Some Like It Royal – Reaching Out to Alyx
“Your Highness? Please pardon the intrusion.”
No matter how much she practiced with Victor, it was always a jolt when someone else said it. She glanced up at the reflection in the glass behind her. She didn’t recognize the gentleman, so she turned, a polite smile on her face. “Please, call me Alyx or Miss Dagmar. It’s a little less of a mouthful than Your Highness.” And so much easier to respond to, but she avoided adding the caveat.
“Miss Dagmar. My name is Richard Prentiss.” He withdrew a card and handed it to her. She glanced down at the heavily embossed cardstock. The symbol in the corner was an elegant crest—one she recognized.
It represented her family.
She studied him. He didn’t resemble any of the photos she’d memorized nor did his features suggest a personal relationship with her. “Mr. Prentiss, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Extending her hand, she wasn’t surprised when he bowed over it and brushed a kiss lightly to the air over one knuckle. It was a kind, respectful greeting.
“And a rare pleasure to make yours. I understand that you are attending this function to support your fiancé, Mr. Voldakov.”
She didn’t have to manufacture the soft smile curving her lips. “Yes, he’s done some wonderful work for the Takahashi Corporation and they are showing him a rare honor with this party. I would introduce you, but…” She motioned to the conference room Daniel vanished into.
“I would enjoy such an introduction but I am actually here for two reasons and I hope you’ll forgive the minor subterfuge.”
Sipping the wine, she resisted the urge to rub her suddenly damp palms against her dress. What subterfuge? The vellum card weighed heavily in her hand. Instead, she focused on breathing, calm, and canting her head to suggest a hint of patient curiosity. Hours of drills with Victor paid off in that moment. “And what subterfuge would that be, Mr. Prentiss?”
The man had the good grace to flush, a hint of red staining his ears. “To inquire whether you would accept an invitation from your cousin, His Highness, the Grand Duke Armand.”
A second jolt in as many minutes and her confidence wavered. The grand duke divided his time between his native Norway and France most of the year. The newspapers referred to him as a playboy, often featuring photographs of the prince with a host of women at various functions throughout Europe.
“Because an invitation cannot be extended if I will not accept.” It was a statement, not a question. Protocol demanded that no one could turn down the royal family, whether they were a displaced one or not. It was how the royals played.
“Precisely, Your Highness, and I apologize for putting you on the spot. His Highness recognizes that you may be reluctant to see him and asked that I extend to you his deepest desire to make your acquaintance. If you could see it in your heart to accept his invitation, he would like a chance to speak with you in person.” There was a subtext to his words, a suggestion that the grand duke wanted to do more than just talk to her. The jittery butterflies in her stomach flapped harder. This was exactly the type of invitation Daniel wanted, the reason he’d approached her. Access to the grand duke and his European connections could help him launch Spherecast’s influence in the EU.
So why did she hesitate?
“I’m not entirely sure what my schedule is.” That seemed the safest answer and her heart beat against her ribs so hard, she was certain he could hear it. “But if you would let me pass this card to my assistant, I can have him get in touch with you.” She tucked the card into her clutch, careful to make sure it slid inside before she snapped the little purse closed.
“Absolutely.” Prentiss’s expression relaxed and he smiled. “Which brings us to the second reason for my approach.”
The reminder that he had two reasons ramped her already emotionally unsettled state closer to full-blown panic. She took another sip of the wine and prayed the alcohol would relax the jangling of her nerves. Amazingly, her voice didn’t betray a quaver. “I am filled with curiosity.”
Prentiss actually grinned at that, some of the stiffness leaving his shoulders. Dark haired and dark eyed, he cut a striking image in his equally dark suit but she cataloged his looks more from a clinical standpoint.
His darkness couldn’t compete with the sunshine in Daniel.
“To give you a gift. Your birthday is approaching and whether you accept the invitation or not, the grand duke wanted you to have this.”
He held out a small box, wrapped in a simple gold foil. She had to set her wineglass down and slipped her clutch purse’s strap over her shoulder to take the box. Eagerness flared inside, pushing away the anxiety. “I’m surprised he would send such a gift, considering we have never met.” Maybe it wasn’t politically correct to say such a thing, but the sentiment remained genuine.
“He has many years to make up for and while this simple gift cannot possibly repair such a history of oversight, he hopes that you will wear it with the pride you should. His words, exactly, Highness.” Prentiss gave her another kind look and party or not, she slid one manicured nail through the tape and revealed a velvet jewelry box. She glanced at him before lifting the lid. Inside nestled a lovely cameo on a silver strand. But instead of a profile, it was her family crest set against a background of royal blue.
The breath caught in her throat and tears swam across her vision. “How can he accept me? Just like that?” She forgot about the rules, the manners and the control she’d worked to perfect.
“You are the image of your great-grandmother, Your Highness. If you’ll look beneath the necklace, he included a small photo of her. He has no doubts that you are indeed the grand duchess and he is most eager to welcome you to the family.”
The tears prickling her eyes threatened to spill. She chewed at her bottom lip and blinked at him. Prentiss shifted with just the barest hint of discomfort. Daniel appeared in her periphery, an arm snaking around her waist.
“Are you all right?” He murmured the words to her, but set a hard look on the gentleman talking to her.
She gave a watery little laugh and nodded, holding the necklace over to show him. “Daniel, this is Richard Prentiss, he’s—I’m not sure if you work for him or are just associated with the grand duke?” She glanced back to Prentiss.
“I’m a personal friend. Armand and I went to university together.” He extended a hand to Daniel, who accepted it only briefly, but continued to stare hard at him until Prentiss cleared his throat and retreated a step. “If you will excuse me, Your Highness, Mr. Voldakov. I will await your assistant’s call.”
Find more Richard in Some Like It Deadly releasing August 25th. Pre-order today!