Suddenly Royal(5)

By: Nichole Chase

A Royal Hidden Among Us

—Minnesota Daily

Something beeped in my room and I groaned. I rolled over, thinking it was probably just the e-mail notification on my phone, but it beeped again. Without opening my eyes, I felt along the bedside table and grabbed my phone. Cracking open one eye, I read the messages.

Unknown: Don’t go outside.

Unknown: I’m sending someone to help.

Sitting up in bed, I rubbed the crusty mess out of my eyes and glared at the phone. Who the hell was telling me not to go outside? Who was sending someone to the house for me? I looked at the number again and my brain kicked into gear. I checked my outgoing calls, and sure enough, it was the same number. My heart rate picked up as I realized Alex was contacting me.

I swung my feet over the edge of my bed and gasped when my warm toes touched the cold hardwood. I slid into my slippers and opened my door. Sounds of the TV drifted to me from the living room, so I padded out to see who was awake. Jess was sitting on the couch, curled up under a blanket and staring at the TV with large eyes.

“What got you out of bed so early?” I sat down next to her and tugged some of the blanket over to cover my legs.

Jess just pointed at the TV. I looked at the bright screen through slitted eyes and gasped. “Why is there a picture of our house on the news?” A sinking feeling filled my gut. The next picture flashed onto the screen answered my question. It was me and Alex outside the Parallel, his hand on my shoulder. That was followed by a picture of him helping me put on my oversized coat. “Oh no. Oh no.”

“My mom texted me at five this morning.” Jess looked at me with large eyes. “I didn’t want to wake you up—I figured you’d need your sleep to deal with it.”

“Alex texted me.” I held up my phone for her to see.

“He’s sending someone here? That’s good.”

“Why is that good?”

“How do you think the news station got a picture of our house?” Jess cocked her head to the side.

“You’re kidding.” I turned and looked at the closed blinds. “They’re really sitting out there still?”

“Three news stations.” Jess nodded. “Bert checked earlier.”

“Three news stations?” Part of me wanted to go peek out the window, but the saner part of me just wanted to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head. “Where is Bert?”

“Back in bed. He has a class in a couple of hours.”

I groaned. I had classes to teach today and Dr. Geller wasn’t going to be back until tomorrow. “Oh, today is going to suck.”

“What are you going to tell Prince Yumm—”

“Don’t call him that!” I slapped her arm. “What if you see him again and that accidently slips out?”

“Well, he’s already seen me in my nightshirt—it can’t get much more embarrassing.” I glared at her and she rolled her eyes. “Fine. What are you going to tell Prince Alex? He saved you from opening the door to some media-type person while still in your bathrobe.”

“It’s his fault I’m in this mess.”

“No it isn’t—it’s his aunt’s. Or more importantly, it’s whoever sold those pictures fault.” Jess scooted down into the couch cushions and glared at me. “You should blame them. He was just watching out for you.”

“You’re right. I’m going back to that restaurant and tearing the hostess a new one. It had to have been her. Lousy tramp.” I glared at the headline scrolling under the pictures. “You’ve got to be kidding. A Royal Hidden Among Us? That’s the best they could do? Why does it even matter?”

“Um, hello? Because nothing cool happens here and Alex is a serious hottie. He’s only the most eligible bachelor in the world.” There was no arguing about Alex’s hottie status, so I focused on something else.

“Why are they acting like I knew I was a royal? Do they just report whatever they want without checking facts?”

“It’s like a big game of Telephone. One station reports something with a tiny fact wrong. Then the next station just reports what they reported. The next one reports what the second station reported, but draws conclusions that aren’t right, and so on and so on.” Jess shrugged, the blanket falling off her shoulders.

“That’s terrible. And scary.” I looked back at the TV. “Not to mention it pisses me off.”

Jess stared at me. “You know, you haven’t said much about it. About being royal.”

“That’s because I came home, went to sleep, and woke up to people watching my house like Elvis had come back from the dead.” Jess just stared at me. I leaned my head back against the cushion and sighed. “Fine, I don’t know what to say. I mean, I have no proof, really. It’s not like I can ask my mom.” My throat tightened and I had to pause. “They seemed pretty convinced and I can’t imagine they would have come to me if they weren’t sure. It’s… a lot to take in. They want me to go back with them.”

“Go back with them?” Jess sat up a little. “Wow.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to do it.”

“Are you crazy? Of course you’re going! You have to!” Jess stared at me like I was losing my mind. “You need to know more about your family. And imagine what all you could do as a royal.”

“I have school and my dad.” I shook my head. “I have a life here, and they want me to just drop it and become someone else.”

“That’s stupid. You’d still be Sam! Take your dad with you. I’ve always heard they have great healthcare over there. I mean, it’s not perfect, but Lilaria is one of the leaders in new healthcare treatments.”

I sighed. Did everyone know about their healthcare but me? “Yeah, they told me. I need to talk to Dad. I don’t know if he’s even up for that trip.”

“How did your family end up in the States? I mean, you had no idea you were royalty.”

“Apparently we defected when there was an uprising. Our family was a target, so they left in the middle of the night with no word and went into hiding.” I shrugged. “They left everything, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. You know my great grandfather was a gambler, so I guess it’s no surprise we have no money left. What upsets me the most is the fact that Mom never told me.”

“Maybe she didn’t know.”

“I’ll never find out.” I looked back at the TV and grimaced. They were using my school ID photo. Oh, bad-hair days. “I guess I need to get dressed if someone is on their way here.”

“You better text Prince Charming back too.”

“Would you stop with the nicknames?” I stood up and stretched.

“No way. I’m having too much fun.”

I flipped her the bird on my way back to my room but she just laughed. We’d known each other for too long for it to be anything other than a joke. When I closed my door, I looked at the phone in my hand. Quickly, before I overthought it, I texted him.

Me: Thank you for the heads up. I probably would have walked right out into a reporter.

Immediately my phone dinged back.

Unknown: I should have been ready for this, I’m sorry. Duvall is on his way with your truck. Please be careful today.

I frowned. Why would I need to be careful? And I couldn’t imagine having to second-guess my every move, trying to figure out how it would be perceived by everyone. I set the phone down on the dresser and grabbed some clothes out of my closet. I hesitated for a minute, wondering if I should worry about what I was wearing, but decided to stick with my normal stuff. It would be stupid to get all dressed up when I would most likely be cleaning cages later. Besides, maybe if I acted like there was nothing different people would leave me alone.

I grabbed my favorite jeans and a plaid shirt and pulled my hair up into a ponytail before taking a minute to text my dad and let him know I would be over after school to talk about something. I’d call, but he often slept late. Grabbing my bag and shoes, I headed for the living room. Bert was sitting on the couch, eating a bowl of cereal.

“Hey. Would you mind giving me a ride to school? I’m not sure if my truck is up for it.”

“Sure.” Bert looked away from the television. “Are you worried about people giving you a hard time?”

“Nah. I guess they might ask questions, but it’s not really a big deal.”

“You don’t think it’s a big deal?”

I shrugged and sat down next to him. As I was lacing up my work boots I heard a knock on our front door. I started to go for it, but Bert stopped me.

“Let me get it.” Bert walked over to the door and peered out the curved window at the top before opening it a little ways. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Duvall. His Highness sent me for Lady Rousseau.”

Bert turned to look over his shoulder at me. “Were you expecting a Duvall, Lady Rousseau?”

I rolled my eyes. “Please see him in, Sir Bert.”

Bert stepped back and Duvall entered our tiny home. He was wearing his black suit and the little earpiece again. He walked directly toward me and produced my keys and two file folders.

“Good morning, Lady Rousseau. The duchess sent this for you to look through. She thought you might have more questions about your family. And Prince Alex sent the other folder.”

“Good morning.” I murmured the words as I immediately thumbed through the smaller folder from Alex. It was articles about the healthcare in their country, reports about chemo and cancer drugs that weren’t available in the States. Had he put this together himself? Or had he asked someone else to do it? Did it even matter? No matter how you cut it, he had sent me information he knew would make me want to go.

Everyone was watching me as I flipped through the folder, so I cleared my throat and closed the file. “Thank you for bringing these and my truck. I guess I’ll get it fixed later.”

“I believe the starter was broken. His Highness had it towed to a shop last night and fixed early this morning.”

“Oh.” I would have fixed it myself—paying for a garage was out of the question. I’d have to borrow money to pay it off. “Who should I pay for the repairs?”

“Prince Alex has already handled all the repairs, my lady.”

“What? And stop calling me that.” I frowned at him. “Please. I’m just Samantha.”

“As you wish.” Duvall nodded his head. “When is your first class?”

“Um, in an hour. Why?” I could feel my eyebrows drawing together. Could I have a moment to breathe? I was still processing the fact that Alex had paid for the repairs.

“I wanted to let the team know when we were leaving.” Duvall walked a couple of steps away and spoke into his shirt sleeve. Literally, into the cuff of his shirt sleeve the way the Secret Service does.

“Excuse me?” I stood up. “What do you mean we?”

“The duchess has sent a detail to stay with you. She’s worried you will run into problems with the way your media has attacked this story.” Duvall folded his hands in front of him. “I have a team of six if you include me and three cars.”

“What story? There is no story!” Three cars? Just for me to go to school? I put my hands on my hips and saw Bert trying to edge out of the room. “Bert! You’re a psych major. Don’t you agree that if I act like there is nothing going on, other people will behave that way too?”

“Well,” he said. His face looked a bit panicked. “I’m not sure this is the same thing as pretending like you’re fine after a breakup. This could have repercussions for your safety.”

“What are you talking about? I work with birds. They don’t give a crap if I’m royalty!” Too much change, happening too fast. I hadn’t even talked to my dad yet. Oh God—Dad.

“That’s not true, Sam. You teach a lecture hall full of people who will know their teaching assistant is in the headlines. Not to mention the people who make the drops at the center.” Bert frowned and shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t blame you for wanting it all to just fade away, but right now it isn’t going to.”

“Samantha, we will be as unobtrusive as possible.” Duvall’s calm voice did not make me feel any less frustrated.

“I don’t like this.” The thought was so loud in my head it escaped my mouth. I pointed at Duvall and frowned. “You do as I say. Stay out of the way and try to not be conspicuous.”

“Of course.” Duvall spoke into his shirt sleeve again and I fought the urge to laugh. There was no way Duvall could be inconspicuous. “I have a car waiting at the curb, but you should be prepared that the number of reporters and journalist outside has grown since I arrived.”

“How many?” I could hear voices from outside and felt my heart rate pick up.

“They’re still coming.”

I groaned and looked around the room for my coat before shoving the files into my bag. “Then let’s get this over with now, before even more arrive. I guess I don’t need that ride after all, Bert.”

“Call me if you need me.” He saluted me with his spoon and I smiled at him.

“Samantha, they may shout questions at you. It’s up to you if you want to answer them, but I would suggest that you not. If you do, they will push for more and more.” Duvall looked at me seriously.

“Keep your head down and smile. Nothing too big, just a small smile,” Bert said from his seat. “You don’t want to frown, because you’re probably going to be photographed.”

“Oh, God.” I tightened my hand on the strap to my bag.

“Ready?” Duvall put his hand on the door knob.

I nodded my head and forced a smile. Cold air blew into the house and I followed Duvall out into the craziness.