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The Royal Pain

MaryJanice Davidson

Page 1


  The Sitka Palace

  2:32 A. M.

  "Nicky,get down !" Alexandria's father roared, and her little brother dropped like a rock and rolled away. There was no mistaking the command in that yell; she nearly fell to the carpet herself.

  There was a sound, some odd sound she should have recognized but did not, and suddenly her father was staring at the two small, feathered darts sticking out of his chest. He stared…

  (What story tonight, Alex?)

  . . . they all stared…

  (No, hon, that one gives you nightmares. )

  … it was all happening so fast…

  (There's nothing to be afraid of. )

  . . . and then her father…

  (We're going to be all right now. )

  … her father…

  (There's no such thing as monsters. )

  . . . slowly folded to the floor.

  She heard another sound—the flat, smacking sound of metal hitting flesh—but she was too busy looking around, looking around for…


  "Not's'fast without y'r pea shooter, eh?" she heard someone, Kurt? David? slur.

  "Y—you have to come with me, Prince Nicholas," the monster said. He was reaching for her little brother, actuallydaring toreach for her brother after the gross assault upon her father. "Your place is with us. "

  "Get the hell out of here, you traitorous piece of shit," her older brother David ordered. Alexandria agreed wholeheartedly… to a point. "If you leave now, our security team might not blow your head off. "

  Stay a while. Just a minute longer. I'll give you something to remember the Baranovs by, you prick.

  "Us, sir?" her little brother, Nicholas, asked. As always in response to stress, he was overly polite.

  She slipped out of one of her shoes. There was more talking, but it was background noise, it was how the ocean sounded to a starfish. Huge and irrelevant.

  "My father is the true king," Nicholas said, and that she did hear. Nicholas was a child, a brave and honorable one, but too young to know it was useless to talk sense to an extremist.

  "Devon!" her sister-in-law Christina shouted, and Alexandria heard that, too, like the crack of a whip, again and again:Devon. Devon. Devon . "You'll never get out of here. "


  She caught Nicholas's gaze, saw him glance at the gun, Kurt's gun, on the floor. She shook her head but he ignored her and bent for it. Thank God, Devon was distracted by Princess Christina.

  "You've fucked up, it's done. "

  Yes, its done.

  "You shot my daddy," Nicholas said, and the rest of them noticed what she had just seen: he had the gun. It was steady in his small hands; the butt snugly against his left palm, right index finger on the far end of the trigger guard.

  Yes, you shot my daddy.

  "You shot my king and my sovereign, and you hurt my friend. "


  "So I'm thinking, it's only fair if I shoot you. "

  Don't worry, Nicky. You won't have to. I'm going to fix him. I'm going to fix everything.

  "Your High—"

  The last thing Devon said. Fitting that it should be proper use of a title. Part of one, anyway. Her hands had closed over the banquet chair. Wood, not metal—but she would make do. Her grip was firm, not sweaty. (The night sweats would come later, and stay forever. ) She levered the chair up off the ground; it went easy, lighter than feathers.

  She swung the chair sidearm

  ("Honey, not like that. You're throwing like a girl. Yeah, yeah, don't go all PC on me. Do it like this. ")

  putting every ounce of her one-fifty behind it.

  The monster did not fall; he slammed against the wall. It wasn't what she was expecting at all; it was nothing like TV. Her hands and arms absorbed most of the shock of the blow and it would be days before she could raise her wrists above her shoulder.

  The chair, as she had calculated, did not shatter. It was good wood, it held. But force had to go somewhere. She had been counting on it, and from the blood coming out the monster's ears, the force had gone exactly where she intended.

  "There!" she said, her arms still vibrating. "That's—" Then he got up. The monster actually got up off the floor, blood dripping down his sideburns, moving steadily, not noticing he was mortally wounded. In her head, Alex screamed and screamed.

  Devon brushed cake from his uniform and took the gun from Nicholas's nerveless fingers, shot her brother David…

  (this is wrong)

  shot her other brother Nicky, shot her sister-in-law Christina. Took the chair away…

  (it's not like this)


  (it didn't happen like this)

  and the last thing she saw was the chair, descending. The last thing she knew was that she had failed. Everyone was dead and she failed.

  Chapter 1

  The Sitka Palace

  2:42 A. M.

  She didn't scream.

  She never screamed.

  She was cringing in her bed, bracing herself for the blow, and it took a minute or so to remember it was just the old nightmare, she had not failed, everyone was alive, she had not failed.

  She had not failed.

  Princess Alexandria, third in line to the Alaskan throne, pressed a hand to her mouth, hurried to the bathroom, and threw up.

  Alexandria stole down the hall, took a left, nodded to an insomniac footman, and walked quietly into the nursery. But not so quietly that her sister-in-law, Christina, didn't hear.

  The nursery was right next to David and Christina's bedroom, and after years of being on her own and looking over her shoulder, Christina slept about as deeply as a cat with ADD.

  There was no night-nurse; there was barely a day nurse.

  (Christina had the charming idea that she should raise her own daughter, which was adorable, if common. )

  Knowing she had permission, Alex scooped up the sweetly sleeping baby and cuddled her against her shoulder. Dara stirred but did not awaken and Alex simply stood over the crib, holding the baby and taking comfort in her warmth, her sweet milky smell, the fineness of her baby hair, the softness of her skin.

  "Another one?" Christina whispered. She didn't whisper so as not to wake Dara; the baby didn't sleep, she hibernated. But Christina didn't want to wake her husband, who had a grueling day of ribbon cutting and Chardonnay drinking and penguin counting ahead of him. "What is this, the third time this week? And it's only Tuesday. "

  Alex shrugged. She adored Christina, but did not discuss the dreams with her. With anyone. Well, almost anyone.

  "Alex, for God's sake. You've got to get some sleep. When was the last time you got a mil eight hours? Unbroken?"

  Another shrug. Alex nuzzled the top of Dara's head. The baby shifted and snored on.

  "Why aren't you taking the stuff Dr. Pohl prescribed? Don't shrug again or I'll pull all your long, beautiful hair out. "

  She snorted. "You don't scare me, you're getting slow in your old age. And you know why. "

  "Well, maybe I haven't bounced back from the baby as fast as I—"

  "It's kind of late for jokes. "

  "It's kind of late foranything . And here you've got a perfectly good prescription for sleeping pills in your… oh, God, you're just like your brother! He wouldn't take a Tylenol for an amputation. You guys. "


  "Come on. I get the whole 'we're a rugged band of royals who carved a country out of the harsh wilderness' bit, but would it kill you to pop an Ambien?"

  "I don't have trouble getting to sleep," she pointed out. "Just staying asleep. And I'm sorry I woke you. "

ow it was Christina's turn to shrug. "It's no big deal. I won't have trouble getting back to sleep," she added, raising her eyebrows. She softened a bit when Alex made no reply. "Well, I normally would, too, tomorrow being the big day and all, but I didn't get a nap today and—never mind, it's boring. In fact, never mind about all that… listen, why don't you take her back to bed with you? That works sometimes. "

  Alex grinned a little. "You're just trying to sleep in. "

  "Well, it's a handy bonus, I must admit. Besides, the thing doesn't even start until… what? Noon?"

  "One," she corrected. "Sounds like someone hasn't read her program. "

  "Great, one, even better. Hey, you just have to change her and feed her and entertain her until I wake up… say, eleven-ish?"

  "Nine. "

  "Done. " Christina bent forward and planted a soft kiss on the baby's head. "Luck getting some Z's. Don't squish the baby. "

  Offended, she said, "I would never. "

  "See, you'd have a better sense of humor if you were getting a couple more hours a night. "

  "Hush up. "

  "I'm just saying," Chris said, backing away.

  Alex took Dara back to her room, carefully laid the baby on the left side of the bed (the bed had been pushed against the wall months ago for that express purpose), tossed all the pillows on the floor just in case, and pulled a blanket up to the middle of the baby's back. Dara snored on, oblivious.

  Five minutes later, Alex was doing the same.

  Chapter 2

  It was like any other family event—except with royals. The Baranovs (those who had read their schedules) were assembled in one of the many side corridors, waiting.

  "I can't believe," Princess Kathryn, fourth in line to the Alaskan throne, whispered, "there's hardly anybody here but the family. "

  Prince David, first in line to the throne, grinned. He looked more relaxed than anybody could ever recall; the general consensus was that marriage and fatherhood agreed with him immensely. He was wearing a dark gray suit with a royal blue shirt and a gray tie dotted with tiny rockhopper penguins. His shoes, thanks to a tireless staff, were shined to a high gloss. David, thanks to a royal upbringing, didn't notice. "Hey, Chris insisted. No press, no big deal, no fuss, no—you know. "