So there I was selling bikinis out of my truck in South Beach Miami, getting ready to kick off a wet t-shirt contest when the world’s biggest grouch approached me - Keller Fitzwilliam.
The man had the sultriest British accent I've ever heard. And he looked like he just walked off a Viking boat and into a suit tailored specifically for his impressively muscular frame. Only problem is, he had the warmth of an ice pick and he kept telling me he was here to take me back to his home country.
Of course, I didn't follow him. I might be up for a good time, but I'm also educated enough to know leaving with a stranger isn't smart. Well, that's until he mentioned my mom's name. My mom who passed away several years ago.
So after some serious fact-checking, my bikini-clad bum went with him to a sub-arctic country I had never heard of just north of the British Isles, where I found out my grandpa was the king of said freezing country, and I was the one and only heir.
Desperate to learn more about my mom, I decided to give this princess thing a chance.
Good idea, right? Wrong.
Because Mr. Ice Pick was put to the task of training me and he’s not just cold as ice, he’s pompous, aggravating, and possessive. And did I mention we have to share a bathroom in a tiny castle?
We are oil and water every single day and even though he’s training me to be queen, I have this simmering desire to kneel before him.
Release date: August 9, 2022
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Royally Not Ready
I adjust my tie and then push through the ornate, wood-carved door to the king’s bedroom. The curtains are drawn despite the time. Just the smallest of cracks in the velvet fabric let the morning rays filter through, lighting up the room so I can see King Theodore resting in his four-poster bed, covered in heavy burgundy fabric.
His attending doctor, Armann, buckles up his bag, adjusts the spectacles on his nose, and then heads toward the door.
“See you tomorrow,” King Theodore calls out.
“Yes, tomorrow.” Armann glances in my direction, offering an annoyed glare, before he heads out of the bedroom, leaving me alone with the last-remaining royal.
“Keller, my boy—” He turns his mouth into his crooked elbow and heaves a horrendous cough that has plagued him for the last few weeks. After two bouts of pneumonia, Dr. Armann has now placed him on bed rest in order to get him back to his fully functioning self. “Excuse me.” He takes a deep breath, but it falls short from the lack of lung capacity. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
As the private secretary to the king, I’m his right-hand man, his most trusted advisor. Unfortunately for me, it’s been an uphill battle with this job. My predecessor had forty-five years on me before he passed away, and when I was hired, few believed a thirty-two-year-old belonged in this position. The only person who’d trusted me was King Theodore, or Theo, as I call him only when we’re alone.
By the side of his bed, there’s a burgundy wingback chair that I take a seat in. Pen and notebook in hand, I cross one leg over the other and say, “It sounded urgent when you called me.”
“Yes, well, this is an urgent matter,” he says right before coughing again. His light blue eyes squeeze shut, and the sparse pieces of hair on the top of his head hitch with every violent hack. He rests his head on his pillow and presses his large, meaty hand to his chest. “I need you to find her.”
Confused, I shift in my seat and ask, “Find who?”
He’s silent, catching his breath before he opens his eyes and says, “The only heir left.”
This is where things get tricky.
Let me give you a quick rundown.
Theo is an only child and the sovereign of our country. He married Katla and had four children.
They more than covered the old verbiage, “we need an heir and a spare.” They doubled down.
Pala was born first. The picture-perfect princess who always wore lavender, delighted the people with her flower crowns, and was well-known to try to sneak her cat, Norbit, into every state dinner. When she was at university, she met Prince Clinton of Marsedale, fell madly in love, and married him. But, because Clinton would one day become king of Marsedale, that trumped Pala’s throne, and she abdicated to live with him. It’s a sore subject.
Second born is Rolant, the troublemaker. Always pressing his luck, never following the rules, and single-handedly created the Fire Task Force—also known as Rolant fucked up, and now we need to put out the fire. His demise was inevitable. One drunk night led to him rolling around on one-thousand-year-old sacred moss, and the next day, he was exiled from the country.
Third born, the most promising of the four, despite being the third in line for the throne, is Sveinn. The listener, the do-gooder, the humanitarian. Known as the earth lover, Sveinn was good at everything. He married Kristin. After five years of marriage and no offspring, they were brought into the king’s quarters where Kristin admitted to having an affair with her lady’s maid. A brilliant lesbian love affair. They ran off together. Sveinn, on the other hand, found the nearest boat, set sail, and is still yet to be found—despite the king’s men’s best seafaring efforts—six months later.
So that brings us to Margret, the youngest. Fascinated with travel, she was bound and determined to flee from the chilling temperatures of her homeland and explore the humid climate of Miami, where she met the love of her life, Cameron Campbell, a larger-than-life food tour guide. And together, they had one child.
“You want me to find your American granddaughter?” I ask.
Theo slowly nods his head. “You must. Without her, we jeopardize losing our country.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, now leaning forward.
“As you are aware, we are a constituent of Arkham, and according to our bylaws, if there is no heir to the throne, then the monarchy dies with me.”
Which would be detrimental to the country.
“And with the battles we’ve fought over the years with Arkham, there is no doubt they will not only destroy our culture, but they’ll take over our people.” A cough bubbles up and he sputters a few moments before regaining himself. “I can’t have that.” With his tired eyes fixated on me, he says, “If it were my choice, you, my son, would take my place, but it must be blood.”
“I know,” I say, my throat choking up.
I failed to mention the fifth child because the fifth doesn’t matter. The fifth grew up in the palace just like the other four, but lost his servant parents at twelve, was orphaned, and then one fateful Christmas Eve was taken in by the king and queen.
He has no right to the crown.
Instead, he . . . or I . . . have dedicated myself to protecting what is mine. This palace, and this man resting on the bed in front of me, practically lifeless with a gray complexion, are mine to protect.
“I need you to find her, Keller, and I need you—” He coughs again. I wait patiently for him to finish before picking up a glass of water from his night table and offering it to him. He nods as a thank you and takes a sip. “I need you to train her.”
My concerned brow pinches together. “Train her?”
He nods slowly before resting his head on the pillow. “Yes, she will not know of our country, our traditions, or our culture. If she is to take the crown, she must be prepared. The country will not take kindly to an outsider.” His tired eyes flash to mine. “And if anyone can prepare the next sovereign, it’s you.”
“Three . . . two . . . one!”
My truck siren goes off.
The crowd erupts in cheers.
I unleash my hose, spraying the men and women wearing white T-shirts in front of me.
“Shimmy for me. That’s right,” I shout into my headpiece, my voice projected by the speakers attached to my bikini truck. “Let me see your best moves.”
Two girls to the right rub their thong-clad butts together.
The man directly in front of me pelvic thrusts at the crowd while sporting a cowboy hat.
And the couple to the left, well . . . they’ve stopped dancing and are now just making out, drinks clasped in their hands.
“Dry me up,” I say to Timmy Tuna, my best friend and co-founder of the Splash Wagon, South Beach Miami’s one and only bikini-and-swimsuit store on wheels.
He turns off my hose and then sounds the siren one more time. Timmy Tuna moonlights as a DJ down at the Neon Bar. He’s well-known for playing his remixes of popular Afro-Cuban music. He can get a crowd jumping with one beat drop.
“Do we have a winner, folks?” I ask into my microphone. The crowd cheers, boisterously calling out who they think looks best in a wet T-shirt. I walk up to the couple on the left and hold my hand next to them. “Who wants the couple who can’t keep their hands off each other to win?” The crowd cheers. I motion to the two girls on the right. “What about these two ladies?” The crowd grows louder. And when I approach the single guy in the front who is still pelvic thrusting the crowd, I ask, “And what about our single gentleman?” The crowd erupts.
It’s clear who the champion is.
I knew he was going to win.
It’s always the man with the beer belly that wins. Every single time.
I lift his arm and say, “We have a winner!” I hand him a gift card to the Wagon while everyone cheers some more. “Clap it up for the rest of our contestants, who are all receiving a twenty-five-percent off coupon to the Wagon.” Timmy Tuna sounds off a blowhorn and then hands out the coupons. “Before we close up for the afternoon, I’ll walk around as always for some simple Q and A.”
After every wet T-shirt contest, I always work with the crowd to see if I can drive business to any of my local friends. In my lime-green triangular bikini top and yellow sarong, I walk up to a couple who have so much sunscreen on, that their faces have been washed out with white goop.
“Do you have any questions about the area?”
“Yes.” The gentleman clears his throat. “Where is the best place to get a Cuban sandwich?”
Smiling, I cup my ear and ask, “Best Cuban, folks?”
Together, the crowd shouts, “Peter Palms!”
I smile at them and say, “Down the road to the right. Tell them Lilly from the Wagon sent you. They’ll give you ten percent off.”
I move to a group of single ladies.
“Anything I can help you with?”
“We need men,” they whine, but in a cute, pouty-face way. “Where can we find the perfect man for a one-night stand?”
I turn toward Timmy and say, “Timmy Tuna, we need some single men.”
From his perched spot on the hood of the Wagon, he shouts, “Word on the street is, some of the single players from the Vancouver Agitators are in town and they’re staying at Moxy Miami. The bar serves the best rum runners in town. Tell them Timmy Tuna sent you, and get your first drink for free.”
The girls squeal and take off. Bet some hockey players get lucky tonight.
I turn to the right and spot a beautiful man—tall, broad-shouldered with blond hair and a menacing scowl. He’s dressed in stark black dress pants and a black button-up dress shirt. The sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, displaying ink wrapped around his thick forearms. His presence feels threatening, like someone is about to get into a world of trouble. Thankfully, it’s not me.
“Looks like someone didn’t get the swimsuit memo,” I say as I walk up to him. “Dear sir, do you realize it’s summer in Miami?”
His chin juts out as his jaw grows tight, displeasure written all over his face. Maybe someone needs to grab a rum runner with the ladies.
“I need to speak with you,” he says in a low tone. The type of tone a father would use when he catches his teenager partying past curfew.
But, hey, I’m here to help, despite the puzzling expression on this man’s face.
“Sure,” I say into the microphone. “What can I assist you with? Looking for some cigars? Maybe a decent lap dance to help you loosen up? Not saying I’m willing, but I have been known to offer a lap dance with the right drink in me.”
His eyes narrow. Nostrils flare.
Man, he might need more than a drink and a lap dance.
“Privately,” he says through clenched teeth. “I need to speak with you privately.”
Oh, okay, psycho. Yeah, let me just go somewhere private with the angry man. Sounds like a really good idea.
Keeping a smile on my face, I say, “Flattered, but I fly solo.”
I turn to talk to someone else when I hear him say, “It’s pertaining to your mom. Margret.”
My body freezes, my muscles stilling from the mention of my mom’s name.
Slowly, I turn back around and remove my headset so my conversation isn’t blasted for all of Ocean Drive to hear. “What did you say?”
“I need to speak to you about your mother. I doubt you want to do this with a crowd.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black card. Printed in gold is a singular address. When I look back up at him, he says, “Eight tonight, meet me there.” His eyes scan my body before saying, “Wear something decent.”
“Excuse me?” I say. “How fucking dare you?”
But he’s turned around and walking away before I can expand on my tirade.
“What the actual fuck,” I say as Timmy walks up to me, the crowd now dispersing.
“Who was that?”
“Some sicko,” I say, still clutching the card. “Says he wants to speak to me privately, something to do with my mom.”
“Your mom who passed away when you were seventeen? Seems sketch. Need me to call the cops on him? You know Luis would be more than happy to do his blonde goddess a favor.” He isn’t wrong about it sounding sketch. Mom died when I was seventeen. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard someone speak her name.
I watch as the man gets into an unmarked black sedan, my mind reeling. “He knew my mom’s name. He said, Margret.”
“Yeah.” My hand shakes as I look down at the card again. “915 Washington Ave. Is that—is that the Moxy?”
“It is,” Timmy says. “Does he work there? Maybe he wants to hire you. Or maybe hire the Wagon for a private event.”
“But what would that have to do with my mom?” I ask.
“Not sure, but there’s only one way to find out.” He flicks the card in my hand.
“Are you saying I meet up with this man?”
“If he knows something about your mom, maybe about your dad? I would if I were you.”
I roll my teeth over my bottom lip as I continue to stare at the card.
Who is this man, walking in on my turf, looking like some sort of uptight security detail with his burly, tatted forearms and thick neck? And what could he possibly know about my mom?
Timmy is right, there’s only one way to find out.
But if he thinks I’m coming “decent,” then he has no clue who the hell he’s dealing with.
I flip my long blonde ponytail over my shoulder, adjust the deep V of my dress to make sure things are covered, and then, in my four-inch heels, I click-clack across the tiled floor of the Moxy, unsure of where to go from here.
All that was written on the card was the address. A name could have been useful. Possibly more of a meeting destination other than a vague address. But you know how it is with elusive men, they try to gain the upper hand with confusion. Little does he know, I’m not falling for his outdated tricks.
Instead, I stand in the middle of the lobby, people bustling around me, take a compact mirror out of my clutch, as well as my bright pink lipstick, which matches the boisterous flowers on my dress, and I reapply. I’m capping my lipstick when a man in a dark suit and sunglasses approaches me. “Miss Campbell, please follow me.”
I don’t move, and when he realizes that, he turns back around, a confused look on his face. Well, I assume he’s confused. Can’t really tell from the sunglasses and inanimate facial expression.
“Do you expect me to just follow you, a man I’ve never met before?” I shake my head. “Think again. I’m going to need to see your boss, or whoever sent you out here to get me. And I will need his name, as well. And his cell phone number.”
Looking far too confused, the man presses his finger to his ear and asks, “Did you hear that?” It’s all very secret service-type behavior, and it’s all quite comical. This is movie-quality theatrics, not everyday. “He will be right down.”
I know what you must be thinking—Lilly, what the hell are you doing? You don’t go off with strangers. And you’re right, I shouldn’t, but there’s something you have to understand—I lost my parents when I was seventeen to a horrible boating accident. I have no family. No grandparents, no brothers and sisters, no aunts and uncles. My dad was an only child, and his parents passed away when I was five. My mom, well, she never spoke of her side of the family. So, being the strong, confident, and smart twenty-seven-year-old that I am, I’d normally tell this man to fuck off and go on with my day following Miami’s trendsetters so I can make sure I have everything in stock in the Wagon. But, the little girl inside of me, the girl who misses her parents, the girl who will cling to any piece of them, she’s the one leading the show tonight.
Cut her some slack.
Folding my arms over my chest, I nod toward Mr. Suit and ask, “So, been doing this for long? You know, fetching young women for your boss?”
Stiff, avoiding me at all costs, he doesn’t say anything, but I catch his mouth twitch in humor.
“How much do they pay you? Do you have a gun? Or do you consider your hands lethal weapons? From the looks of it, they seem like Grade-A chokers. Have you ever choked anyone? Wait, don’t answer that, I don’t want to be an accomplice in your murders.”
He continues to look around, not saying a word.
“Ah, I see what’s going on. They must dock your pay every time you say something, right? You know, I get it. You have mouths to feed, probably. How many kids do you have? Wait, wait, let me guess, that will be more fun. Hmm.” I tap my chin. “I’m going to say ten. You look like the kind of man with strong lovemaking genes. Like a workhorse in bed, pounding that semen, one right after the other, having that wife pop them out—”
“Miss Campbell,” comes the silky, English voice from earlier.
I turn to see Mr. Mysterious standing behind me, still wearing the black pants and button-up shirt from earlier, but now he has a suit coat draped over his broad shoulders, and he’s clouded in a masculine scent that reads more like fresh mountain logger than shadowy assassin. Man, this guy. He’s got to be at least six three with a jacket size no smaller than forty-six long. They build them big where he’s from.
“Well, hello, there. How lovely of you to show up.” I thumb toward Suit. “Not much of a talker, this one. Do you dock his pay for talking?”
Completely ignoring my question, he says, “I believe you have requested my phone.” He reaches into his suit jacket and pulls out his phone. He offers it to me, holding it out in his large hand.
Take a look at those fingers. Hello, lover.
“Is that really a phone, or perhaps a bomb acting like a phone? I need you to prove to me that it’s a phone.”
That anger I saw rear up earlier reappears as he taps the screen, entering a passcode so fast that I only catch two numbers: three and eight. He then turns the screen to me, showing off his black wallpaper with all his apps lined up in folders.
“Who doesn’t have a wallpaper on their phone? Seems a bit psychotic, don’t you think?”
“Miss Campbell, what I have to talk to you about is of high importance. Please take the phone and follow me.”
I take the phone and then say, “First, I need to make a phone call.”
I might be following a strange man to God knows where, but I have gained some form of self-preservation over the last few years.
I punch in Timmy’s number and then put it on speaker.
“Timmy, baby, it’s me.”
“Do they have you captive? Remember our safe word.”
“We’re in the lobby. The Viking look-alike is about to take me wherever we’re going. Is Luis there?”
“Yes, he’s tracking the conversation.”
I smile to myself. “Good.” I glance up at the monstrous man in front of me and say, “You may proceed with wherever you’re taking me.”
The man adjusts the cuffs of his jacket and starts making his way through the lobby, me following behind him and the suit behind me. Like ducklings in a row, we cross the tiled floor.
We dodge a few of the single ladies looking for a good time from earlier. They already have drinks in hand and are eyeing the hotel bar for any incoming hockey players. We move past a restaurant full of the glitz and glam of vibrant Miami fashion and to a back door that leads to a private rooftop overlooking the pool.
“What’s going on?” Timmy asks over the phone. “Have they bound and gagged you?”
“No, they’re just taking me to a private rooftop area. It’s all very dreamy out here. We really need to hang out at the Moxy more.”
Flowers cascade down perfectly placed pergolas draped in string lights, and red couches line the back wall, with round, stone coffee tables placed in front of them. Candles are lit up on every surface, while the aroma of fresh flowers, sunscreen, and this evening’s dishes float through the air.
“You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you brought me up here to propose.” I glance around. “Is this some sort of hidden camera thing? One of those blind marry-me shows?” Calling out to empty space, I say, “Okay, camera crew, I’m onto you, come on out.”
The Viking gestures to a red couch and says, “Take a seat.”
Okay, he’s unamused.
I set my clutch on the coffee table in front of me and then maneuver my body down to the soft surface of the couch, sinking in further than I expected. I adjust my V-neck once again and when I glance up, I catch his eyes on me, studying.
“What?” I ask. “Did I have a nip slip?”
Without a word, he takes a seat next to me on the couch, not so close that I feel like he’s going to make a move, but not so far that I have to shout to have a conversation. A respectable distance.
“I thought I told you to wear something decent?”
“Ooo, I missed the memo on when you became the boss of my body.”
“Good one,” Timmy says on the phone.
“Thank you.” I chuckle.
“I’m going to need you to end that phone call,” the Viking says. “What I’m about to tell you is highly classified.”
“But they’re making sure I’m not murdered.”
“Trust me when I say it’s in my best interest not to murder you. Now hang up,” he says in such a forceful tone that I lean in to the speaker of the phone.
“Uh, I think I need to go. You have the phone pinned?”
“Yes,” Timmy answers. “Call me after. I want to know what’s highly classified.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll tell you later.” I hang up the phone and hand it over to its faithful owner.
He sticks it in his coat pocket as he says, “You will not be discussing this conversation outside of the two people involved: you and me.”
“Okay, sure.” I wink at him.
“Miss Campbell, this is not a joking matter.”
I cross one leg over the other and wave dismissively at him. “I’ll be the judge of that.” I rub my hands together and ask, “Okay, so what’s all the secrecy about?”
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