Her Highness and the Highlander(4)

By: Tracy Anne Warren


She said nothing at first, then seemed to rally, drawing herself upright. “I would prefer to discuss the incident with this…Mr. McCrawber…once he can be summoned. In the meantime, I should like a room with a warm fire, a hot bath, and a meal, if you please. You will be recompensed in full for your services once my family and friends can be notified.”

“Is that so?” The innkeeper folded his arms over his chest. “And just who is yer family? And these friends o’ yers? Where dae they live?”

Daniel stilled so as not to miss her answer. The rest of the patrons did as well, the unusual woman in their midst proving to be as entertaining as a play.

“My friends are the Earl of Lyndhurst—although he was recently made an archduke as well—and his wife, Her Highness Princess Emmaline of Rosewald,” she explained. “They are at present in residence at their London town house for the Season. Another of my friends, Princess Ariadne, is staying with them for the summer. As for my family, my parents are Crown Prince Frederick and Princess Marie-Louise of Alden.”

Silence hummed through the room like a living being.

“Alden is on the Continent in case you are unfamiliar with my country,” she added, as if she believed that to be the cause of all their wide-eyed stares. “It is small and not as well known as others, such as Prussia or Austria-Hungary. Many people are only vaguely aware of it.”

Once again no one said a word.

“Now, if you will bring me a pen and paper, I shall write to my friends with all necessary haste,” she continued. “You do have a rider, I trust, who can relay a message for me?”

The innkeeper thrust out an arm and pointed toward the door. “Get oot!” he bellowed.

“What?” Her eyes widened in surprise.

“I saed tae get oot o’ me place.”

“But—”

“I’ll nae have more o’ yer lies. Yer father’s a prince, is he?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Och, aye,” the man mocked. “And me own cousin is Bonnie Prince Charlie and me mither’s the queen.”

The room exploded with laughter—everyone roaring as they pounded fists on tables and wiped tears of mirth from their eyes. The only exception was Daniel, who studied her as she surveyed the others, her brows drawing tight with obvious confusion and dismay.

Until that moment he hadn’t known if she was simply telling tall tales and was indeed the liar the innkeeper assumed her to be. But Daniel could clearly see that she believed what she was saying. He had worried before that she was in shock, and now he knew it for certain.

What had happened to her out on that road? he wondered. What had frightened her so much that she would feel the need to take refuge in such an elaborate and unbelievable fantasy?

A princess from a small European nation.

Well, he had to give her credit for being inventive because as far as stories went, hers was a corker.

“’Ere, now,” the innkeeper shouted above the crowd, puffing out his chest and strutting around with his thumbs tucked into his apron. “Look at me. I’m a bluidy prince. Who’s gonna bring me mae crown?”

“Don’t know aboot yer crown, Angus,” one of the patrons called. “But I’ve got yer throne right ’ere.” With that, the man thrust an empty chamber pot into the air and waved it around by the handle.

A fresh explosion of laughter burst forth, so loud this time that it seemed to shake the smoke-blackened ceiling timbers and scarred wooden floors.

The young woman looked lost, as if the world around her had suddenly gone mad.

The innkeeper, as though just then remembering the cause of all this frivolity, turned toward her again. “Are ye still ’ere, ye lying wee vagrant? Or do ye not have the sense God gave a goose and know when ter be gone? Now get oot or I’ll ’ave me loyal subjects ’ere dae the bootin’ fer me.”

She blinked, her skin paling alarmingly again, clearly sensing the potentially dangerous change in the air.

Daniel moved forward and took up a protective stance at her side. “There’ll be no need for that,” he stated with calm authority. “I shall take responsibility for this young woman since she is obviously in need of aid. Now, if you would ask one of your serving maids to come over, she can show this lady upstairs to a room.”

The innkeeper gave a snort at the term lady, then shot him a challenging look. “Ye’re payin’ her keep, is that right?”

“Aye,” Daniel retorted firmly. “I’m paying.”

The man opened his mouth as if to debate the matter further, then shut it again and shrugged. “Weel, it’s yer coin ter waste.”