Her Royal Baby
Tammy is surprised to learn she's become guardian of her orphaned nephew, Henry, who will one day be crown prince of a European country...
Marc, the darkly handsome prince regent, wants Henry brought up as royalty, and he's not used to hearing ""no"". But feisty Australian Tammy has no time for titles, and she's determined to give her nephew all the love a baby needs, even if she has to become Marc's stand-in princess...
Tammy was up a tree when royalty arrived.
Royalty might be odd but being up a tree wasn’t. Tamsin Dexter spent half her life up trees. As one of Australia ’s youngest and brightest tree surgeons, Tammy’s passion was propagating, treating or, as a last resort, felling trees and planting new ones to take their place.
Employed by the Australian National Parks Service, Tammy was usually working in the remote bush-land that she loved so much. She was part of a team, but today she was working happily and successfully alone.
She had nothing to do with royalty.
But someone was under her tree right now and he certainly looked like royalty. Or maybe he was a duke. Or maybe he wasn’t royalty. Could he be an admiral or something?
Maybe she didn’t know, she conceded. Tammy’s working knowledge of royalty, dukes and admirals was strictly limited. Were admirals as young as this? Maybe not.
What the stranger was wearing probably wasn’t an admiral’s uniform, she conceded, as she checked him out more closely. He was dressed in a sleek, expensively cut suit, embellished with rows of braid, medals and tassels. He’d arrived in a gleaming limousine which was now parked under the tree she was working on, and a uniformed chauffeur remained in the driving seat.
Someone else was climbing out of the car now. The second man was older and wore no braid or medals, but he still looked like some sort of official.
Which of the pair looked more out of place? Tammy wondered, and she couldn’t decide. Royalty or official? It didn’t matter, but she knew who looked the most interesting.
Royalty. Definitely royalty.
The man she’d decided was royalty was tall. He was well over six feet, she thought, though it was tricky to judge from so far above him. He was immaculately groomed with jet black hair, thickly waved and raked back. His hair looked carefully arranged to suit the official status of his uniform, but perhaps ungroomed it’d be the sort of tousled thatch that Tammy infinitely preferred in her men.
She grinned at the direction her thoughts were taking. That was a laugh. Her men. Her men were a figment of her imagination.
Figment or not, this man looked great. Wonderful. He was strongly built and had a sort of chiselled look about him; like one of Rodin’s statues. His bone structure was superb - intensely, wonderfully masculine.
What else? Some things were obvious. He certainly wasn’t the sort who lived in the bush. Even without the royal regalia, he looked the type who’d be at home drinking café latte or sipping wine in trendy city cafes, with a sleek little Lamborghini parked nearby.
She knew the type and it wasn’t Tammy’s type at all. Cheap tea boiled on a camp-fire with a few eucalyptus leaves thrown in for flavour was more Tammy’s style.
So what on earth were these two men and their chauffeur doing here? She swung lazily back in her harness and considered.
The bureaucrat was about fifty – twenty years or so older than the royalty-type - and he was podgy. He was wearing a dark suit and his shirt had a too-tight collar. In comparison the younger man looked smooth, intelligent and sophisticated.
What a pair! In combination they looked almost absurd. Here they were in the middle of the Australian bush and they were dressed like they were expecting a royal reception, and to receive them there was only Tammy, swinging thirty feet above their heads.
What did they want?
`Miss Dexter?’ the bureaucrat called, and Tammy frowned. Miss Dexter. That was her. What were this lot doing looking for her?
`This is ridiculous,’ the royalty guy was saying. `The sort of woman I’m looking for wouldn’t be working in a place like this.’
Tammy thought about that and agreed wholeheartedly. How many Miss Dexters were there in the world? Thousands, she decided. These guys had wandered off a movie set and needed directions to find their way home.
`Miss Dexter,’ the bureaucrat called again, this time more urgently.
But still Tammy didn’t respond. She stared down at the men below and as she did she felt her insides give an unfamiliar lurch. Maybe it was a premonition. Maybe they weren’t in the wrong place at all.
Maybe they spelled trouble.
`Miss Dexter,’ the bureaucrat called again, in a tone that said that this was his last try, and she took a deep breath.
`I’m up here. What can I do for you?’
The voice from above his head made Marc start.
The foreman down the road had told him Tamsin Dexter was working in this clearing and he’d reacted with disbelief. What on earth was one of the Dexter family doing working in a place like this? He’d been wondering that pretty much constantly for the last twenty four hours when the private investigator he’d hired had told him where he could find her.
`I’ve found your Tamsin Dexter. She’s twenty seven, she’s single and she’s working as a tree surgeon with the Australian National Parks Service. She’s currently working in the National Park behind Bundanoon. Bundanoon’s on the Canberra-Sydney Highway so if you take an hour or so after the Canberra reception you could find her.’
The private investigator had come with excellent credentials but Marc had reacted with incredulity. How could a tree surgeon be a sister to a woman such as Lara? It didn’t make sense. It must be the wrong Tamsin Dexter, he’d decided, and he’d sworn in vexation at the potential waste of time. He needed to work fast.
But the government reception in Canberra was unavoidable. As Broitenburg’s Head of State, Marc would step on too many toes if he visited Australia and refused it. So... If he had to attend it wouldn’t hurt to detour through Bundanoon and see if he could find the woman.
Now he stared upward and it was as much as he could do not to gasp out loud.
Tammy was slim and wiry and... tough, he decided. Or maybe serviceable was the best way to describe her. She was dressed in workmanlike khaki overalls and ancient leather boots. The boots were the closest thing to him, swinging back and forth above his head. They were battered and torn, and the laces had been repaired with knot after knot.
What else? She was young and obviously superbly fit. Her riot of jet black curls was caught back with a piece of twine, but spreading out to tangle glossily around her shoulders. Her curls looked like they hadn’t seen a brush for a week. Though that might be unfair. If he was hanging where she was maybe his hair would look tousled as well.
He forced his gaze to move on, assessing the whole package. Her skin was tanned and clear - weathered almost. Wide, clear eyes gazed calmly down at him and he found himself wondering what colour they were. Brown like her sister’s? He couldn’t tell from here.
But what he could see was a perfect likeness of Lara. Hell, even this similarity made his gut clench in anger.
The detective had been right. This was the Tamsin Dexter he’d been looking for. He’d found her.
`Can I help you?’ She was looking down at them as if they were the odd ones out – which, considering their clothes, wasn’t surprising. She was still swinging from her harness, reluctant to come down unless it was really necessary.
It was necessary.
`I need you,’ he told her.
`You’re Tamsin Dexter?’
`Yep.’ Still she made no sign of descent. Her attitude said she had work to do and they were interfering with it.
`Miss Dexter, this is His Royal Highness, Marc, Prince Regent of Broitenburg,’ Charles interrupted, tugging his collar in anxiety. He wasn’t comfortable in this situation and it showed. `Could you please come down?’
What would the ramifications of being rude to royalty be? The two men watched as she clearly thought about it and decided her best option was to swing awhile longer.
`Hi,’ she said at last to Marc – the good-looking one - and then she looked across to Charles. The podgy one with the sweaty collar. `If your friend’s a prince, who are you?’
`I’m Charles Debourier. I’m ambassador to...’
`Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Ambassador to Broitenburg?’
`And Broitenburg is... um... somewhere in Europe ?’ She grinned, a wide, white smile that was so totally different to Lara’s careful painted smile that Marc caught his breath at the sight of it.
What was he thinking? She was too much like Lara to interest him, he told himself savagely, and he didn’t have time to waste thinking about women. Especially this one.
`You don’t know where Broitenburg is?’ Charles demanded, and the woman’s smile widened. She had a huge advantage over them – thirty feet in fact.
`I’ve never been much interested in geography,’ she told them. `And I left school at fifteen.’
Great. She was Lara’s sister and illiterate besides. Marc’s feelings of dismay intensified.
`Broitenburg’s bordered by Austria on one side and Germany on the other,’ Charles was saying, but Tammy was clearly unimpressed.
`Oh, right. Come to think of it I have heard of it. It’s small, huh?’
`It’s an important country in its own right,’ Charles snapped.
`I guess it must be, to send an ambassador to Australia .’ She grinned again. `Well, it was nice to met you, Your Highness and your Ambassadorship, and it was good of you to drop by but I have a job to do before dusk.’
`I told you,’ Marc said stiffly. `I need you.’
She’d been preparing to climb again but she stopped at that. `Why? Do you have trees in Broitenburg?’
`I’m not interested in job offers.’
She sounded as if she was serious, Marc thought incredulously. She sounded as if she seriously thought he’d travelled all the way to Australia and come to find her in this outlandish place, dressed in this ridiculous rig, to ask her to look after some trees?
He hated it. He hated this ornate, over-the-top uniform. He hated Charles’ damned ostentatious car and his chauffeur. He hated royalty.
And the only way to get rid of it was via this chit of a girl.
`I’m not offering you a job,’ he told her stiffly and she stared.
`I’m here to ask you to sign some release papers,’ Marc told her. `So I can take your nephew back to Broitenburg where he belongs.’