Royals & Rogues

By: Heather Long



When her turn came, she handed over her declaration form and passport. The officer reviewed the information then gave her a long studying look. “Purpose of visit?”

“Spending time at a fitness camp. Vacation and study.” Not really a lie. It was a vacation of sorts, just a working one.

“Welcome to the United States.” He stamped her passport and returned it to her. After sliding it back into her purse, she adjusted the strap before reclaiming her suitcase.

“Thank you.”

Three weeks to prove her capabilities to her father. He promised her the man in charge of the Marine fitness camp would not go easy on her. If she could demonstrate her proficiency and get the sergeant to sign off on her readiness, her father would take her case to both her mother and to Armand. Excitement curled through her belly as she followed the wave of humanity down the long hallway toward the exit terminal.

She almost wanted to bounce, a highly improper way to behave. Anders and Ford had made it through ahead of her. Once she was on the property, they would have to keep their distance but any suggestion she’d made of going to the Georgia camp unescorted had been nixed immediately.

The men had their own bags and would usually offer to take hers, but with only two of them escorting her, she understood they each needed a hand free. They were armed, their weapons having been checked and certified prior to boarding and returned when they landed. At no point could she recall her guards ever having to draw those weapons, and for that she was grateful. Rose once had a bad experience after overdoing it at a nightclub…

Of course, Rose had a lot of experiences because of her behavior. With Anders leading and Ford close on her flank, she followed them down the escalator to the main floor. Past the surges greeting, waving and hugging, one man stood off to the side. Tall, he possessed near perfect posture, dark eyes and a laser focus. The air seemed to back up in her lungs when their gazes collided, and it took her a moment to process the sign in his hands.

F. Grace.

An inappropriate snicker damn near escaped. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen her initial in front of her last name, but rarely did she see it isolated alone on a placard. “That’s Hugh Dillon,” Ford murmured from behind her. “He matches the identification we were provided.”

So, this was the golden boy her father respected enough to send her to him for training. Adjusting her course to meet him, she shuffled her bags so she could extend her right hand. “Mr. Dillon?”

For a split-second, surprise registered in his midnight blue eyes. She’d thought they were black, they were so dark, but up close she could see the deeper color present. “Princess Grace?” Shock rippled in his tone and she stood there, one hand stretched out to him while he blinked for three long heartbeats before he seemed to notice. His strong grip enclosed her fingers in purely masculine warmth.

“Francesca. Princess Grace was from Monaco and…” Well, she could explain how to handle proper address, but she didn’t really want to go into the etiquette and protocol. “Why don’t you just call me Frankie, please?”

“Frankie?” Southern hospitality rolled through the syllables of her name and turned the excitement in her belly to molten heat. The purely improper reaction added to the tingling sensation on her skin where his hand still held hers. “Frankie is a guy from Brooklyn…which you most definitely are not, lovely lady.”

Unable to fight the smile curving her lips, she tugged her hand free. “Be that as it may, Mr. Dillon, I prefer Frankie. Only my father calls me Francesca.”

He glanced from her to Anders and Ford then back again. “I should probably refer to you as your highness or ladyship?”

Fighting the urge to cringe, she shook her head. “Not at all. Please. Frankie.”

He frowned then nodded slowly before taking possession of her bag. “All right Frankie. I’m Hugh…” He glanced at her bodyguards.

“Anders.”

“Ford.” The two men introduced themselves in clipped, solemn tones before returning to their surveillance of their surroundings.

“They are much friendlier when we’re not surrounded by so many people.” She hadn’t wanted to surrender her suitcase, but men like Hugh needed something to do when they were thrown off kilter. Carrying her bag might not seem much, but she understood the desire.

“Fair enough. Do you have anything else you need to pick up? I’m parked outside.” A smile creased his firm mouth, but even as she grinned in response, the light didn’t quite reach his eyes. After hours on a commercial flight, she could appreciate the desire. Then again, were the guys going to let her travel in a vehicle they hadn’t checked out?

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