Suddenly RoyalBy: Nichole Chase
Chaos on Campus
“Unless you can tell me the number of toes a bird has, you have accidently wandered into the wrong class.” I put my hands on my hips and glared at the students. “And that means you need to drag your hung-over self out of your seat and go find the correct room. Now.”
I waited while half the room got up and left in an explosion of noise. Some people took pictures of me with their cell phones before they ducked out of the door, others laughed like it was all a big joke. When it finally quieted down, I looked up from my desk and tried to not groan. There were still too many people in the room, but at least a good portion of them had left. Taking a deep breath, I stood up and started the last lecture of the day.
By the time I was finished, I barely had any patience left. I had been asked if I was a princess, if I was really a teaching assistant, if I knew the Queen of England. People had taken my picture and recorded my lecture. Nothing had been accomplished in the lesson. I should have just canceled the class and hidden in a broom closet somewhere.
“Lady Rousseau, let’s wait to move until the room has cleared and there isn’t as much traffic in the hallways.” Becca glanced at me over my desk with a look of pity.
“Can you just kill me? Carry me out in a box?” I looked up at her. “Do you even have a gun?”
“What kind of bodyguard would I be if I needed a gun to kill someone?” Becca smiled at my expression. “Besides, it could’ve been worse.”
“That’s not comforting.” I leaned back in my chair and groaned. “Thank God I don’t have any more classes today.” I grabbed my notes and shoved them into my bag. My stomach was in knots and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the classes or the fact that I was supposed to go eat with Alex.
“Ready?” Becca asked.
“Yeah.” We left the room and headed for the back stairs. There were still people in the halls, but for the most part they moved out of our way. When I got to the office, Alex was leaning against the wall next to the door, a bag of food in one hand and a tray with drinks in the other. His head was against the wall, his eyes closed. I felt guilty that he looked so tired. He must’ve been up late to see to my truck and get me those notes. As we approached, one of the men in his detail said something quietly. He tilted his head to look at us and smiled. His gray suit made his blue eyes look almost silver and I felt my mouth go dry. Just being near him felt like something in my gut was tugging me to him. He was perfect, right down to the light stubble on his chin.
“No mustard.” He held the bag up in victory and I laughed. He looked so proud of himself I couldn’t help it. Some of my nerves melted away and I felt a bit more relaxed.
“C’mon.” I opened the door so he could walk in and almost melted in relief when no one else was inside. I had been dreading the stares and awkward conversation. “That’s my desk.” I pointed at the one near the window and he stood next to the chair Becca had used earlier. I checked the message board, watching him from the corner of my eye before going to find some paper towels.
“Thank you.” He sat down when I handed him the napkins. “I hope you like red meat. I have a weakness for hamburgers. The bigger the better.”
“You’re in luck. The hamburgers from the cafeteria are great.” I spread the fries onto a napkin so we could both get to them. “So tell me. How did you manage to go in the cafeteria and come out alive?”
“Many years of practice.” He took a bite of his burger and groaned. “Ah, now that is good.”
“Why not just send someone else for them?” I took a bite of my food and mentally agreed with him.
“I was hoping it would draw away some of your fake students.”
“You mean you prostituted yourself out to the masses? To draw them away? That was… sweet.” He choked on his drink and coughed roughly. I set down my sandwich and slapped him on the back.
“I hadn’t thought about it that way.” He chuckled. “But it was worth it if it helped you.”
“Well, thank you.” I picked my sandwich back up and smiled at him. “For lunch and for pimping yourself out.”
“I told you I wouldn’t throw you to the wolves.” He winked at me, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him about all the people who had still crashed my classes. “Did you have a chance to look through the notes I sent?”
“A little.” I pushed some of the fries toward him. He seemed to like those just as much as he liked the hamburger. “I have to admit I’m interested in the specialist you listed.”
“There is a great deal of information online, too much to print out.”
“Thanks. I’ll look it over before I talk to Dad.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked for new text messages. Still nothing from my father, so I texted the lady that came to check on him twice a day. Patricia was a neighbor who had been good friends with my mother. She wouldn’t let me pay her, and honestly, I have no idea how I would have anyway. But knowing she went to check on Dad to make sure he didn’t need anything was a huge relief.
Patricia: He’s got one of his migraines today and is sleeping. I’ll let him know you’re coming over later.
I sighed in relief and told her thank you.
“Yeah. Dad hasn’t texted me since yesterday and I was getting worried. He gets terrible headaches sometimes.”
“But he’s fine?”
“Fine as can be.” I chewed on some fries and thought about it. “A family friend checks on him a couple of times a day to help out. She said he was sleeping.”
We didn’t say anything else for a little while, just munched on our food and watched the light snowfall. It was going to be a cold afternoon. At least I wouldn’t be in the truck. The heat took forever to warm up. Which reminded me…
“Thank you for seeing to my truck. Tell me how much the repairs were and I’ll get the money to you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I was happy to see to it.”
“Alex, I appreciate it, but I don’t feel right letting you pay for it. It’s not your fault the starter died.” I set my sandwich down and looked at him. The thought of someone paying for me didn’t sit well. Especially someone I had only met the night before.
“If we hadn’t invited you out, you likely wouldn’t have been stranded. It is my obligation.” Alex leaned back in his chair as if amused by my obvious disapproval.
“In which case it wouldn’t have started this morning and I would have been late for class. Arguing when it happened is silly. It’s my car, my responsibility.”
“Fine. You can pay me back after you’re granted your lands and title.”
I thought it over for a minute before I realized what he had done. He’d given me one more reason to go to Lilaria. I narrowed my eyes but couldn’t help the smile that tugged at my mouth. “You’re sneaky.”
“That’s one way of looking at it.” I liked his laugh. There was something free and honest in it. I shook my head and picked up my food again. I’d let it slide for now until I figured out what I was going to do.
“So, what are you doing after this?” I looked at Alex, curious. I tried to squash the hope that was bubbling in my stomach. Being around him made me feel like I wanted more.
“Well, that depends. I have some phone calls to make and we were invited to dinner at the mayor’s house, but I have a few hours free.” He shook the ice in his cup before taking another sip. “I’d like to see your birds. I have to admit, I miss being around them when I travel.”
“Well, you’re welcome to come with me but it’s going to be pretty cold. And there will definitely be people there.” I looked around the room. “I don’t know how we got lucky for lunch. Normally everyone is here about this time.”
“Lucky that you got me all to yourself?” Alex smiled and my face turned beet red.
“I just meant that Mary wouldn’t have left you—I mean us—alone with all her questions.” Good Lord, I was going to inflate his ego to unbearable proportions if I wasn’t careful.
“A man named David sent everyone out of the office. I think he was worried about this Mary, too.”
“Mary isn’t a bad person; she just takes some getting used to.” I shook my head. “I’ve known her for two years now and she still shocks me.”
“I’m glad it worked out this way. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to spend some time with you since you turned me down for drinks last night. Free time is often hard to come by.” Little creases of amusement appeared at the corners of his eyes as he laughed at my expression. “From the shock on your face, I can tell I wasn’t being obvious enough.”
“I just thought you were being polite.” I looked down at my food and tried to calm my racing heart. His warm fingers lifted my chin so that I was looking him in the eye. His face had turned very serious, his eyes intent.
“Wanting to spend a few hours getting to know a beautiful woman isn’t about being polite.” His thumb ran over my bottom lip and my breath stuttered. “I shouldn’t chase you, Samantha, but I’m not sure I can help myself.”
I didn’t know what to say. Why shouldn’t he chase me? Because I’m from diluted nobility? Or because I have enough going on to keep me busy? Did I want him to chase me? I did and I didn’t. I wanted him, the man staring at me right now. But I didn’t want what that included: the cameras, the politics, and who knows what else.
As I tried to sort out my thoughts, there was a knock on the door. I had been leaning forward, pulled in by his eyes, so sat back quickly. “Come in.”
Becca stuck her head in the door and smiled. “Ma’am, someone named Jess is here.”
“Oh, let her in.” I shook my head as Jess walked through the door. Today was possibly the weirdest day of my life. Well, after yesterday, anyway.
“Heard your classes were crazy.” She set her bag down and swiped a few fries from my desk. “Hello, Your Majesty.” She looked embarrassed for roughly one quarter of a second and I had to assume it was because of her word vomit last night.
“Hello, Jess.” Alex gave her a friendly smile. I wondered if she was breaking some kind of protocol by being so informal. He didn’t look bothered, even if she was.
“Word is you had to shoo people out.” She narrowed her eyes at me.
“You could say that.” I frowned at her. I didn’t want Alex to know I’d still been swarmed with strangers.
“Yeah?” She sat on the desk next to me but on the opposite side of Alex.
“Yeah. It was weird. Normally I have to worry about most of the class not showing up for the eight o’clock block.” I snorted. Not the problem today.
“My prof gave a pop quiz. I think he was really offended that people might have skipped his class ‘just to see some royals.’” She made air quotes with her fingers. “No offense, Alex. He’s a stick-in-the-mud.”
Jess was a teaching assistant for Dr. Woodrum, one of the most boring teachers you could get. Then again, the thought of premed classes made me squirm. Animals were one thing, but I didn’t want to change any bedpans or give rectal exams.
“What class is it?” Alex asked.
“Beginner’s Biology.” Jess grabbed another fry. “Long story short, Woodrum hates all college students but knows the basics better than anyone.”
“And he is your advisor?”
Jess nodded her head. “It’ll look good on my resume. He’s written so many articles it’s insane and it lets me work on some really interesting projects. Even if I do have to put up with his comb-over and bean-dip breath.” Jess sighed dramatically.
“You chose it.” It was an old argument.
“I thought you might need someone to go with you to the raptor center, but it looks like you’ve got it covered.” Jess’s eyes darted between me and Alex. I knew she was trying to figure out if he was going with me. I could almost feel her mentally prodding me for answers. Or maybe that was the foot she was using to kick my leg.
“There are three bodyguards standing outside the door waiting on me.” I batted her foot away from me.
“Not to mention the three that followed me.” Alex laughed.
“Oh, are you going with Sam?” Jess turned bright eyes toward him. He seemed to pick up on her tone and leaned back in his chair, that little smile playing on his mouth.
“She was kind enough to offer to show me the birds.”
“Uh huh.” She turned and smiled at me. I thought about shoving her off the desk.
“Alex has birds at home. I thought he might enjoy seeing the ones we have here.” I stood up and started collecting the trash. Alex held open the bag so I could stuff the wrappers inside.
“Well, I guess I’ll go on to my office then.” Jess stood up and picked up her bag. “Have you heard from Dr. Geller?”
“Shoot. I need to check my e-mail. Today has thrown me off.” I sat back down at my computer and opened up my account, scanning the messages. I frowned when I saw the one from Dr. Geller. Apparently the dean had contacted him, so he knew a little bit about what was going on. He would be in early tomorrow to talk.
“Greeeaaat,” I muttered.
“Geller unhappy?” Jess looked over my shoulder.
“The dean called him.” I met Alex’s eyes. His face was blank and I knew he was waiting for more information. “I think he was just surprised to not have heard the news from me.”
“It’s not like you exactly had time.” Jess shrugged. “You’ll be fine. Geller loves you.”
“We’ll see.” Would he still love me if I went to Lilaria? He had invested a lot of time in my education. Was I really thinking about going?
“I’m going to run. I’ve got some papers to grade and I don’t want to do it tonight.” Jess looked over at Alex. “Enjoy the birds. Don’t let the eagle bite you. He’s a moody bastard.”
“I shall endeavor to keep my fingers to myself.”
“You do that.” Jess moved out of his sight and winked at me.
I looked away from her and down at my computer to log off. “See you later.” I didn’t look up when I heard the door open. I was worried Alex would see the relief on my face. The longer Jess was around him, the bolder she would become in her jokes.
“She’s a good friend.” Alex said it like he knew for sure after spending less than an hour with her.
“I have good taste.” I smiled at him as I picked up my bag. “Ready?”
“Lead the way.” He opened the door for me and motioned into the hall. There were people in suits filling the area just outside the office.
“Uh, I need to head over to the center.” I looked at Duvall, who motioned at the others. Someone handed Alex a winter coat and we headed down the stairs. There were more people in the lobby than normal and I had a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t because of the snow. In fact, the ones that normally used the area to study looked irritated. I didn’t blame them.
“Sir, should I send someone for your car as well?” A man that rivaled Alex in size leaned close.
“No, I’ll be accompanying Samantha.” Alex nodded at me.
“Yes, sir.” The man moved ahead of us to clear the door.
A young woman with red hair broke away from a group near the elevator and stopped in our path. She was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I knew her from. Her shirt was unbuttoned much farther than it normally would’ve been considering the frigid air outside, and from the way her friends giggled, I was sure it was just for Alex’s benefit.
“May I have your autograph?” She smiled around the bodyguards at Alex, her eyes practically shimmering like an anime cartoon. The guards continued to block her, allowing Alex to make the decision.
“I’m sorry, I can’t sign anything.” Alex flashed a panty-dropping smile and she made a little moue of disappointment before turning toward me.
“Would you sign?” She pushed the notebook toward me.
“Um.” My eyebrows rose so high, I thought they might try to escape my face.
“You were the TA in one of my classes last semester. I can’t believe I know a royal.” She shoved the notebook toward me and I had no choice but to grab it. I felt awkward and clumsy as I stared at this girl who acted as though she knew me.
“As much as we would love to sign it for you, we’re not allowed to give autographs.” Alex took the notebook from my hands and held it out to the girl.
“So you are a royal?” Something in her eyes shifted to a shrewd glint. With one simple sentence, Alex had confirmed all the news reports floating around and sent the rumor mill into overdrive.
“I’m a grad student.” I tried to keep my face friendly, but I had a feeling she wasn’t some silly co-ed.
“But you’re also part of the royal family from Lilaria?”
“I’m sorry, we’re going to be late.” I tried to smile, but it probably looked deranged.
“My brother works for WKFS. He’d let you tell the story in your own words.” She stepped closer and I saw the guards around us move into action. Duvall slid between us and Becca stepped close to my right side. Alex put a hand on my elbow and steered me away from the redhead.
“Let’s go.” A thread of anger slid through his quiet words as we tried to walk around everyone.
“Samantha, are you and the prince dating? Have you always known you were from a royal family?” The heat that would have normally flooded my cheeks was countered by the cold that seeped up my spine.
I didn’t look back up until we’d gone through the security checkpoint. That was when I noticed the extra campus guards. Instead of the usual one, there were three. They each looked me over with interest but also made sure no one was following us.
The cold air slammed into me and I scrambled to button up my coat. Alex had dropped his hand from my arm but stayed close by my side as we walked through the campus to the parking lot. Despite my earlier instructions to not walk around me like they were guarding the crown jewels, the team was carefully edging people away from us.
“It’s a pretty campus. I imagine it’s very nice in the summer.”
“Are you trying to distract me?” I looked up at him, amused.
“Is it working?” He cut his eyes toward me. “You looked like you were leading a funeral procession.”
“I did not!” I laughed, realizing he was right. “Okay. It’s just weird. And strange. And disconcerting. All these people staring at me. I’ve been here for four years, but they’re acting like I’ve suddenly sprouted a second head.”
“You’re a novelty.” We got to the car and he opened the door. “It’ll wear off. Probably.”
“You Lilarians aren’t a very comforting bunch.” I pulled my bag off my shoulder so I could slide into the seat. He laughed as he closed the door and walked around the car.