Suddenly RoyalBy: Nichole Chase
Press Denied Access to Campus
—WXCV Dale Gordon
The lights from video equipment and the flashing of cameras blinded me. Duvall put his hand on my elbow as we walked down the stairs. People hollered my name, screamed questions, and waved their hands to try to draw my attention. I kept my gaze down, not wanting to make eye contact, and forced myself to continue smiling.
As soon as I saw the car come into my line of downturned vision, I was relieved. The trek from the front of my house to the car had been the longest walk of my life. Duvall opened the back door for me, letting me slide into the car before he took the front passenger seat.
“They are likely to follow us, my lady. I wouldn’t do anything you wouldn’t want them to see until we are ahead of them.” Duvall looked back at me with serious eyes. He had put on sunglasses and for some reason it made me want to giggle.
“Okay.” I pulled on my seat belt and slid my bag next to me. “I thought you were going to call me Sam.”
“In private. In public we must maintain courtesy.” He turned back to the front and nodded at the driver. “This is Parker. If I’m not with you, Parker will be.”
“Hi.” I smiled at the face in the rearview mirror.
“Nice to meet you, Duchess Rousseau.” He nodded his head at me. He was close in age to Duvall, with gray streaks in the hair at his temples.
“Technically, I haven’t gone through any ceremonies. I’m just Samantha.”
“Ceremonies are only a formality. You were born a duchess.”
I took a deep breath and looked out the window. I tried to not look behind us, not wanting pictures of me staring out a rear window to end up on the news. A car similar to the one we were in had taken the lead and I was pretty sure another had followed us.
“Do you think they’ll follow us to the school?”
“It’s likely, though the dean was notified and promised they would not be welcome on campus.”
“The dean?” My heart stopped. Who had called the dean?
“It’s a common courtesy to let the staff know when there may be an issue with media. Plus the duchess is visiting a couple of the programs while in town.”
“Oh.” It wasn’t a long ride to my school. We had rented a house nearby. As if he could read my mind, Parker pulled into the parking lot for the Natural Sciences building.
Parker pulled the car up to the curb and Duvall hopped out immediately. He opened my door and I slid out. A man exited the car in front and a woman from the car behind us. They each took up a place behind me as I walked to the office. Duvall didn’t take the time to introduce us as we hurried out of the cold. The people in the news vans and cars were all scurrying to try to follow us. We entered the building quickly and I flashed my student ID to the security guard. He waved us through and I took everyone up a flight of stairs to the floor with the offices.
We could hear the security guard telling the reporters they weren’t allowed in the building as we climbed. When we got to the office I shared with several other graduate students, I sighed in relief. I turned and looked at the three people in suits.
“Samantha, this is Terrance Ross.” Duvall nodded at the man. He was tall with a shaved head. I held my hand out to shake. His palm engulfed mine and his smile was very formal.
“A pleasure to meet you, Duchess.”
“Sam or Samantha.” I sighed when Duvall cleared his throat. “At least when we’re alone, please.”
“And this is Rebecca Meyers.” The woman was younger than both of the men. Probably close to my age. She was wearing slacks and a button-up shirt under her winter jacket. Her blond hair was trimmed into a pixie cut that suited her face and friendly smile.
“Nice to meet you.” She shook my hand firmly. “Please, call me Becca.”
“Nice to meet you, Becca.” I looked over my shoulder at the door and saw the shadows of my co-workers leaning toward the door. “Well, might as well let you meet the idiots I work with.”
“I heard that.” Mary’s voice hollered from the other side of the door as the shadows cleared out of the way.
I opened the door to find Mary and two other graduate students staring at us. I moved aside so the others could come in and waved in their direction. “Guys, meet the suits. Suits, meet my co-workers.”
“Are you really a princess?” Mary leaned forward. “And please tell me we’re going to meet the prince.”
“What? No.” I set my bag down on my desk and opened it to find my notes for the next class. “And no.”
“But you’re royalty, right? Your face was all over the news this morning.” She reached over and turned the monitor of the guy next to her so we could see they were watching a live stream from one of the local stations.
“Turn that off!” I walked over and hit the monitor button.
“Geez, you can’t blame us for being curious! We’ve known you for years and you never told us.” Mary crossed her arms. I ground my teeth and counted to five before answering. Mary was not my favorite person in the program.
“I didn’t tell anyone. Because I didn’t know.” I frowned at everyone. “C’mon, guys. Don’t be weird. I’m the same ol’ Sam. I just have a royal ancestor.”
“Leave her alone, guys. We’ve all shoveled crap with her and spent hours studying manuals.” David, one of the doctoral students, said from the back of the room. I let my breath out in relief. David was a good guy and the others listened to him. I smiled at him and he nodded in return. “We’ve all got enough to focus on.”
I looked over at Duvall and lowered my voice. “Could you guys wait outside?”
“When is your class?” His accent drew the attention of some the closer people.
“About thirty minutes.”
“Very well. I’ll wait outside with Ross. Meyers will stay with you. She tends to blend in and make people less uncomfortable.”
“Why can’t you all go?” I hissed the words between my teeth.
“Lady Rousseau, someone will be with you at all times in public. I must follow the duchess’s instructions.” His face was impassive and I knew our whispering was making everyone even more curious so I gave in.
“Fine. Becca stays. Everyone else goes.” He started to say something so I cut him off. “Becca stays and everyone else hangs out in the background. No flying-V formations or people circling me like a mama bear protecting her cub when I go anywhere.”
“Yes, my lady.” Duvall bowed his head before exiting the room.
“I’m going to do a few things before I leave. Intro to Wildlife isn’t for thirty minutes and it’s in this building, so won’t take but a minute to get to.” I jerked my head toward my desk.
“Sounds good to me.” One thing I had noticed right away was Becca had an American accent. A Southern accent, to be exact, and it made everything feel a little less foreign and crazy.
I dragged a chair next to my desk for her and pulled out some papers, thumbing through my notes for today’s lecture, but my attention kept being pulled to the manila folders. I opened the one Rose had sent and studied the first few pages of notes. There were copies of birth certificates, a ship manifesto, and a few deeds for property in New York. Then I found the family tree. It was very generic-looking, no picture of a tree or fancy calligraphy. Just a chart, listing descendants. I traced down the lines until I found my mother’s name. There had been other branches but they had all ended in one fashion or another. A blank space was next to my mother with a line that led down to my full name.
Tracing the line down to me, I looked at my name and frowned. Samantha Ellen Frances Rousseau. I’d always hated having four names. It seemed so silly growing up. Everyone else had managed with just three. I flipped through some more of the paperwork, looking for anything that caught my eye or seemed familiar. Copies of my mother’s thesis and first write-up in a journal made me smile. She had been a brilliant scientist.
I looked up at the clock and decided I had enough time to look quickly through the other folder. The noise in the office soothed my nerves. The clicking of someone typing, the whispers of Mary as she flirted with David. David telling her to hush. It was nice to have a little normal for a few minutes.
Alex’s folder had several paper-clipped articles from medicine journals about homeopathic solutions for cancer and dealing with chemo along with information about a new drug that seemed to be helping ease the pain of some cancer patients without affecting their quality of life. The articles were fascinating and I felt hope swelling in my heart. Maybe jumping the pond wouldn’t be so bad. Especially if I was able to help Dad. Or at least make him more comfortable.
In the very back of the folder was a note in slanted text and a sticky note with a website address. Apparently this was a link to a doctor that worked strictly with patients suffering from prostate cancer. Alex wrote that the doctor lived in the UK and might be persuaded to give my father an in-depth examination.
Becca cleared her throat and I looked over to where she was sitting.
“Your class starts in five minutes.”
“What?” I looked at the clock on my desk and frowned. The time had flown by. I grabbed my stuff and put it in my bag before jerking my head toward the door. “Let’s go.”
The lecture hall was on the other side of the building, so we took the back stairs. I hesitated just inside the door when I saw all the people in the room. Almost every seat was taken, which was unusual for such an early class. Duvall looked at me with a blank face from near the stage and I wondered what was running through his mind because I sure as hell didn’t know what to think. My fingers tightened on the strap of my bag and I walked forward purposefully. Fake it ’til you make it would be my motto of the day. The room quieted except for a few whispers.
I set my bag down and turned toward the room. My eyes picked out familiar faces amongst a hundred or more that I had never seen before. “It makes my heart all types of bubbly to see so many people excited about the chapter on ornithology.” A faint ripple of amusement spread through the room. “For those of you that didn’t wake up this morning with a newfound love of birds, open your books to chapter twelve.”
I pulled my notes out and grabbed a dry erase marker. While the true students rifled through their bags, I quickly outlined some key points on the whiteboard. I turned back to the class and swallowed. I’d never spoken to this many people before and it was intimidating.
Hopping onto the small desk on the stage, I decided to focus on what I was supposed to be talking about and forget that most of these people had only come to stare at me. “Who can define a bird?”
A young undergrad’s hand shot into the air. I couldn’t remember her name, but I tended to refer to her as Hermione in my head. I nodded at her.
“An animal whose body is covered in feathers and forelimbs that modified into wings.” She smiled proudly.
“Yes, but that isn’t all that defines a bird. Anyone else?” I looked around the room. Someone I didn’t recognize raised their hand and I waited a beat before nodding for them to speak.
“Are you really a princess?”
“All little girls are princesses, didn’t you know that?” My heart sped up in my chest and I narrowed my eyes. Titters erupted around the classroom and I sat down on the top of the desk. “Now, who can tell me about birds?”
One of the male students raised his hand and I pointed in his direction. “They all have scaly legs, a beak with no teeth, and bear their young in a hard-shelled egg.”
“Good.” I jumped up and scribbled the definition on the board. “Does anyone have any idea how many types of birds there are in the world?”
There were more people with their hands raised when I turned back around. I tried to pick someone I recognized from the class, hoping they would stay on topic.
“Danni?” I looked at a small blonde.
“Five thousand?” I almost couldn’t hear her tiny voice.
“Nope. Who else?” I pointed at a boy with a skullcap on.
“Four thousand, five hundred and seventy two.” He smiled when people turned to look at him.
“Not even close.” I glared around the room. “C’mon, guys. You’re supposed to read the chapter ahead of time.”
Someone in the back raised their hand, but I couldn’t see their face. Reluctantly I pointed that direction.
“Over ten thousand, four hundred.” Alex’s voice easily filled the room and I felt my face flush. My heart sped up and just his voice made me shiver. He was here, watching me? Some of the students turned around to look at him, the sound of his accent drawing their attention. A loud rustle filled the hall as people realized the Prince of Lilaria was among them.
“Correct. I believe the last count was at ten thousand, four hundred and sixty-six.” I wrote the number on the board, plowing forward, trying to calm my nerves. The class settled down and I did my best to keep things on track.
“How many orders of birds are classified by the IOU?” I looked around the room. “Seriously, guys? You’re going to let him come in here and show you up?” Laughter filled the room and I was relieved when Hermione raised her hand and had the correct answer.
By the time class was over I couldn’t have been more ready. I had twenty minutes before the next lecture and I was considering putting a note on the door and hiding. As the students got up and left, a few of them came down to try to ask me questions. I did my best to shoo them away, but a few were much more dedicated to finding an answer. Becca had come to stand just to the side of me, her friendly smile replaced with a glower that made me rethink my original assessment of her personality.
“C’mon, Sam. It’s the school paper. Just an interview. I’ll let you decide which questions you want to answer.” The editor for the student paper was leaning against my desk and I was resolutely trying to ignore him.
“I told you, Toby, I have too much going on right now. I’m sorry.” Truth be told, I would always have too much going on when it came to having time for interviews. Especially with Toby. He was a pervert to the tenth degree. “If you don’t mind, I have to finish grading some papers.”
“This way, sir.” Duvall appeared beside Toby, a friendly hand placed on his shoulder. “Lady Rousseau has asked for some space.”
“Another time, maybe.” Duvall maneuvered Toby away from my desk and off the stage, to my relief. Who would have thought I’d be grateful to see Duvall after all?
“You’re an excellent teacher. You handled the class quite well.” Alex’s voice in my ear made me jump, bumping my head into his chin.
“Youch!” I rubbed the top of my head while he looked down at me with amusement. He rubbed his chin but smiled. “Good grief. Don’t sneak up on me. And I would have handled the class much better if you hadn’t shown up.”
“I’d like to think I encouraged them to try a little harder.” His blue eyes sparkled as he looked at me. “And I wanted to make sure they weren’t giving you too hard of a time.”
“Thanks, I think.” I frowned up at him, trying to not get pulled into his eyes. “But I would have managed just fine. You don’t have to take care of me.”
“You’ve been thrown into a new world… I just wanted to help you get your feet.” Instead of being annoyed with my reluctance to accept his help, he seemed entertained. “How many more classes do you have today?”
“Two more.” I rubbed my forehead. “Then I go to the sanctuary.”
“I see. Do you have time for lunch somewhere in there?” He leaned casually against my desk, his perfect rump perched on the edge. I tried to not think about it and just focused on the conversation.
“I usually eat in the office after the last class. Catch up my paperwork before I head over.” I bit my bottom lip, confused by his presence in my class, by his interest in me. His eyes focused on my mouth briefly before moving back to my eyes. Some flashes from the right side of the hall drew my attention and I realized some of the students were using their phones to take pictures of us talking. Becca jumped down from the edge of the stage where she was standing and headed in their direction.
“Would you mind if I join you? Or is that not allowed?” He cocked his head to the side and I found myself studying the way the bright lights of the stage played in his blond hair.
“Um, no, that’s fine.” My eyes traveled over his face, taking in the slight imperfections that only seemed to make him more handsome. “Uh, I usually just grab a sandwich or something. I guess we could order something in, if you’d like.”
“A sandwich is perfect. Why don’t I bring the food? I’ll meet you there, that way you don’t have to waste any of your time.”
“Why?” The question exited my mouth before I could rethink it.
“Why save you time?” His eyebrows drew together.
“Why do you want to have lunch with me? Surely you have more important things to do.”
“Well, I like your company for one thing.” He leaned a little closer. “And you underestimate your importance. I’m starting to think you’re very important.”
I didn’t know what to say. What could I say to that? There was no mistaking it this time. Alex was definitely flirting with me and I felt like a fish out of water. I was a terrible flirt, too blunt and not coy. And I blushed. Like I was doing right now.
“I make you nervous, don’t I?” His gaze turned thoughtful. “And not because of my rank. That doesn’t seem to faze you at all.”
“A title is a title. It doesn’t define the type of person you are.” I closed the notebook with the quizzes and took a deep breath.
“Very true.” Reaching out, he brushed a stray strand of brown hair that had escaped my ponytail back from my face. I froze and our gazes locked before I remembered the cameras. I looked over to where the students had been standing, but no one was there.
“We’re alone. Duvall and Becca saw everyone out and are watching the door.”
We’re alone. His words sent a shiver through my soul. Images of him and me on the desk filled my mind and my blush deepened. His fingers traced my jawline briefly before he stood up and gave me enough space to breathe again.
“Do you have a preference for lunch?”
“No mustard.” I stayed in my seat, feeling safer there.
“No mustard. I can manage that.” He turned and walked down the steps. I couldn’t stop my eyes from following his backside as he went.
“My office, it’s on the second floor.” I cleared my throat. “I share it, so there will be other people there. They might pester you.” In fact I was sure Mary would pester him.
“I’ll find it.” He smiled over his shoulder at me.