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.

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