Her bodyguard, p.46
At some point in the flight, even Alexandra puts down her cell phone and looks outside.
I’m not sure how long we’re in the air, before Albie tells us we’re going to land. “This is the summer house,” he says, as an estate, spread across acres of land, comes into view.
“Isn’t it summer now?” I ask.
“We’ll be there in a few weeks,” Alexandra says. “Once the royal couple makes their engagement announcement. The engagement party will be at the palace, and then we’ll retreat to the countryside. Fewer public appearances and all that. Way more boring, too.” I can’t see her expression, but if I had to guess, she’d be rolling her eyes.
No sooner does the helicopter touch down on the pad then a red convertible speeds up, driven by a guy in sunglasses I can tell is gorgeous even from where I’m sitting. Beside me, Alex scrambles out of her seatbelt. “Tell dad I’ll be back in a few days,” she yells at Albie.
“I’m not covering for you, shithead,” he says.
One of the bodyguards mutters under his breath, “Your sister,” and curses into his microphone before ripping it off his head. He follows Alex out of the helicopter, and I see her arguing with him outside, flipping him the bird as she hops into a convertible that pulls away.
So much for the summerhouse being boring, I guess.
My sister’s bodyguard, Max, darts down the drive. I know he’s smart enough to have a vehicle here on standby, one of the dark-tinted black SUVs the security detail drives that are supposed to be inconspicuous but stick out anymore like a sore thumb.
My bodyguard, Noah, shakes his head. “Do you know where she’s going, sir?” he asks.
He insists on calling me “sir,” despite the fact that he’s been my security detail forever. And despite the fact that I’ve asked him a hundred times to call me by my name. Noah knows more about me than anyone, and he also knows I’m not about to rat out my sister, even if she’s off running around with a spoiled asshole like Finn Asher.
Belle stands beside me, her hair tousled from the wind, looking sexy and disheveled and basically confused as hell. “Is everything okay?” she asks.
“I have no idea where she’s headed, Noah,” I lie, shrugging. “Besides, I’m sure Max is on it.”
As if on cue, the bodyguard peels past us in an SUV, kicking dust up behind his wheels as he flies down the driveway after Alex and Finn.
Noah narrows his eyes as he looks at me. “Yes, I’m sure he’s on it, sir.”
“We’re going to tour the grounds, Noah,” I say. “I’m sure we don’t need an escort.”
He gives me a stern look before issuing a “yes, sir” in response, walking ahead of us. The estate is fully staffed, with its own security detail.
“You should go have a beer or something, Noah,” I call to his retreating figure, and he flips me off behind his head.
Beside me, Belle laughs. “Do your bodyguards usually give you the finger?” she asks.
“Only Noah,” I tell her. “He’s been with me for along time. He’s probably the closest thing I have to a best friend.”
“A best friend that calls you sir?” she asks.
“He does it because he knows it pisses me off,” I say. “He only does it when he’s annoyed with me.”
“So he calls you ‘sir’ pretty much all the time, then?”
“You're so quick-witted," I say, rolling my eyes. "Do people tell you that all the time?"
“Constantly,” she says, sticking her tongue out at me. It’s a childish response, but it makes me laugh. We walk in silence across the expanse of lawn from the helicopter pad toward the summerhouse, and from the corner of my eye, I can see Belle breathing in deeply, visibly relaxing as we walk.
I don't know quite why, but it makes me satisfied to see her happy here.
"So, do you always fly your wives out to your estates?" she asks.
"You're the first, actually," I say.
"So I'm special, then," she says. "I feel flattered."
"Well, we were married by Fake Elvis, so that automatically puts you leaps and bounds ahead of my other marriages," I joke.
"I'm overjoyed," she says sarcastically, then falls silent as we walk across the lawn. I point out various places on the estate – the stables, gardens, and the lake to the south, just barely visible on the horizon.
"When Alex and I were kids, my father used to take us out there to fish on Sunday mornings in the summer, early," I say. "No matter how busy he was. We'd get up at six in the morning, and return a few hours later and wake up my mother."
"Your father seems like a good man," she says. "Like...a normal guy, almost."
"He's the people's king," I say. "It's what they call him.”
"Was it weird, growing up like this?" she asks.
I shrug. "I don't know," I say. "Was it weird growing up the way you did?"
"Touché," she says.
"I don't know any other way of life," I tell her.
Inside the castle, I show her my favorite places, the things that are a part of my family history -- the Chinese pottery that I broke when Alex and I were running through the house when I was nine, thousands of years old and super-glued back together; and the place where my sister and I shimmied off a low overhang from one of the windows when I was twelve and Alex broke her arm. It was the first time I'd gotten in real trouble, grounded from everything.
Belle and I stand on the roof, looking out over the expanse of the estate, the lawn so vivid it's nearly emerald-colored. Everything out here, in the country, is more vivid and intense than the city.
This place holds all of the important memories of my life.
"This is where Alex and I would come up and get high, before I left for the army," I tell her.
Belle laughs. "This isn't what I pictured," she says. "It's different from what I expected from a royal family."
"It's all trappings, you know," I say. "All of this -- the castles, and the cars, and the planes, and --"
"The media stories?" she asks. She stands a foot away from me -- too far, I think -- and glances at me, and I think I see her smile. Teasing me about my reputation.
"I'd say those stories in the media are greatly exaggerated, but they're probably not," I tell her.
She laughs. "At least you're honest," she says. Then, abruptly: "Why did you bring me here?"
"I'm sharing royal stories -- the good ones, not the PR-friendly ones -- and you're not having fun?"
"No, I. That's not what I meant at all."
"Relax, luv, I'm just giving you crap," I say. "Other than playing hooky at tea? I wanted to show you the real Protrovia."
"This is the real Protrovia?" she asks, her voice lilting. "Palatial summer estates?"
"No, smarty," I say. "I'm just giving you a tour of the summer house. Come on. Now I'll show you the real Protrovia. That way, if you decide to go back to the States, at least you know what you're missing."
But I don't turn to leave. Not yet. I stand there, and she looks at me for a minute, the expression on her face unreadable. "I'm starting to get an idea of what I'd be missing," she says, her eyes lingering on my face for a split second too long. Then the moment passes, and she clears her throat. "All right, Prince Albert. Sell me on Protrovia."
“I’m not sure what I thought I was going to get when I told a prince to sell me on his country, but this was definitely not it.”
“What?” he asks innocently. “Is it the shoes? Not flattering?”
“Yeah, it’s definitely the shoes,” I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm. But I can't quite stifle the giggle that erupts in my throat when I look at him.
Albie is wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt, a navy blue baseball cap pulled down low on his head, looking like any other guy his age.
Except for the ridiculous, bushy, dark fake mustache over his lips.
“You need a hat, too,” he says, producing a black baseball cap fro
I snatch the hat from his hand. “Are you kidding me?”
“What?” he asks, shrugging, his palms upturned. “You’ll look like a tourist. It's the perfect disguise.”
“Did you buy that for me in Vegas?” After claiming that he had no idea who I was, he produces something like this?
“Nope,” he says. “I bought it for myself in Vegas, actually. But, I’ll admit, once you got here, I was going to leave it on your bed as a welcome gift.”
“But your sense of decorum and propriety kept you from doing that? Nice,” I say, shaking my head. I slip the ball cap over my head anyway, pulling my ponytail through the back. “Fine. Let’s go wherever you’re taking me, Pornstache.”
When Albie’s bodyguard sees us, he rolls his eyes and sighs heavily. “That mustache. Really?” he says.
“Noah is just jealous because he can’t grow a sexy 'stache like this,” Albie says, leaning close to me to stage whisper.
“From what I can tell, you can't either, sir.” Noah holds the car door open for me. It’s a black sedan with a taxi plate in the back corner of the rear window, a few years old and completely non-royal, nothing like the high-end SUVs with dark-tinted windows that are dead giveaways for the royal security detail.
“Isn’t he coming with us?” I ask, watching as Noah closes my door and walks toward the SUV parked twenty feet away.
I wonder how the hell Albie gets away with such laid-back security. This is how it was in Vegas, too. There, Albie had no major security detail. None that I noticed anyway, or I’d have definitely suspected something then. He’s the most famous prince on the planet. I’d expect him to have a team of bodyguards, like a rock star or a dignitary.
“Absolutely,” Albie says, settling into the back seat of the car beside me. He doesn’t make a move, doesn’t put his hand on my leg or do anything inappropriate. I’m not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed with that. “He’s our driver.”
“Is security always this lax for the royal family?” I ask. Noah slides behind the wheel of the driver's seat, tossing a backpack on the front passenger side.
Albie turns toward me and winks, wearing his stupid ball cap and that bushy mustache.
Despite my initial misgivings, maybe the royal asshole isn’t so bad after all.
“Let’s just say that Noah and I have an understanding,” Albie says. “He knows that I’m perfectly capable of losing him, if I really wanted to. Kind of like today. We could have ditched out of the palace, gone through the tunnels, and skirted around out in town. But this way, he can follow me from afar and trust that I’m not going to try to lose him. At least not today, anyway.”
“The Prince is under a bit of a delusion, I’m afraid,” Noah says, as he pulls down the drive. “He believes he’s more clever and unobtrusive than he is.”
I choke back a laugh. “I’ve definitely gotten that impression.”
“If you don't think my ‘stache is the very definition of unobtrusive, I’m afraid we can’t be friends any longer, Noah,” Albie says.
“I feel sorry for you, Noah,” I say, shaking my head.
“Why?” he asks, his eyes forward as he drives us outside of the walled estate and down the weaving, winding road toward wherever the hell we’re going. I realized that I have no idea what Albie's plan is, yet I’m blindly following his direction as if I don’t have a care in the world.
“I'm sorry that you got stuck with this assignment to guard the prince,” I say.
“It’s a sacrifice,” Noah says. “King and country and all.”
Albie laughs, hitting a button that automatically slides up a partition between us and Noah. “That’s enough from him,” he says.
“You guys are really close,” I note.
“Noah tolerates a lot of crap from me,” he says. "He came on around the time my mom got sick."
“I can only imagine the shit he must put up with,” I say, only half-joking. From the magazine articles and media frenzy that surround the playboy prince, I can definitely see how difficult it would be to manage him.
I expect Albie to laugh, but when I look over at him, his gaze is focused out the window, his expression guarded.
“How did your mom die?" I ask, even though I already know she died. The death of Queen Sigrid was all over the media after it happened. I was in my senior year of high school. I still remember the memorials, the songs written about her. And like everyone else around the world, I remember the photo of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra, standing beside their father, staid and unflinching, pain written all over their faces.
It's one thing to read about the death of someone in an online news article, or to see their face plastered all over the media, but another thing entirely to experience that loss first-hand.
I should know. My father's death when I was a child rocked me to my core.
“Neuroendocrine Carcinoma," he says, his voice flat. "It's a rare form of cancer."
"I'm sorry," I say, my words insufficient, the way words always seem to be when it comes to loss.
Albie makes a sound in his throat, more like a 'heh' than a laugh, avoiding looking at me. "I'm sorry," he says. "I've heard it a thousand times. Just like you probably have."
"Yes," I say. "It doesn't change anything."
"No," he says, his gaze still fixated out the window. It's the first time since I've been here in Protrovia that I think maybe Albie is deeper than he appears at first glance. Until now, Albie didn't seem to have much running below the surface.
"And now they're both getting remarried," I say, my voice soft. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm not sure I've had enough time to get used to the idea.
It's not the fact that my mother is remarrying that takes some getting used to. She has certainly dated since my father's death. She even came close to getting married again, to a big Wall Street guy who ran a huge hedge fund. She called that off last-minute, which in retrospect, was a good thing, considering he was indicted a few years later for some white-collar crime I can't recall.
“Yes,” Albie says, looking at me, his expression serious for the first time since we met. “Do you think my father can compare to yours?”
The question takes me aback, and I can’t hide the question in my tone. “Your father is a king, Albie,” I say. “You’re literally the most powerful family in this country. And you’re asking me how your father measures up to mine?”
The question is ridiculous. My father was a self-made millionaire, who built an empire, a fortune from nothing. All of that was before I was born, though. I grew up rich, with the best of everything. I never wanted for anything.
But I know where I come from. And where I belong.
And where I come from is definitely not royalty.
“That’s what I’m asking,” he says, his gaze intense. “What I read about your father…his story…it’s amazing what he built.”
I can’t help but raise my eyebrows. “Your father is a king,” I say, my words clipped. Talking about my father, makes the car ride suddenly more intense than I anticipated. This isn’t what I expected when I agreed to a tour of Protrovia.
Being alone with the playboy prince isn't what I expected,
Her Bodyguard by Sabrina Paige / Romance & Love have rating 5.6 out of 5 / Based on39 votes