Royals & Rogues

By: Heather Long

“That’s what they all say.” Challenge accepted. She didn’t offer anything more and bodyguards didn’t add to the conversation. Then again, maybe they weren’t paid to chat. Forty-five minutes later, he followed the long drive from the gatehouse to the first set of cabins. Most of his normal “guests” would stay in these outliers. Because of Frankie’s security concerns, he had her placed in the cabin nearest his. Both sat out behind the main house. Her security would have the third, and smallest, cabin. His parents were on a cruise, so the only occupants at the house currently were the cook and the housekeeper—both hired to look after his parents as well as provide for their guests on an as needed basis. The cook enjoyed making hearty and palatable food.

Maybe he should have put them in the main house, but the cabins could be modified for barracks as needed. Plus, if anyone really did come to Camp Grunt to find the princess, the main house was the first place they’d look. He’d have to let Cookie know. The cook had been a Marine for forty years before age and retirement had him looking for work in the private sector. He cooked because he liked to work for a living. He came to Camp Grunt because Hugh needed the assistance with his father’s illness and with updating the property for training.

After dropping the princess and her bodyguards off to inspect her quarters and theirs, he parked the SUV and secured it then headed into the house. It was evening, and the sun set on their way back from the airport. The scent of chili welcomed him as he made his way to the kitchen.

“You’re late,” Cookie said, delivering the charge with a slam of a butcher blade through meat on the cutting board.

“It was a long drive after a long flight. I had to give the lady a break so she could use the restroom.” Not that she accepted the offer, but he had made it. Sliding onto a seat at the tall chair at the bar across from the kitchen, he reached for one of the chips in the bowl. They crunched some, but they were still on the stale side. He didn’t care. Cookie wiped his hands on an apron then ladled some chili into a bowl.

The hot spicy scent burned his nostrils perfectly. “Smells good.”

“Uh huh.” Cookie grunted and returned to his chopping. “Camp kicks off Tuesday, ten arrivals today. Another ten tomorrow and the princess.”

It cracked the cook up when he’d told him about the woman coming in. Crumbling the stale chips into the top of the chili, Hugh nodded. “Sounds about right. We all stocked for the next three weeks?”

“Yeah, no need to do store runs, and the walk-in freezer is stocked up. Three of our early arrivals walk more like personal security. They checked out her cabin just like you suspected and yours, too.” The older man chopped through the chicken at speed.

“We expected more security than just two bodyguards.” The downside of hosting royalty at Camp Grunt, the major specified, would be the special interest taken by the family and their security forces. Hugh had met the head of the Andraste family’s U.S. security when he’d been considering leaving the Marines. Recommended by the major, they’d offered him a potential position, but Hugh hadn’t been interested in being a bodyguard. Despite a lucrative job offer and significant income boost, he wanted to work for himself and look after his family.

Trailing a royal family around the globe wouldn’t give him much time to be at home with his father or provide much in the way of personal support for his mother. The chili burned a path along his esophagus and warmed his gut. Most of the time Cookie kept the meals mild, as they could never be sure of their guests’ preferences.

“They aren’t asking for any special considerations.” Cookie slid the diced chicken into a bowl before starting on another breast. “How much trouble are you expecting with this princess?”

“None.” He’d done his homework. “Her cousins are more likely targets than she is, based on the family ties… Male heirs carry more weight. She’s like—tenth in line, I think it was—for head of the family.”

“Huh.” Cookie rubbed his chin with his wrist, careful not to spread any of the chicken juice on his gloved hands to his face. “Seems like a lot of trouble to go for someone who isn’t even in line for a real throne.”

“Real or not, there have been attempts on other members of the family, and they’d rather be safe than sorry. So we keep the camp on lockdown. Nobody we don’t know on property.” Every man coming in for an interview was someone Hugh had a history with or had vetted extensively. Shifting his weight, he glanced at the windows overlooking the cabins in the back. Another perk of sitting in the kitchen—he could keep an eye on her personally. “We give her hell, let her get a taste for what being in the Marines is like, then send her happy royal-self home to lick her wounded pride.”

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