H.R.H.: Excerpt

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Chapter One

Christianna stood at her bedroom window, looking down at the hillside in the pouring rain. She was watching a large white dog, soaking wet with matted hair, digging excitedly in the mud. Every now and then he would look up at her and wag his tail, and then return to digging again. He was the Great Pyrenees her father had given her eight years before. His name was Charles, and in many ways he was her best friend. She laughed as she watched him chase a rabbit that eluded him and promptly disappeared. Charles barked frantically and then splashed happily through the mud again, looking for something else to pursue. He was having a great time, as Christianna was, watching him. It was the last of summer and the weather was still warm. She had returned to Vaduz in June, after four years of college in Berkeley. Coming home had been something of a shock, and so far the best thing about her homecoming was Charles. Other than her cousins in England and Germany, and acquaintances throughout Europe, her only friend was Charles. She led a sheltered and isolated life, and always had. It seemed unlikely she would see her Berkeley friends again.

As she watched the dog disappear toward the stables, Christianna hurried out of her room, intent on going outside and following him. She grabbed her riding slicker and a pair of rubber boots she used to muck out her horse’s stall, and ran down the back stairs. She was grateful that no one noticed her, and a moment later she was outside, sliding through the mud and running after the big white dog. She called his name, and in an instant he bounded up to her, nearly knocking her down. He wagged his tail, splashing water everywhere, put a muddy paw on her, and when she bent to stroke him, he reached up and licked her face, and then ran away again as she laughed. Together, they ran side by side along the bridle path. It was too wet today to ride.

When the dog strayed from the path, she called his name, he hesitated only for an instant, and then came back to her each time. He was normally well behaved, but the rain excited him, as he ran and barked. Christianna was having as much fun as the dog. After nearly an hour, slightly out of breath, she stopped, the dog panting heavily beside her. She took a shortcut then, and half an hour later, they were once again back where they began. It had been a wonderful outing for both mistress and dog, and each looked as disreputable and disheveled as the other. Christianna’s long, almost white-blond hair was matted to her head, her face was wet, and even her eyelashes were stuck together. She never wore makeup, unless she had to go out or was likely to be photographed, and she was wearing the jeans she had brought back from Berkeley. They were a souvenir of her lost life. She had loved every moment of her four years at UC Berkeley. She had fought hard to be allowed to go. Her brother had gone to Oxford, and her father had suggested the Sorbonne for her. Christianna had been adamant about going to college in the States, and her father had finally relented, though reluctantly. Going that far from home spelled freedom to her, and she had reveled in each day she was there, and had hated to come home when she graduated in June. She had made friends she missed sorely now, they were part of another life she missed so much. She had come home to face her responsibilities, and do what was expected of her. To Christianna, it felt like a heavy burden, lightened only by moments such as these, running through the woods with her dog. The rest of the time since coming home, she had felt as though she were in prison, serving a life sentence. There was no one she could have said that to, and doing so would have made her sound ungrateful for all she had. Her father was extremely kind to her. He had sensed, more than seen, her sadness since returning from the States. But there was nothing he could do about it. Christianna knew as well as he did that her childhood, and the freedom she had enjoyed in California, had come to an end.

Charles looked up at his mistress questioningly as they reached the end of the bridle path, as though asking her if they really had to go back.

“I know,” Christianna said softly, patting him, “I don’t want to either.” The rain felt gentle on her face, and she didn’t mind getting soaked, or her long blond mane getting wet, any more than the dog did. The slicker protected her, and her boots were caked with mud. She laughed as she looked at him, thinking it was hard to believe that this muddy brown dog was really white.

She needed the exercise, as did the dog. He wagged his tail as he looked at her, and then with a slightly more decorous step, they walked home. She was hoping to slip in the back door, but getting Charles into the house, in his disreputable condition, would be a greater challenge. He was too filthy to take upstairs, and she knew she would have to take him in through the kitchen. He was in desperate need of a bath after their muddy walk.

She opened the kitchen door quietly, hoping to escape attention for as long as possible, but as soon as she opened it, the enormous muddy dog bounded past her, dashed into the middle of the room, and barked with excitement. So much for a quiet entrance, Christianna smiled ruefully, and glanced apologetically at the familiar faces around her. The people who worked in her father’s kitchen were always kind to her, and sometimes she wished that she could still sit among them, enjoying their company and the friendly atmosphere, as she had as a child. But those days were over for her as well. They no longer treated her as they had when she and her brother Friedrich were children. Friedrich was ten years older than she, and was traveling in Asia for the next six months. Christianna had turned twenty-three that summer.

Charles was still barking and, shaking the water off enthusiastically, had splattered nearly everyone around him with mud, as Christianna tried vainly to subdue him.

“I’m so sorry,” she said as Tilda, the cook, wiped her face with her apron, shook her head, and smiled good naturedly at the young woman she had known since birth. She signaled quickly to a young man, who rushed to lead the dog away. “I’m afraid he got awfully dirty,” Christianna said with a smile to the young man, wishing she could bathe the dog herself. She liked doing it, but she knew it was unlikely they would let her. Charles yelped unhappily as he was led away. “I don’t mind bathing him . . . ,” Christianna said, but the dog was already gone.

“Of course not, ma’am,” Tilda said, frowning at her, and then used a clean towel to wipe Christianna’s face as well. If Christianna had still been a child, she would have scolded her and told her that she looked worse than the dog. “Would you like some lunch?” Christianna hadn’t even thought of it, and shook her head. “Your father is still in the dining room. He just finished his soup. I could send something up for you.” Christianna hesitated, and then nodded. She hadn’t seen him all day, and she enjoyed the quiet moments they shared when he wasn’t working, and had a few minutes to himself, which was rare. He was usually surrounded by assorted members of his staff, and was in a rush to get to meetings. It was a treat for him to enjoy a meal alone, especially with her. She cherished the time they spent together. The only reason she had willingly come home from Berkeley was for him. There had been no other choice, although she would have loved to go on to graduate school just so she could stay in the States. She didn’t dare ask. She knew the answer would have been no. Her father wanted her at home. She knew she had to be doubly responsible because her brother wasn’t at all. If Friedrich had been willing to shoulder his responsibilities, it would have lightened the burden on her. But there was no hope of that.

She left her slicker hang
ing on a peg outside the kitchen, and took off her boots. They were noticeably smaller than any other pair there. She had tiny feet, and was so small she was almost a miniature. In flat shoes, her brother often teased her that she looked like a little girl, particularly with her long blond hair, which was still hanging wet down her back. She had small delicate hands, a perfect figure nothing like a child’s, although she was very slight and always just a little bit too thin, and a face like a cameo. People said she looked like her mother, and somewhat like her father, who was as fair as she was, although both he and her brother were very tall, well over six feet. Christianna’s mother had been as small as she was and had died when Christianna was five, and Friedrich was fifteen. Their father had never remarried. Christianna was the lady of the house, and was often her father’s hostess now at important dinners or events. It was one of the responsibilities expected of her, and although she didn’t enjoy it, it was a duty she performed lovingly for him. She and her father had always been extremely close. He had always been sensitive to the fact that it had been hard for her growing up without a mother. And in spite of his many duties, he had made every effort to be both father and mother to her, not always an easy task.

Christianna bounded up the back stairs in jeans, sweater, and stocking feet. She arrived in the pantry slightly breathless, nodded at the people there, and slipped quietly into the dining room. Her father was sitting at the dining table alone, poring over a stack of papers, wearing his glasses, with a serious look on his face. He didn’t hear Christianna come in. He glanced up and smiled as she slipped silently in to the chair beside him. He was obviously pleased to see his daughter, he always was.

“What have you been up to, Cricky?” He had called her that since she was a little girl. He gently patted her head as she leaned over to kiss him, and he noticed her wet hair. “You’ve been out in the rain. Were you riding in this weather?” He worried about her, more than he did about Freddy. Christianna had always been so small and seemed so fragile to him. Ever since losing his wife to cancer eighteen years before, he had treated their daughter like the priceless gift she had been to them when she was born. She looked so much like her mother. His late wife had been exactly the age Christianna was now when he married her. She was French, half Orleans and half Bourbon, the two royal families of France, who had been the ruling monarchy before the French Revolution. Christianna was descended from royal families on all sides. Her father’s ancestors were mostly German, with cousins in England. Her father’s native tongue was German, though he and Christianna’s mother had always spoken French, as she did with her children. Once she was gone, in her memory, Christianna’s father had continued speaking to his children in French. It was still the language in which Christianna was most comfortable, and which she preferred, although she spoke German, Italian, Spanish, and English as well. Her English had improved immeasurably during her years in college in California, and she was totally fluent now.

“You shouldn’t go out riding in the rain,” he scolded her gently. “You’ll catch a cold, or worse.” He always feared her getting ill, excessively so, he acknowledged, since the death of his wife.

“I wasn’t riding,” she explained. “I just went for a run with the dog.” As she said it, a footman set her soup down in front of her, in delicate two-hundred-year-old gold-rimmed Limoges. The set had been her French grandmother’s, and Christianna knew there were many equally handsome services of china from her father’s ancestors as well. “Are you very busy today, Papa?” Christianna asked quietly, as he nodded, and pushed his papers away with a sigh.

“No more than usual. So many problems in the world, so many things that can’t be solved. Human problems are so complicated these days. Nothing is simple anymore.” Her father was well known for his humanitarian concerns. It was one of the many things she admired about him. He was a man worthy of respect, and was regarded with great affection by all who knew him. He was a man of compassion, integrity, and courage, and had set a powerful example for her and her brother to follow. Christianna learned from his example and listened to what he said. Freddy was far more self-indulgent, and paid no attention to his father’s edicts, wisdom, or requests. Freddy’s indifference to what was expected of him made her feel as though she had to attend to duties and uphold traditions for them both. She knew how disappointed her father was in his son, and she felt she had to make it up to him somehow. And in fact, Christianna was much more like her father, and was always interested in his projects, particularly those involving indigent people in underdeveloped countries. She had done volunteer work several times, in poor areas in Europe, and had never been happier than when she did.

He explained his latest endeavors to her as she listened to him with interest and commented from time to time. Her ideas on the subject were intelligent and well thought out, he had always had a deep respect for her mind. He only wished his son had her brains and drive. And he knew only too well that she felt she had been wasting her time ever since she got home. He had recently suggested that she consider studying law or political science in Paris. It was a way of keeping her busy and challenging her mind, and Paris was close enough to home. She had many relatives there, on her mother’s side, could stay with them, and come home to see him often. Although she would have liked it, even at her age, there wasn’t even the remotest possibility of her staying in an apartment on her own. She was still mulling over his plan, but she was more interested in doing something useful that would make a difference to other people, than in going back to school. At his father’s insistence, Freddy had graduated from Oxford, and had a master’s degree in business from Harvard, which was of no use to him, given the life he led. Her father would have allowed Christianna to study something more esoteric, if she chose to, though she was an excellent student and a very serious girl, which was why he thought law or political science would suit her well.

His assistant entered the dining room apologetically as they finished coffee, and smiled at Christianna. He was almost like an uncle to her, and had worked for her father during her entire life. Most of the people around them had worked for him for years.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Your Highness,” the older man said cautiously. “You have an appointment with the finance minister in twenty minutes, and we have some new reports on Swiss currency that I thought you might want to read before you speak with him. And our ambassador to the United Nations will be here to see you at three-thirty.” Christianna knew her father would be busy until dinner, and more than likely his presence would be required at either a state or official event. Sometimes she went with him, if he asked her to. Otherwise she stayed home, or appeared briefly at similar events herself. In Vaduz, there were no casual evenings for her with friends, as there had been in Berkeley. Now there was only duty, responsibility, and work.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from H.R.H. by Danielle Steel Copyright © 2006 by Danielle Steel. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.