Danielle Steel: H.R.H.

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Danielle Steel H.R.H.
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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 hanging 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.

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