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07.03.2019

Tattoo? What fresh hell was this? "I wouldn't know," the prince said thinly. Though I mean to find out.

"Oh, quit it, you guys," Chris snapped good-naturedly. "Jeez, it's like watching the Discovery Channel. So, Kurt, you're in town a couple days? Can you hang out?"

Ugh. The prince avoided "hanging out" if he could at all help it.

"Sure," Kurt said. "I've got two weeks leave coming up. I was planning to hang around here, but if you guys have something else in mind, I could tag along."

Oh, splendid.

"It's so great to see you," Christina said for the third?—fourth?—time. "I can't believe you came all this way to see me."

"You kidding? You're in all the papers out here. It's big news when a Yank lands a prince. How could I not look you up?"

And he had the gall to drop David a wink.

Chapter 17

"You're killing me, kiddo. You're goddamned killing me!" The king slapped the newspaper down on his desk. She could read the upside-down headline easily enough; the print was over an inch high. FUTURE PRINCESS CLAIMS SEX LIFE NOBODY'S BUSINESS. "I'm on my second bottle of Pepto-Bismol this morning—you happy now?"

"Hey, Al, guess what? My sex life isn't anybody's business."

"Sure, go with that, see where it gets you. Nice yawn, by the way."

"Give me a break! Look, I'm sorry, but David was going on and on for, like, an hour and a half, and I was really—"

"Hung over," David said dryly. "And my speech was six minutes and twenty-eight seconds long."

"And what's this about bringing an American cop back with you? You don't like the Alaskan cops? You had to kidnap one and haul his ass back to the palace?"

"Oh! Right, forgot to tell you… he's an old friend of mine, and David invited him to come back and stay with us for a while—wasn't that great?" Smiling, Christina squeezed David's arm, then dropped it "His name is—"

"Kurtis J. Carlson," Edmund said from his corner.

"Uh, yeah. And he's a—"

"Homicide detective with the L.A.P.D."

"Edmund, you're creeping me out again. What'd you do, instantly run a background check the second we got here, or something?"

"Yes."

She blinked at that, then said, "Anyway, speaking of Kurt, I'm gonna see if he's all set up in the guest wing. Okay if I take off?"

King Alexander waved her away, and she practically skipped out of the room. David turned to follow her, but stopped short at his father's, "Freeze, boy!"

"Don't start, Dad."

"Bet your ass I'm gonna start! First, you don't care if you get married or not. Then you flub proposing to Christina. Then she finally—miracle of fucking miracles—says yes, but won't decide on a ring. Then she drives half the wedding staff to nervous breakdowns. Then—then! She runs into an ex-boyfriend and you decide to bring him here? Are you trying to get out of your engagement?"

David sighed. "I realize on the surface it looks a bit bone-brained—"

King Alexander snorted. "Not just on the surface, boy-o."

"—but you should have seen her face light up when she saw him. I think she's been a little overwhelmed here, and it did her good to meet up with an old—uh—friend. She was so—well, I invited him to join us on the return trip and stay for a bit. You should have seen how happy that made her. She—well, she was quite pleased."

The king was rubbing his temples, much the way Jenny did. "Cripes, the two of you are going to drive me to an early grave."

"Your Majesty, if I may, this actually solves the security problem revolving around Lady Christina," said Edmund.

"Yeah? Howzat? "

"As you know, she doesn't feel she needs a security team when she leaves the palace—"

"And she's wrong, yeah, we know that. Had to put my foot down on that one, and she didn't like it one damned bit. Got a headache from all the yelling."

"—so rather than have bodyguards dogging her heels, lately she has elected not to leave the grounds at all."

"It's why she was so excited about visiting Boston," David added.

"But traveling with a police officer, one licensed to carry a firearm—"

"Yeah, but can he shoot? Will he?"

Edmund crossed the room and tapped the file on the king's desk. "See for yourself, my king. He enjoys an outstanding reputation within the police force; he's their top detective. He's also killed four men in the line of duty, either to save lives or to apprehend killers. Detective Carlson's superior was quite frank with me. He referred to Detective Carlson as 'the number one gunslinger' in the Los Angeles Police Department."

The king opened a desk drawer, then leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on it. "Huh. I getcha. Let her run around with what's-his-face— she can go wherever she wants and have fun at the same time."

"Exactly, sir."

"So, throw her together constantly with an ex-boyfriend."

"Lady Christina would not forsake the prince for another, not at this stage. She's an honorable woman."

The king nearly tumbled out of his chair. "Whoa, my heart! Can it take the strain! I thought you said something nice about her."

"It's the dry air in here."

"Well, shit, I guess I don't care, if Davey doesn't."

"I don't care," his son lied.

The king studied his heir for a long moment. Fuckit. This might be what finally gets the kid to shit or get off the pot. He's been way too laid back about all of this. "Fine. So, the cop's Christina's new bodyguard."

"Fine."

"Indefinitely? We clear that with his boss back home?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. His captain realizes this is good publicity—for a change—for the LA.P.D., and has extended Detective Carlson's paid leave indefinitely."

"Well. That settles that, I guess."

"I guess," the prince said distantly.

Chapter 18

Kurt still couldn't believe the size of his room. He'd expected … he didn't know, something like what he got when he stayed at Motel 6. A really nice Motel 6. Instead, he was worried that Edmund guy had given him the king's room by mistake.

Heck, the whole place was beyond amazing. The country was gorgeous—it all looked like Northern California, except (bad Kurt!) maybe a little better. The people were unbelievably nice. The palace was ultra-cool.

Yep, Christina had really gotten herself a sweet deal. As usual, the crazy cutie had fallen face-first into a pile of crap and gotten up covered with diamonds.

Except… she wasn't happy here. Couldn't be. No way—not the Chris he knew. For one thing, look at this place! Everything was a priceless antique.

For another, check the fiance. Chris so totally did not dig the I'm-not-as-stiff-as-I-look-okay-I-guess-I-am type. Even if he was supersmart. And richer than God. And was gonna have his own country someday.

Nope. He'd done the right thing, coming to Boston. He would—he would save Chris from herself!

Or, rather, he'd save her for him. She was the l'il chickie who got away.

Totally his fault; he knew it then, he knew it now. They'd been going out pretty heavily and then his roving eye had caused trouble and she'd shown up at the same party as his roving eye and some other bim whose name he couldn't even remember.

There had been harsh words, followed by a flying lamp and a mild concussion. He'd told her to take a hike. She'd told him to perform an impossible act on himself. He'd told her he'd rather do that than choke down another omelet she ruined by sprinkling thyme or whatever into it. She told him it'd be a cold day in hell before she made an omelet for him without spitting into it. Then she'd left. And he thought that was okay; he thought he was happy, he thought his concussion would heal up in no time.

They'd made up the next year, when time had softened her heart and woken him up to the colossal mistake he'd made. He didn't do anything about it then, because it was kind of a new thing, a nice thing, being friends with a woman who wasn't a cop, or a stripper. And he had time; they were both young.

He'd always planned to hook up with Chris again, knock her up, have her squeeze out a few l'il chicks, hang out, get old, all that good shit. Y'know, after. After he sowed some more oats and got ready to settle down and shit. Chris was a great gal and all, but not exactly a demon in the sack. He wanted to see a bit more of the world before settling on a single ice-cream flavor.

Then: the newspapers. All of 'em, it seemed. Christina this, Christina that, Christina was friggin' engaged—how's that for a cosmic yuk-yuk?—and now he had to fix it, fix them, and if Princey-poo got in his way, Kurt was gonna knock him on his ass.

Nothing personal. But this was his future wife they were making off with. Chris was born to be Mrs. Carlson, not-jeez, the idea!—Queen Christina.

There was a rap at his shiny door (thing was probably solid gold, he thought uneasily) and then the prince stepped inside, followed by that super-tall dude, Edmund, and a guy not quite as tall, but sure broad through the shoulders. He had salt-and-pepper-colored hair, and his handshake swallowed up Kurt's hand; it was like being close to an aging quarterback, one who could still plow through the field if he had to. He had intense blue eyes, and—and looked a lot like an older, craggier version of Princey-poo, come to think of it.

"Hey, fellas," he said, retrieving his squashed hand with some difficulty. It was a lot like shaking hands with an old grizzly bear that had a few swipes left in his claws. "Hey, dude. You must be the king. Nice place you got here."

"Hello, Detective Car—"

"Dudes, dudes! I'm not on the job. My name's Kurt."

"Kurt, appreciate you coming back with my kid here."

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