King of Paradise
Rudolph Demetri Johann Sebastian deMarco, Duke of Hazhof, future king of Arpathia, although for all practical business purposes, the decision maker even now, stood at attention as he watched his uncle, King William IV, have his tie adjusted by his valet, Janos. Derek Sandover, Rudy’s friend from childhood, carefully stood just beyond William’s peripheral vision and mimicked all his moves. The-King-and-Count show, as the palace family liked to call it, had been a common occurrence since Derek was a little boy.
“I think yours is uneven,” William said as he turned to the young man. Derek played along and started over on the make-believe tie.
Rudy shook his head at their antics. William had been as a father to him since his own had died a dozen years before. The palace maids and cooks had been his female influence since he was ten. That, and Derek’s mother and five sisters. He might have been an only child, only heir to one of Europe’s last true monarchies, but he had hardly been a lonely child.
“Anything else, Uncle?” he asked. “We’ll be leaving this evening. The Royal Airlines is ready.”
William rolled his eyes. “Sarcasm, Rudy. I’ve told you about that.” The seventy-year-old king studied Derek’s efforts and nodded approval. “You wouldn’t want to fly commercial.” Arpathia had one jet; it was royal.
“No, sir.” Rudy didn’t hide his smile as he smoothed his dark hair in the mirror and winked at his friend. “But Derek would really feel cramped.”
“I do know that to be the truth. Someone has enjoyed all the privileges.”
“Your Majesty,” Derek wailed, “I’m but a servant.”
“Spare me.” He turned back to his heir. “Do remember your mission is to secure proper bloodlines for the cattle. And if you happen to find something for yourself along the way, that would be good too. Queen, Rudy. You’re past thirty. You need to be settling down.”
It was an old argument. “Yes, Uncle.”
“What you’ve brought home in the past…” the old man waved his hand even as Janos and Derek snorted laughter.
“My mission is the cattle.” Rudy glared at Derek. “We’ll be gone two or three weeks and will send home vials in a timely manner. I’ve left a list of our stops with Janos.”
“About that.” William turned to him and raised a finger. “I was thinking perhaps Janos could go with you.”
“What?” all three of them asked at once.
“William,” Janos started, “don’t spoil the boys’ holiday with me!”
Rudy thought he had a point as he and Derek had already outlined what to do when they finished. San Francisco, Las Vegas and Colorado were high on the list of places they wanted to revisit. It had been too long since they’d been at Texas A&M and enjoyed the vacation privileges afforded those with the means to do so.
“The last time I visited, you had pneumonia, Janos.” The king studied him. Rudy knew they were more friends than king and valet. Two old bachelors, his future with Derek if he didn’t really find a queen. “So, now is your opportunity.” He turned to Rudy and Derek. “You don’t mind, do you?”
It was the smile that did Rudy in, the twitch of the royal mustache and the twinkle in the blue eyes which matched his own. William got his way not simply because he was king but because he was right. “Of course not.” Rudy turned to Janos. “We can hold the plane.”
“He could pack an army in an hour, couldn’t you, Janos?” William slapped his friend on the back. “And he can help you pick out a queen. Give you some advice from an elder statesman, right?”
“Like you two have done such a good job of that,” Derek murmured.
“What will you do without me?” Janos was still protesting.
“I have my eye on the new maid.”
“I hear she bites, William.”
“Then I’ll dress myself.”
“Come on, Janos, you’ve lost. You’re with us.” Rudy took his elbow. “Now tell me what you know about Las Vegas showgirls.”