Danielle Steel: H.R.H.

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Danielle Steel H.R.H.
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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.

“I hate what I do sometimes,” she said honestly, but she wasn't telling her father anything he didn't already know. He didn't have much time to reassure her, since he had the meeting with the finance minister in a few minutes, but the anguished look in his daughter's eyes touched him to the core. “I feel so useless here, Papa. As you said, with all the troubles in the world, why am I here, visiting orphanages and opening hospitals, when I could be somewhere else, doing something important?” She sounded plaintive and sad, as he gently touched her hand.

“What you're doing is important. You're helping me. I don't have time to do what you do for me. It means a great deal to our people to see you in their midst. It's exactly what your mother would have done, if she were still alive.”

“She did it by choice,” Christianna argued with him. “She knew when she married you that that would be her life. She wanted to do it. I always feel like I'm just passing time.” They both knew that if she followed her father's wishes, eventually she would marry someone of similarly high birth, and if he was a reigning prince like her father, or a crown prince like her brother, this was preparing her for that life. There was always the remote possibility that she would marry someone of lesser rank, but as a Royal Highness on one side, and a Serene one on the other, it was less than likely that she would marry anyone not of royal birth. Her father would never have allowed it. The Bourbons and Orléans were all Royal Highnesses on her mother's side. Her father's mother had been a Royal Highness as well. The reigning prince of Liechtenstein was a Serene Highness. By birth, Christianna was both, but her official title was “Serene.” They were related to the Windsors in England, the queen of England was their second cousin, Prince Hans Josef's family were Habsburgs, Hohenlohe, and Thurn und Taxis. The principality itself was closely allied to Austria and Switzerland, although there were no ruling families there. But every single one of Prince Hans Josef's and Christianna's and Freddy's relatives, and their ancestors before them, were of royal birth. Her father had told her since she was a little girl, that when she married, she was to stay within the confines of her world. It didn't occur to her to do otherwise.

The only time in Christianna's life when she had not been affected by their royal status on a daily basis was when she was away at college in California, where she lived in an apartment in Berkeley with a male and female bodyguard. She only confessed the truth to her two closest friends, who kept her secret religiously, as did the administration of the university, who were aware of it as well. Most of the people she had known there had had no idea who she was, and she loved it that way. She had blossomed in the rare anonymity, freed from the restrictions and obligations she had found so oppressive since her youth. In California, she was “almost” just another college girl. Almost. With two bodyguards, and a father who was a reigning prince. She was always vague when people asked her what kind of work her father did. Eventually, she learned to say he was in human rights, or public relations, sometimes politics, which were all essentially correct. She never used her own title while there. Few people she met seemed to know where Liechtenstein was anyway, or that it had its own language. She never told people that her family home was a royal palace in Vaduz, which had been built in the fourteenth century, and rebuilt in the sixteenth. Christianna had loved the independence and anonymity of her college years. Now everything had changed. In Vaduz, she was the Serene Highness again, and had to endure all that went with it. To her, being a princess felt like a curse.

“Would you like to join me at the meeting with our ambassador to the UN today?” her father offered, to try and cheer her up. She sighed and shook her head, as he stood up from the dining table, and she followed suit.

“I can't. I have to cut a ribbon at a hospital. I have no idea why we have so many hospitals.” She smiled ruefully. “I feel as though I cut one of those ribbons every day.” It was an exaggeration of course, but sometimes she felt that way.

“I'm sure it means a lot to them to have you there,” he said, and she knew it did. She just wished that there was something more useful for her to do, working with people, helping them, making their lives better in a concrete way, rather than wearing a pretty hat, a Chanel suit, and her late mother's jewels, or others from the official state vaults. Her mother's crown from her father's coronation was still there. Her father always said that Christianna would wear it on her wedding day. And she herself had been startled to discover how agonizingly heavy it was, when she tried it on, just like the responsibilities that went with it. “Would you like to join me at a dinner for the ambassador tonight?” Prince Hans Josef offered as he gathered up his papers. He didn't want to rush her, in her obvious misery, but he was late by then.

“Do you need me there?” Christianna asked politely, always respectful of him. She would have gone without complaint if he said yes.

“Not really. Only if you'd enjoy it. He's an interesting man.”

“I'm sure he is, Papa, but if you don't need me, I'd rather stay in jeans and go upstairs to read.”

“Or play on your computer,” he teased. She loved e-mailing her friends in the States, and still communicated with them often, although she knew that, inevitably, eventually the friendships would fade. Her life was just too different from theirs. She was a thoroughly modern princess, and a spirited young woman, and sometimes she felt the weight of who she was and what was expected of her like a ball and chain. She knew Freddy did as well. He had been something of a playboy for the past fifteen years, often in the tabloids, allied with actresses and models all over Europe, and the occasional young royal. It was why he was currently in Asia, to get away from being constantly in the public eye and in the press. His father had encouraged him to take a break for a while. The time was approaching for him to settle down. The prince expected less of his daughter, since she was not going to inherit the throne. But he also knew how bored she was, which was why he wanted her to go to the Sorbonne in Paris. Even he knew that she needed more to do than cutting ribbons to open hospitals. Liechtenstein was a small country, and its capital, Vaduz, a tiny town. He had recently suggested that she go to London to visit her cousins and friends. Now that she had finished school and was not yet married, there was too little to occupy her time.

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