you, Rose.”

“Are you ready to order?” The waitress was back, her white button-up shirt was undone a bit and she stood close to the prince. The question had been addressed to him and only him. Rose looked at me and winked as if amused, but when I noted his uncomfortable expression I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. His face had transformed from friendly and thoughtful to stony.