Royals & Rogues

By: Heather Long

Heather Long & Shelli Stevens & Carole Mortimer & Susan Stephens & JC Makk


Acknowledgments





Thank you to Virginia Nelson who has unfailingly cheered on the Going Royal series. I couldn’t do this without her. Thanks also to the fabulous Carole Mortimer who I’ve admired for years and am proud to call my friend, I adore that she, Susan, J.C. and Shelli invited me to be a part of this project.





Chapter One





Every slap of her sneakers against the asphalt sent a surge of energy through Frankie’s sleepy mind. She’d rolled out of bed at four-thirty promptly so she could encounter her father on his morning run. Though currently retired, her father served most of his adult life in the Royal Marines, first as a commando and later as an intelligence officer. She spent most of her childhood kissing his cheek in farewell as he went off to serve his native Britain. She and her sisters always remained at home with their mother. Like their mother, they were each a Grand Duchess by birth. Through their mother’s side of the family, they were princesses with Russian royal blood.

She didn’t run alone as she jogged along the walking paths of her parents’ Somerset Estate. Anders and Ford kept pace with her, one ahead and one behind. The two were part of a rotation of six bodyguards hired to escort her everywhere. Though Frankie didn’t see the point, she never argued or made a fuss about security. Her cousin had twice as much as she did, and he’d nearly died following a knife attack. Armand, as the head of her family, faced far more threats over the years.

One perk of being born a woman is most don’t see me as worth being targeted. Suffering a possible assassination was not a topic she discussed, even if her elder sisters did. Rose more than Ella, but then Ella rocked the boat even less than Frankie. And I’m about to make a lot of noise. She kept her breathing regular as she began to increase her pace. Her father’s regular running habit meant he started off at a brisker pace and maintained it. Even in his sixties, the man didn’t slow down. She had to ramp herself up to match him stride for stride, especially since he topped her by five inches.

Fortunately, she ran regularly enough her bodyguards were used to her routines. They adjusted accordingly, with Anders in the lead increasing his stride even as she did. Based on her calculations, she’d be at the end of her third kilometer circuit when her father hit the path. The chilly air blew against her skin as sweat began to bead along the back of her neck. She’d braided her hair, but the weight seemed to increase the sweat along her scalp.

Finding her stride, she considered unzipping her overlay. Lights ahead on the path and the whisper of a voice carried through the quiet halted the thought. Her father’s bodyguard—lucky bastard, he only had one following him when on property—appeared ahead. Anders called a soft greeting over their com channel then her father was there, and he fell in next to her.

“Francesca.” Only her father used her full name. Everyone else called her Frankie. Of course, she’d been named for his beloved grandmother, so perhaps that was why he preferred Francesca to Frankie.

“Papa.”

They ran in silence for less than fifteen meters before she felt the weight of her father’s glance. “What did Rose do?”

The question didn’t surprise her. Though twins, her elder sisters Rose and Ella couldn’t be more different. “Nothing.” Frankie tried not to laugh before she tacked on a quick, “That I know of.”

Her father didn’t share her amusement. In the yellow light of the lamps strategically illuminating their path, he spared her a quelling look. “What does Ella need then?”

“Do you really think the only reason I come to see you is because I need to cover for Rose or ask you something for Ella?” Talk about getting the conversation off on the wrong foot. She hadn’t meant to sound snippy, but unlike her sisters she didn’t rock the boat nor did she devote every hour to charity. She kept her head down, followed the rules, trained and got an education. In many ways, she was unremarkable. Still, her father’s presumption hurt.

“No,” he said, the agreeable note in his tone soothing her wounded pride. “In the last eighteen months, the only reason you’ve joined me on a run was to cover for one of them or butter me up for bad news.”

“Fair point.” Accepting the explanation, she concentrated on regulating her breathing. Although she’d already completed one circuit before he’d appeared, they were halfway through a second and he increased his stride. “How are you, Papa?”

“I’m well.” She didn’t mistake the formality of his stilted response with his discomfort or lack of interest. Rigid routines, controlled responses, and honor in all interactions dictated his actions. “You took the semester off from uni.”

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