Royals & Rogues

By: Heather Long



“Too bad I don’t have something to inspire me.” The tease escaped her before she could rethink the level of politeness. The men roared, though, and Anders gave her an approving nod before he returned to his own meal. She needed to do something nice for the bodyguards when their stay at Camp Grunt was over. They’d gone above and beyond to let her fit in without isolating her from the others. Hugh’s arrival put a damper on their bright spirits. He carried a folder to the head of the table, a spot always left empty in case he joined them. Except for their first morning, she hadn’t seen him up close.

He didn’t make eye contact with her, even though he did skim the room with a passing glance. By the time he set the folder down, everyone had gone silent, save for the occasional pass of silverware against a plate. “Good morning, gentlemen and lady.” No snickers greeted the comment. “This will be the last time you are all addressed as anything other than grunt or private.”

Setting her utensils aside, Frankie concentrated on Hugh. He hadn’t opened the folder. In fact, he had a finger pressing down on it as though unwilling to reveal the contents. So what did he have in there?

“Each of you signed up for a boot camp experience and, for the last three days, we’ve been building you up to give you a taste of what is to come. Today, you will be broken into units of five. Each of you will be assigned a drill sergeant and that sergeant will be in charge of your activities—whether you eat, you sleep, or you clean. You will be required to serve in every capacity, and your bunks will be your responsibility. Inspections will happen without warning, and if you fail the inspection, well…” The corner of his mouth kicked up in an unfriendly smile. “You won’t enjoy having to clean everyone else’s latrines.”

She didn’t wrinkle her nose, even as disgust roiled in her gut.

“None of you ladies are excused from the details. You screw up, you pay the penalty. Are we clear?”

A murmur of agreement passed over them.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” He raised his voice.

“Sir, yes, sir.” It came out a little louder.

“What?” he barked, and the single syllable seemed to ricochet around the room.

Frankie took a deep breath and answered in unison with the others. “Sir. Yes, sir!”

“Better. Five minutes, finish up.” Hugh nodded. “Your unit assignments are…”

It shouldn’t have surprised her that Hugh would be in charge of her unit or that she would have what he called KP detail. Neither Ford nor Anders had been assigned to her unit, a fact which seemed to bother her bodyguards even as it thrilled her. Broderick, Billy, Jenson, and a man named Rooney were on her detail. They stacked dishes with her and carried the tubs.

She’d never done dishes properly before, having been raised in a household with a full staff. The men seemed to have no such objections, as Broderick took charge of scrubbing the dishes while the other three men finished offloading the table. “Grab that towel and dry them off as I wash.”

“How did you know?” she asked as he passed her one rinsed off dish.

“No one makes up that level of terror, especially someone who has handled our physical tasks so well.” Broderick grinned. “Dishes are pretty basic. We scrub off the food, rinse them off and dry. Stack like with like.”

“Ten minutes to finish up,” Hugh said as he walked into the room. He poured himself a cup of coffee. Cookie, the man who made their food, stood at the other end of the big kitchen with his arms folded. He didn’t seem any happier than she was about their presence in his kitchen. “We’ll be going for a run as soon as you’re finished.”

“We already went on a run,” she said over her shoulder.

“Well, we’ll just add another mile or five to it. Your packs are out front.”

Packs?

Broderick shook his head slightly, and she swallowed the question. A door opened, and Ford appeared in the periphery of her vision. He wasn’t assigned to her unit and he didn’t interfere, but his focus locked on Hugh. For his part, Hugh didn’t look perturbed at the other man’s laser intensity.

Jenson and Billy carried in the last of the dishes. Broderick shifted his position as Billy joined him to start rinsing off. Soon they had a rhythm going. Broderick washed, Billy rinsed, she dried and Jenson put them away. Before she could ask where Rooney was, the other man entered. “Table is all wiped down, sir. Do you want it reset for lunch?”

“No. We’ll be out for the day. Another detail will have to help out with dinner.” Did that mean they wouldn’t get lunch? Or that they didn’t have to clean it up? She wanted to ask, but since he’d taken her run question the wrong way, she let the words remain unspoken. “Four minutes.”

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