Danielle Steel: H.R.H.

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Danielle Steel H.R.H.
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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 into 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 Orléans 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.

“Thank you, Wilhelm. I'll be downstairs in a few minutes,” her father said quietly.

His assistant bowed discreetly to both of them, and silently left the room, as Christianna looked at him and sighed, her chin in her hands. She looked younger than ever, and somewhat troubled, as her father looked at her and smiled. She was so pretty, and a very good girl. He knew her official duties had weighed on her since she got back, just as he had feared they would. The responsibilities and burden they carried were not easy for a girl of twenty-three. The inevitable restrictions she had to live with were bound to chafe, just as they had him at her age. They would weigh heavily on Freddy too when he got back in the spring, although Freddy was far more artful about dodging his responsibilities than either his father or his sister. Fun was Freddy's only job now, a full-time career for him. Since leaving Harvard, he had indulged himself constantly. It was all he did, and he had no desire to grow up or change.

“Don't you get tired of what you do, Papa? It exhausts me just watching all you squeeze into every day.” His hours were seemingly endless, though he never complained. His sense of obligation was part of who he was.

“I enjoy it,” he said honestly, “but I didn't at your age.” He was always truthful with her. “I hated it at first. I think I told my father I felt like I was in prison, and he was horrified. One grows into it in time. You will too, my dear.” There was no alternate course for either of them, except the one that had been set for them at their birth and for centuries before. Like her father, Christianna accepted it as her lot in life.

Christianna's father, Prince Hans Josef, was the reigning Prince of Liechtenstein, a principality of 160 square kilometers, with thirty-three thousand inhabitants, bordered by Austria on one side and Switzerland on the other. It was entirely independent and had been neutral since the Second World War. Its neutrality set the stage for the prince's humanitarian interest in oppressed and suffering people around the world. Of all the things her father did, his humanitarian pursuits were what interested Christianna most. World politics were of less interest to her, and more her father's passion, out of necessity. Freddy had no interest in either, although he was the crown prince of the principality, and would step into his father's shoes as ruler one day. Although Christianna would have been third in line to the throne in other European countries, in Liechtenstein women were not allowed to reign, so even if her brother did not take his place as reigning prince, Christianna would never rule her country, and had no desire to do so, although her father liked to say proudly that she would have been capable of it, more so than her brother. Christianna did not envy her brother the role he would inherit from their father one day. She had enough trouble accepting her own. She knew that from the day she returned from college in California her life would be here now forever, carrying on her duties, and doing what was expected of her. There was no question and no choice. She was like a fine Thoroughbred racehorse with only a single course to run, that of supporting her father, in the small unimportant ways she could. More often than not, the work she did seemed utterly meaningless to her. She felt as though she was wasting her life in Vaduz.

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