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Authors: Rachelle McCalla

The Missing Monarch

BOOK: The Missing Monarch
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ROYALTY IN EXILE

Six years ago Crown Prince Thaddeus abandoned his new bride
and went into hiding. His motive was to protect his country and his family from
a ruthless tyrant. But when his estranged wife tracks him down, Thaddeus knows
it’s time to make a stand. Restore the royal line. And reclaim the crown. Yet
just as he learns about the family’s new addition—his
and Monica’s son—little
Peter becomes a target. In a deadly game of power, Thaddeus must choose between
the country and heritage he’s been raised to defend…and the woman he never could
forget.

“You shouldn’t be here.”

Thaddeus had to yell to be heard over the sound of the idling
plane engine and the streaming wind.

Monica’s dark eyes snapped with anger and a trace of
exhaustion. “Neither should you.”

“Get back on the plane.” He’d have picked her up and
deposited her there himself, but that would require touching her—something he
was loath
to do. The woman had long ago proven irresistible to him. He didn’t
need to get any closer to her than he already was.

“I’ve traveled too far to turn around now.” Her words sounded
worn-out, as though she’d repeated them to herself many times.

His heart gave a sympathetic lurch, which he instinctively
resisted. He couldn’t let this woman get under his skin—she’d done it
once
before, and it had taken him all of the past six years to get over her. “Get
back on the plane. The fog is getting worse. If you don’t leave now, you might
not be able to leave for days.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

RACHELLE McCALLA

is a mild-mannered housewife, and the toughest she ever has
to get is when she’s trying to keep her four kids quiet in church. Though she
often gets in over her head, as her characters do, and has to find a way out,
her adventures have more to do with sorting out the carpool and providing food
for the potluck. She’s never been arrested, gotten
in a fistfight or been shot
at. And she’d like to keep it that way! For recipes, fun background notes on the
places and characters in this book and more information on forthcoming titles,
visit
www.rachellemccalla.com
.

The Missing Monarch

Rachelle McCalla

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all
these things will be given to you as well.

—Matthew
6:33

To Henry, my firstborn,
valiant protector of the realm. I
love you.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to all my readers. If this is your first visit
to Lydia, I pray that you will love it enough to seek out the stories that have
come before. And if you’ve stayed with these siblings through all the trials of
their adventures, I pray you’ll find their journey
an encouragement
on
your own.

ONE

“R
egis?”

The Crown Prince Thaddeus of Lydia didn’t hesitate to respond
to his prearranged code name. “Yes?”

“Have you seen the news?”

“Always.”

“Then you know—?”

“Yes.” Thaddeus didn’t need his friend Kirk, the sole person on
earth who knew how to reach him, to elaborate any more over the phone. Yes, he
knew that the tiny kingdom of Lydia
had been nearly overtaken by insurgent
forces ten days before. He also knew who was behind those forces—a man who went
by the code name 8, short for Octavian, an egomaniac would-be despot, who’d stop
at nothing to achieve the power he desired. What Thad didn’t know, was how to
stop him from taking over the tiny kingdom.

“You know that we need you?” A voice broke in, a
female. One of
his sisters? Princess Isabelle or Princess Anastasia, he couldn’t be sure which
one.

“You need me to stay right where I am.” Thad hoped his sister
could hear the authority in his voice. He was, after all, her big brother,
besides being the crown prince of the Christian nation. He knew what he was
talking about.

“No—” Isabelle’s voice for sure.
“We need you on the thr—”

“Don’t say it.” Thad interrupted her before she could drop any
words that might give away his identity. They had no way of being certain their
line was secure, though he knew Kirk would have taken every possible precaution.
The risk was simply too great. If Octavian ever found where he was hiding, all
the sacrifices he’d made would have been in
vain.

“We need you here.” That was Alexander’s voice, so much more
mature than when Thad had left home. But then, Prince Alexander had been through
many trials on behalf of Lydia. “You’re the only one who can end this.”

“If I come home, things will only get worse, I promise you. You
have to trust that I know what I’m talking about.”

“If you would explain—”

“I
can’t. Not over the phone. You know that.” Thad took a deep
breath, wishing there were some way he could impress upon his younger siblings
the gravity of the situation. They couldn’t underestimate the foe they were up
against. “Please don’t try to contact me again. The risks are far too
great.”

“You need to come home.” It was Kirk’s voice again, insistent
this time.

“No. I need to go. Goodbye.” Thad gripped the phone, knowing he
needed to end the call and cut the line that exposed him to potential detection.
Still, he hesitated to sever the connection to his family. He missed them so
much, the six long years since he’d seen them last weighing on his heart.

Anastasia’s voice echoed distantly over the still-live line.
“You were
right, Kirk. He’s determined not to return. I wish we could make him
understand, but we can’t risk trying to visit him, and he won’t listen to any of
us.”

“There is one person he might listen to. I don’t know if I can
convince her—”

“Don’t!” Thad nearly shouted, glad he hadn’t hung up the phone
after all. “Don’t bring her into this. Never speak of her again.”

“But—”

“No. There’s nothing she can say to me that will change
anything. She deserves her privacy. Do you understand?” Silence ticked by in
tense seconds, and Thad feared the connection had been severed after all.
“Promise me you won’t try to contact her.”

Reluctance filled Kirk’s voice. “I promise.”

“Thank you. I’ve got to go.” Thad ended the call, feeling even
more alone than he had mere moments before, the reminder of his long-lost wife
prickling the long-dead parts of his heart like blood rushing back to a sleeping
appendage, as though to rouse his buried feelings back to life.

He trusted his friend. Kirk would keep his promise not to reach
out to Monica.

Thad stared at the phone in his hand, replaying the details of
their conversation. They hadn’t spoken Monica’s name. And surely their line was
secure. So why did Thad feel such a breathless sense of panic, as though
somehow, by mentioning a woman he cared about, they’d exposed Monica to
detection?

Because he knew his enemy. And every time he’d underestimated
Octavian before, he’d been wrong. Dead wrong.

* * *

“I’ll be
back in an hour,” Monica Miller promised her
mother as she headed out for her morning run.

“Take your time.” Sheila Miller dismissed her concern. “Peter
and I have big plans. We’re going to set up a fort in the sandbox.”

Monica looked up as she stretched her calves against the
shallow step that topped the graceful sidewalk in front of her modest Seattle
bungalow.
“You spoil him,” she accused with a smile.

“I’m his grandmother. It’s my job.” Sheila wrapped her arms
around Peter and kissed the blond curls atop the young boy’s head.

“Thank you, Mom. I love you both!” Monica called over her
shoulder as she took off down the familiar sidewalk of her friendly
neighborhood. The June morning was still a little cool—perfect for her workout.
Even more perfect, her mother had offered to watch Peter every morning as Monica
finished her marathon training.

Inhaling deeply, Monica thanked God for the blessings in her
life. Her son. Her parents, who loved their five-year-old grandson and had never
pressured her to tell them who his father was.

Which was a good thing, because she couldn’t tell them. They’d
never met Crown Prince Thaddeus of Lydia and would probably have a difficult
time digesting her story about their whirlwind romance, secret elopement
and—hardest of all—his sudden disappearance before she’d even realized she was
pregnant.

Truth be told,
she
didn’t really
understand why Thad had left her, but she trusted him enough to obey his order
never to look
for him. From what she’d seen on the news lately about the
troubles in that tiny Mediterranean kingdom, Thad had been right about his
dangerous enemies. Lydia’s government had nearly been toppled.

For the first time, Monica had felt a tiny glimmer of gratitude
that Thad hadn’t brought her home to Lydia after all. Though she’d have rather
grown old with her husband by her
side, she appreciated the freedom to finish
her degree and follow her dreams of becoming a professor of foreign languages.
And Peter was growing up in a safe place. Her son’s safety and well-being was
more important to her than anything. To preserve that, she was willing to live
out the rest of her life in the lonely limbo of technically married, but
functionally single.

Monica rounded a corner to a tree-lined street as she followed
her daily running circuit.

An unfamiliar car pulled up beside her, rolling at a creeping
pace that matched her jogging speed.

Monica glanced at it. Did she know these people? She’d had
friends stop to chat before, and the youth from church loved nothing more than
to honk and wave frantically whenever
they saw her out for a run.

Dark-tinted windows hid whoever was inside.

She picked up her pace, nearly sprinting.

The car sped up with her. Suddenly both passenger’s side doors
opened and two men leaped out.

Monica tried to scream, but one man covered her mouth with an
odorous cloth, scooping her up by her shoulders while the other picked her up by
her legs.
Her panic faded as darkness blocked out the light of the sun.

* * *

“We’ve got a seaplane taxiing toward the personnel
dock.”

“In this fog?” Thad pulled his attention away from the charts
on his desk and hurried down the hallway after the oil-rig worker who’d brought
him the message. The Prudhoe Bay oil fields north of Alaska were remote, almost
unreachable.
Deliveries were clumped together and personnel exchanges scheduled
weeks ahead of time. No one made the trip by chance. They weren’t expecting
anyone.

He clattered down the stairs, reaching the landing just as a
woman disembarked from the plane. Shoulder-length dark hair blew across her face
in the arctic wind, obscuring her features.

Still, his heart lurched with
recognition, and he crossed the
platform in three strides, just in time for her to brush back her hair and meet
his eyes.

Monica.

“You shouldn’t be here.” He had to yell to be heard over the
sound of the idling plane engine and the streaming wind.

Her dark eyes snapped with anger and a trace of exhaustion.
“Neither should you.”

“Get back on the plane.” He’d
have picked her up and deposited
her there himself, but that would require touching her—a risk he wouldn’t take
unless he had to. The woman had long ago proven irresistible to him. He didn’t
need to get any closer to her than he already was.

“I’ve traveled too far to turn around now.” Her words sounded
worn-out, as though she’d repeated them to herself many times.

His heart gave a sympathetic lurch, which he instinctively
resisted. Had Kirk contacted her in spite of his promise? It was a mistake he’d
have to quickly rectify. He couldn’t give her a chance to get under his
skin—she’d done it once before, and it had taken him all of the past six years
to get over her. “Get back on the plane. The fog is getting worse. If you don’t
leave
now, you might not be able to leave for days.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

Her commanding tone was met with a roar of interest from the
catwalk above, and Thad turned to see a crowd of workmen gathering to watch. Out
here on the oil rig, they didn’t get much live entertainment. He quickly
realized he wasn’t going to easily convince Monica to leave—not without some
explanation. And that explanation needed to be completely private.

“Fine. Come with me.” He pushed his way up the stairs, past the
gathering men, barking at them to get back to work, trusting her to follow him.
Once free of the crowd, he turned to find her close on his heels. “This
way.”

As he escorted Monica along the carpeted hallway that rang
hollow with each
footfall, Thad’s heartbeat thundered more hollow still.

How had she found him? Never mind that the remote oil drilling
outpost sat far beyond even the farthest reaches of permafrost. Never mind that,
under strict orders to keep the men civilized in spite of the inhumane setting,
women weren’t allowed on the rig any more than tobacco or liquor.

It had been three days since
his conversation with Kirk and his
siblings. Had they contacted Monica in spite of his request? How long had she
been looking for him?

And had she been followed?

He ducked into his office, pulled her after him and closed the
door behind them both. Meeting her eyes, he fought the urge to push her away, as
far away as he could. For her own safety. And his. And the security
of
Lydia.

But Lydia’s security had been breached two weeks before.

The attacks on his tiny kingdom had toppled his family’s
government and left his father, King Philip, in a coma, fighting for life. Thad
had warily watched the reports on the news, knowing that, for all his power as
the heir to the throne, there was nothing he could do to help his siblings. No,
if he stuck his head up, he’d only make things worse. Too bad he hadn’t been
able to make them understand that. Monica’s arrival endangered them all.

He kept his arms to himself. “How did you find me?”

“Kirk—”

“Not even Kirk knows exactly where I am.” Thad’s best friend
knew only that Thad was living on an oil platform north of Alaska—a vast amount
of space for
anyone to cover. Thad deliberately moved between platforms
frequently. Even his own coworkers had difficulty tracking him down at times.
Kirk could have pointed her in the right direction, but Monica would have
undoubtedly had quite a time finding him.

“No kidding.” She frowned, and her mouth twitched.

“Were you followed? Has anyone been watching you?”

“If you’re
worried about Octavian finding me, you’re too late.
He kidnapped me yesterday morning and sent me on this crazy trip to find you. He
didn’t know where you were so I had to ask Kirk.”

“What? Octavian found you? He kidnapped you?” He gripped her by
the shoulders and stared into her brown eyes seeking answers. But instead of
answers, he felt a rush of emotions. He wanted
to pull her into his arms, to
protect her from Octavian. But it was too late. “We’ve got to get you out of
here.”

“Did you hear what I said?” Her words came out in a
disbelieving whisper. “He
kidnapped
me. He sent me
here to bring you to him.”

Thaddeus tried not to think about the beguiling way she looked
at him through her long eyelashes. He tried not to consider
how close her lips
were to his. He had to understand what Monica was saying. “Octavian kidnapped
you, and then you contacted Kirk. How did you do that?”

“Octavian already had his number.”

“How did he get it?”

“How did he find out about
me?
” She
pulled her shoulders from his hands and stepped away. “You promised me that if I
never spoke your name, never made any
effort to contact you, never told anyone
I’d ever met you, that I’d be safe.”

Thad’s mouth hung open. The realization of his worst fear sunk
in slowly. Octavian had found out about Monica. He’d used her to get to him.

He’d underestimated his enemy.

Again.

“Octavian sent you here?” he confirmed.

“Yes. He hired the pilot to fly me around until I found
you.”

Thad looked around frantically. “We’ve got to leave. We’ll have
to sneak away and hide somewhere else.”

“No!” Monica’s voice rose to shouting. “Have you heard anything
I’ve said? Octavian sent me to get you, to bring you to him.”

“We can’t go to him.” Thad tried to shush her with a glare that
had sent many a calloused oil worker cowering.

“Listen.” She ignored
his silencing expression. “Octavian needs
your signature. He needs a document that he says you stole from him. He says if
you sign it, he’ll leave us alone.”

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