Danielle Steel: H.R.H.

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Danielle Steel H.R.H.
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Her father kissed her goodnight, and she lay on the floor for a while longer, listening to the music, and then she got up and checked her e-mail before she went to bed. She had e-mails from her two college friends, checking in and asking her how her “princess life was going.” They loved to tease her about it. They had looked up Liechtenstein on the Internet, and had been stunned when they saw the palace in which she lived. It was beyond anything they could have imagined. She had promised to visit them both at some point, but for the moment had no plans to do so. Besides, she knew it would be different now. Their days of innocence and easy fun were over. Or at least hers were. One of her friends was already working in Los Angeles, and the other was traveling with friends for the summer. She had no other choice than to make peace with her own life, and make the best of it. She liked her father's suggestion of going to see her cousin in London.

On Friday morning she drove to Vienna with her father. They had to travel across the Alps, and it was a six-hour trip to the family's previous seat, Palace Liechtenstein in Vienna. It was spectacularly beautiful, and unlike the palace at Vaduz, which was their main residence, parts of the palace in Vienna were open to the public. The part that she and her father occupied was heavily guarded and somewhat secluded. Her apartment there was far more ornate than her rooms in Vaduz, which were beautiful but somewhat more human scale. At Palace Liechtenstein, she had an enormous bedroom with a huge canopied bed, mirrors and gilt everywhere, and on the floor a priceless Aubusson carpet. It looked like a museum, and a huge chandelier hung overhead, still lit by candles.

The familiar servants she had known all her life were waiting for her there. An ancient ladies' maid who had served her mother twenty years before helped her dress, while a younger woman drew her bath and brought her something to eat. She went to meet her father in his rooms at exactly eight o'clock wearing a black Chanel cocktail dress she had bought in Paris the year before. She was wearing small diamond earrings, her mother's pearls, and the ring she always wore, a chevalière with the family crest on it, on the little finger of her right hand. It was the only symbol she wore as a sign of her royal birth, and unless one was familiar with the crest, it was no more impressive than any other signet ring. The crest was carved into a simple oval of yellow gold. She had no need for symbols indicating who she was, everyone in Liechtenstein and Austria knew, and recognized her when they saw her, as they did throughout Europe. She was a remarkably pretty girl, and had appeared with her father just often enough to have caught the attention of the press for the past several years. Her brief disappearance to the States to study had been perceived only as a hiatus. Whenever she returned to Europe she was photographed, no matter how diligently she avoided it. And ever since she had come back for good, the press had been watching out for her. She was far more beautiful than most of the other princesses in Europe, and more appealing because she was so shy, reticent, and demure. It only excited journalists more because that was the case.

“You look beautiful tonight, Cricky,” her father said affectionately as she walked into his room, and helped him with his cuff links. His valet was standing by to assist, but Christianna liked taking care of him, and he preferred it. It reminded him of the days when his wife was alive, and he smiled as he looked at his daughter. He and her brother and cousins were the only people in Europe who called her Cricky, although she had used the name in Berkeley when she went to school. “You look very grown up,” he said, smiling proudly at her, and she laughed.

“I am grown up, Papa.” Because she was so small and delicate, she had always looked younger than her age. In blue jeans and sweaters or T-shirts, she looked like a teenager instead of the twenty-three-year-old she was. But in the elegant black cocktail dress, with a small white mink wrap on her arm, she looked more like a miniature of a model in Paris. She was graceful and lithe, her figure perfectly proportioned for her size, and she moved with grace around the room, as her father continued to smile.

“I suppose you are, my dear, although I hate to think of you that way. No matter how old you are, in my mind, you will always be a child.”

“I think Freddy thinks of me that way, too. He always treats me like I'm five.”

“To us you are,” Prince Hans Josef said benevolently. He was just like any other father, particularly one who had been obliged to raise his children without a wife. He had been both father and mother to them. Both agreed he had done a remarkable job, and never failed them once. He managed to juggle his duties to the state and those as a father with affection, patience, wisdom, and an abundance of love. And as a result, all three members of their immediate family were extraordinarily close. And even though Freddy was badly behaved much of the time, he had a profound love for his father and sister.

Christianna had spoken to her brother in Japan that week. He was still in Tokyo and having a wonderful time. He had been visiting temples, museums, shrines, and incredibly good although very expensive nightclubs and restaurants. Freddy had been the guest of the crown prince for the first several weeks, which had been too restrictive for him, and now he was doing some traveling on his own, with assistants, a secretary, a valet, and bodyguards of course. It took at least that many people to keep Freddy in even moderate control. Christianna knew what he was like. He told her the Japanese girls were very pretty, and he was going to China next. He still had no plans to come home, even for a visit, until the following spring. It seemed an eternity to her. While he was gone, she had no one even close to her age to talk to at home. She shared all her deepest confidences with her dog. She could talk to her father, of course, about important things, but for the daily banter that occurred among the young, she had no one at all. She had had no friends her own age as a child, which had made Berkeley even more wonderful for her.

Christianna and her father arrived at the ballet in the chauffeur-driven Bentley limousine, with a bodyguard in front as well, in which they had traveled earlier that day from Vaduz. There were two photographers waiting outside, who had been discreetly informed that Prince Hans Josef and the princess would attend the performance that night. Christianna and her father didn't stop to speak to them, but smiled pleasantly as they walked in, and were greeted in the lobby by the ballet director himself, who led them to their seats in the royal box.

It was a beautiful performance of Giselle, which they both enjoyed. Her father nodded off to sleep for a few minutes during the second act, and Christianna gently tucked her hand into his arm. She knew how heavily his duties weighed on him at times. He and his father before him had turned the country from an agricultural center into a major industrial force with a powerful economy and important international allegiances, like the one with Switzerland, that benefited them all. He took his responsibilities very seriously, and during his reign the country had flourished economically. In addition, he spent a considerable amount of time on his humanitarian interests. At the time of her death, he had established a foundation in his late wife's memory, and the Princesse Agathe Foundation had done an enormous amount of good work in underdeveloped countries. Christianna had been planning to talk to him about it. She was becoming more and more interested in working for the foundation, although he had discouraged her from doing so at first. He had no desire to allow her to join their workers on site in dangerous places. She wanted to at least visit them, and perhaps work in the administrative office if he allowed it, if she didn't go to the Sorbonne. He had made it clear that he preferred her to pursue her studies. She was hoping that if she started working for the foundation at the administrative level, she might be able to convince her father to let her take an occasional trip with the directors now and then. It was just her cup of tea. Theirs was one of the most prosperous and generous foundations in Europe, in great part funded by her father from his personal fortune, in memory of his late wife.

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