The Doctor Prince and the Outsider by Cami Checketts
Harrietta Theresia Ballard, Hattie to everybody who wanted to stay on her good side, and most smart people did, screamed like a banshee as she tugged on her paraglider brake handles. She was desperately hoping to slow herself down and somehow land in the meadow she saw up ahead without a broken neck. She only succeeded in spinning a fast circle, nausea rising quickly in her throat and cutting off her scream. She was still a hundred feet off the ground and descending far too fast. Was today finally her day to die?
This adventure had been a very bad idea, and it had only gotten worse. She’d trusted the too-handsome, too-charming Franz Wengreen and he’d taken care of all the arrangements. The helicopter had picked them up at the Grand Resort in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland and flew them to the top of a mountain peak so high it was above the tree line.
Bad Ragaz had a lame name, but it was one of the cooler mountain towns in the Swiss Alps—and she’d been to plenty of amazing Alps towns. The town had thermal springs, insanely gorgeous mountains, insanely gorgeous hotels, and a charming downtown. The only drawback she could see was its proximity to the kingdom of Augustine. Augustine was the one place Hattie could never return. She’d be arrested as soon as they figured out who she was.
Not really a worry at the present moment as she’d die before she got there.
She’d been excited an hour ago as she was strapped into the paraglider. She’d only done it as a tandem before today. She wasn’t excited any longer. Terrified. Full of regret. Wishing she could restructure her decision-making paradigm.
At least she’d see her parents soon.
The ground zoomed toward her. Too fast.
“No!” she screamed.
A current caught the thin fabric of her sail and swooped her back up. She might live one more moment, but death, or at the best every bone in her body broken, was imminent. Cold sweat covered her skin. Why had she trusted Franz?
She’d met him a couple weeks ago at some party in London. He’d promised her the ‘most memorable and picturesque summer of her life.’ So far the hiking, biking, and adventuring throughout the Alps had been out of this world. As usual, she paid for everything, and she’d placed lots of boundaries. Franz had honored her rules, only occasionally trying to steal a kiss or a hug. He’d been a decent guy and travel companion.
The only fault he’d shown so far was claiming he knew how to paraglide, could ‘easily’ teach her, and that today would be a safe adventure. Lies. Well, maybe he knew how to paraglide, but he had failed as an instructor. It was highly possible she stunk as a student, too—she’d never been known to listen well or follow instructions. Maybe the wind had simply been more vicious than he’d foreseen. At the moment, she chose to lay all the blame on Franz. He wasn’t around to defend himself.
The fact that she couldn’t see him or hear him frantically screaming instructions to her any longer didn’t bode well for his teaching abilities, his paragliding abilities, or his promise of safety. He also had her phone, credit card, cash, and her favorite lip balm in his fanny pack that she loved to tease him about. ‘Safekeeping’ them for her since she had no zip pockets on her shorts.
The wind had been vicious and separated them quickly. Now she was pulling, tugging, and screaming. Sometimes she’d catch a wind current and drift up, but sometimes the wind current would fling her down. She hadn’t hit the ground yet, but that event was in her near future. How to make this stupid sail float her down nice and calm? She had no idea. If Franz had told her in his brief instructions she hadn’t listened.
“Help!” she hollered, knowing no one could help her now.
Pray. Her mom’s voice.
“I love you, Mom,” she said to the wind, trying not to look down as she horrifically bypassed the meadow and the lake. Wouldn’t water be better to crash into? She was now swooping toward the thick forest of trees and the steeply sloping mountainside. “But I am not praying.”
Pray. Her cousin Sadie’s voice.
“Dang you, Sadie!” she screamed. “You know I’m a lot of things, but a hypocrite isn’t one of them!”
She hadn’t prayed since she’d unwittingly taken part in and witnessed a murder in Traverse, Augustine, over five years ago now. The innocent Jane had done nothing to deserve being stabbed through the heart by a jerk-bait loser on a dare. Treven Rindlesbacher was in prison, but only as an accomplice to murder. Hattie had been framed as the murderer. Two Augustine police detectives had found her knocked out on Jane’s body, holding the knife. They had miraculously believed her tale, and spirited her out of the country. She’d never breathed a word of the heart-wrenching nightmare to anyone, not even Sadie.
When her saintly and charitable and never-failing-to-believe parents died two and a half years ago, it had sealed her conviction that heaven didn’t care about her and she might as well embrace her wealthy, spoiled, playgirl lifestyle and pretend to enjoy life.
Heaven had refused to help her when she’d needed it, with the exception of Detective Jensen and his nameless partner rescuing her from a life in prison. Sometimes she wondered if that would be any worse than the emptiness and loneliness of traveling and never knowing if anyone was a true friend or only wanted her around to pick up the tab.
What was up with all this philosophizing? She was going to die. She could pick her bone with her Father above when she got there. She actually doubted she could charm her way past the pearly gates. That had never bothered her … until this moment.
Those trees were coming up really fast.
“No, no, no!” she cried out, squeezing her eyes shut but unable to block the sensation of rushing wind, her body hurtling too fast, and her certain demise.
Pray. Her dad’s voice.
“Dang you, Dad!” she screamed. She opened her eyes and screamed louder. She was above the tree line but dropping. She was going to hit a tree, and soon.
“Heavenly Father,” she said solemnly. “I’m sorry for blaming You for everything.”
That was it. That was all she had. She wasn’t going to beg. She wasn’t going to do some deathbed repentance. An apology was the extent of her prayer.
Was she slowing down? Possibly floating a little bit?
No. That was too much to hope for.
Tree branches caught her legs, scratching her skin, and she was flung forward.
“Really sorry!” she screamed.
* * *
Hattie struggled against hands lifting her. The sound of helicopter rotors. Where was she? Opening her eyes, she saw young men and women in black pants and shirts, the red cross symbol on their chests. The sound of helicopter blades stole their words, but their faces were full of concern and purpose.
“Calm down, ma’am. We’re here to help you,” someone yelled close to her ear.
They restrained her and tried to strap her to a hard board.
“No!” she screamed, wrenching an arm free and punching some dude in the neck. She got a leg free and kicked a lady in the head. Hattie wasn’t normally violent, unless a man wouldn’t take no for an answer, but she had paid well to learn how to fight and kept herself safe a few times. She didn’t know where she was, but she refused to let them tie her down and take her to some second-rate hospital in a foreign country. People lost kidneys that way.
She fought and cussed and smacked at anyone who got close as they tried to restrain each of her limbs. She managed to headbutt a guy. That was good.
A pinprick in her arm had her cursing and flailing with everything she had. Were her movements slowing down? Her assailants succeeded at securing both arms and legs and then bound her to the hard board. Her eyes closed and everything went fuzzy.
She couldn’t wake up enough to open her eyes. She was so tired, and her head throbbed like nobody’s business. Who was kidnapping her? Could she bribe them? Did they know who she was?
Wait. Would people with a Red Cross symbol kidnap her? Could she still bribe them? Everybody liked money. She’d learned that the easy way. Money seemed to be the only thing most people wanted from her or cared that she had.
Darkness came again, and she couldn’t fight it.
Blinking against the glare of far too bright lights, Hattie’s head felt like it was about to explode. She tried to move, but the only thing she could do was wiggle her fingers and toes. She should be scared, or angry, but somehow she felt groggy and calm.
The bright light made sense to her. This was it. She was dead and in some kind of ‘spirit prison’ looking up to the bright light of heaven. The destination she would never reach. Was that how it worked? She’d be forever tormented because she hadn’t turned to her Savior? She was too fuzzy to remember the Sunday school lesson on the subject.
If only she would’ve chosen the role of saint like her cousin Sadie. Whatever. She hated sleeping in the dirt and patiently helping sick people. Sad little kids with big eyes and nobody loving them. Tears formed in her eyes despite how she fought them. Her stomach turned over just thinking about those neglected children and their puke, diarrhea, sweat, dirt … Couldn’t she just donate more money and save her soul that way?
She heard movement nearby and the warm pressure of a hand against her arm.
“Okay, Heavenly Father,” she muttered, keeping her eyes closed against the light. “I’m here, and I said I was sorry before I died. I know I screwed my life up, but that sorry was heartfelt, can you at least let me see my parents and aunt and uncle before you dole out all the punishment I have coming? Please.”
That was really nice of her to add. She didn’t say please often. She rarely asked anything of anybody. It wasn’t like she didn’t have manners, though—she said you’re welcome a lot, as most people thanked her for paying for everything. “I’m sure the list of my sins is long and detailed, so don’t think I’m expecting any favors from You.”
A manly chuckle made her blink her eyes open again.
“I hate to break it to you, but you didn’t make it to heaven just yet. Perhaps you’ll have time to work on restitution of that long list of sins.” The words were said with the most delicious and lyrical accent known to womankind. Whew. If the man was half as good-looking as his voice, Hattie may have died and gone to a heaven of her own creation.
Her eyes adjusted to the brightness and focused on the most beautiful blue eyes she’d ever encountered in her vast travels. The man had skin as naturally-tanned as her own, strikingly handsome and rugged features, an intriguing, almost sarcastic smile, and those blue, blue eyes. She recognized him, but couldn’t place where she’d met him or if he was someone famous. Her head and entire body ached too much to sort out minor details. Mostly her shins and her forehead. Had she hit a tree or a rock wall? Her mind scrambled to remember the details.
“Makes sense,” she said, speaking slowly to not exacerbate the headache. “I’m not headed that direction anyway, so why worry about all those sins? And you are?”
“Dr. Steffan August. Pleased to meet you, Miss …”
“Oh no!” she shrieked. “No, no, no. Oh heck to the no!” Her head exploded with pain, but her fear was more intense.
She tried to scramble up on the bed, but she’d forgotten she was strapped down. She could hardly move her pinky toe.
“Let me out of these,” she screamed, struggling and completely flipping out.
Not Augustine. She couldn’t be in Augustine. Doctor Steffan August was a well-known, too-handsome, and benevolent prince who ran Augustine’s top hospital.
Please no. I haven’t been that evil, Lord!
Dr. August put both of his firm, manly hands on her shoulders and held her gently. “Calm down, or we’ll have to sedate you again.”
They’d sedated her earlier. That was the prick in her arm and why she’d semi-woken but crashed hard again. Maybe she wouldn’t mind sedation. Not thinking or knowing how much trouble she was in right now would be wonderful. If she didn’t wake up in a jail cell. She had to get ahold of her lawyers and have somebody fly here and get her out of here.
Her body stilled under the prince’s touch, almost of its own volition. His touch was stimulating and comforting and … she couldn’t let him get to her like that. She couldn’t fight her way free, so she had to use her brains, her power, her money, her influence, to get the heck out of here.
His touch was distracting her. Making her want to just stare into those beautiful blue eyes and worry about her troubles later. Had he shot some morphine into her veins while she was gazing into his eyes?
Dr. Steffan August. What an appealing man. One of the sought-after princes of Augustine. The ‘doctor prince’ that women flipped out about. She could understand why, but that didn’t mean she could allow herself to be in his power.
“That’s right,” he said, probably referring to her calming down, but his touch was somehow ‘right’ to her.
“It’ll be okay,” he continued. “Please don’t move until we complete the CT scans on your head, neck, and back. I haven’t seen any evidence of broken bones or protrusions, only scratches and future bruises, but with the wreck you had, and how long you were unconscious, I’d like to rule out brain contusion or spinal cord injury before you move.” His lovely accent was as soothing as it was sensual.
Who cared about his accent? She was going to prison.
“Am I actually in Augustine?” she asked, horror filling her. She should be terrified to be strapped down with possible spinal cord damage, but she was only scared of that generous and saintly detective finding her again.
Detective Jensen Allendale. She’d thought he was dang cute with his dark eyes and handsome face, until he started questioning her and explained she was being blamed for the death of her sweet friend Jane.
She’d led that jack-tard Treven right to her friend, believing he was interested in shy, beautiful Jane. She’d watched her friend die and tried to help. Why Treven had knocked Hattie out rather than killing her as well made no sense, until she realized he was framing her for Jane’s death. If not for Detective Jensen’s intervention, Treven would’ve succeeded. If Treven’s parents knew she was around, knew who she was … Fear coated her throat.
She’d been running from that night for years. If she was in Augustine, the running might be over. What would prison be like? Or would Treven’s family find her and kill her first? She shuddered.
“Yes, you are.” Dr. August grinned broadly. “Have you been to our beautiful country before?”
“Nope,” she lied.
A pretty nurse walked around a curtain and up to her bed.
“Keri. Our patient is coming around.”
“Wonderful. The CT machine is ready, Dr. August.”
Hattie rolled her eyes at the breathy quality of the nurse’s voice. Yes, this man was super fine, and a prince, but Hattie had been around loads of men who were better-looking and more impressive.
“Thank you, Keri.” Dr. August turned back to Hattie and offered a warm, reassuring smile.
Okay, she was lying about everything right now. She hadn’t been around anyone better looking than the Doctor Prince. Who knew about more impressive? A prince who spent his time as a doctor in an emergency room and seemed as kind and good-natured as anyone she’d been around even though she’d acted nuts about being dead, screamed at him when he said his name, and probably looked a fright.
Prince Steffan was definitely … a little impressive.
“We’ll take you in for the CT scan, but I’d love to know your name first.”
Hattie’s pulse sped up. Oh, he’d ‘love to know her name,’ would he? Was the good doc hitting on her? She couldn’t even lift a hand to fluff her hair and wipe the makeup from under her eyes. She moistened her lips. Everybody wanted to be on Hattie Ballard’s good side. Would this handsome doctor be the same?
“I’d love to get off this bed, so maybe when that happens I’ll just happen to remember my name.” She raised an impertinent eyebrow.
Dr. August laughed. “That’ll happen as soon as we can clear you of spinal injury. You didn’t have any identification on you. We need your name for the medical records and to let your family know you’re all right.”
She almost fired up at that. Her only family who still lived and cared if she was all right was in some forsaken jungle with no cell service. More important than being devastated and defensive about her lack of family was something else he’d said.
No I.D. on her. It clicked. For the first time since Jane had been murdered, maybe she wouldn’t hide behind her wealth, fame, and influence. She’d fly under the radar and escape like Detective Jensen had helped her do years ago. She’d need to use her brain and keep her wits about her.
Maybe she wouldn’t even cuss Franz for taking all her stuff that could’ve easily identified her. The handsome and charming prince didn’t know who she was. If she could keep it that way, maybe she could get out of this country without that detective finding her. Detective Jensen had gone rogue and risked his career. He and a quiet older detective had conferred and believed her instead of Treven’s lies. They’d decided not to reveal to anyone else that they’d found her unconscious on her friend’s dead body. The other detective had gone to deal with the scene and aftermath.
Jensen had driven her to a border town in the middle of night and explained, ‘Please get far away from here. The Rindlesbacher family is powerful and underhanded. If you return, and they can prove you’re the woman Treven is trying to frame, I’ll have no choice but to arrest you and charge you with Jane Presley’s murder.’
Murder. So heartbreaking.
Hattie had no idea that Treven Rindlesbacher was going to murder Jane. He’d asked Hattie to set him up with her sweetheart of a friend, then he’d stabbed Jane and laughed and taunted Hattie about it. The scum had knocked her out, disappeared, and she’d been left holding the knife and the bloody corpse. She and Jane’s dream vacation to the incredible kingdom of Augustine had gone very wrong. Treven had been arrested as an accomplice to murder and was thankfully still in prison. But Jensen had acted like his family was every bit as evil.
She truly owed Detective Jensen everything. She’d be rotting in a prison cell wrongly accused if it wasn’t for his help. But she sure didn’t want to see him again.
“I, um …” She stared into those beautiful blue princely eyes and tried to think how to lie best. If she told him who she was, would Detective Jensen come running and would Treven’s family or friends find her? How had the policeman covered for her, why had he covered for her, and would he do it again? If she didn’t tell the doc who she was, how in the heck would she get out of here?
“I don’t remember my name,” she squeaked.
“You don’t remember your own name?” His brow squiggled, and he shook his head. “Amnesia. The Versed they gave you to sedate you earlier today could be contributing to that. We’ll let the medicine work its way out of your system and hopefully you get your memories back quickly. You are the second gorgeous female tourist with amnesia this month, and the last one married my brother Curt.” He grinned. “Crazy.”
Crazy was right. But he had called her gorgeous. That was a point in her favor.
Hattie, she berated herself. No flirting with or being attracted to the doctor prince. Get through his stupid scans and sneak out of this hospital as fast as possible!
Could she steal a phone to call Sadie and Wolf to come rescue her? What was Sadie’s phone number? Shoot! What about her lawyers or any of the many friends who owed her favors? She didn’t memorize anybody’s numbers. She just had them in her phone.
“I’m sorry.” His voice and look were so kind she almost felt bad for lying to him and even worse that she couldn’t flirt with him. “I’m sure it’s extremely frustrating to not remember, but you had an unfortunate meeting with a flock of pine trees while you were paragliding.”
“Oh,” she managed. She remembered that ‘flock of pine trees’ and that stupid paraglide. She’d never get in one of those contraptions again. She forced a smile. “That sounds unpleasant.”
“I’m sure it was. Maybe you’ll be glad you can’t remember the accident. A farmer saw you crash and got you help. Medevac got to you quick, but you fought them and they had to sedate you. You must be some fighter.”
“You have no idea, Doc.” She was feistier than most people she knew, but she didn’t want to fight with him. She did need to escape from him though. It was disappointing but necessary.
He chuckled. “Let’s get through the scan, rule out any spinal cord damage or brain injury, then we’ll get you comfortable and see if we can’t help your memory return. Okay?”
“Perfect. Thank you, Doc.” Thankfully he didn’t know her and had bought her lie of not remembering who she was. She wasn’t acting like herself; she was being far too nice. Accommodating, almost like she was Sadie. She would never dream of thanking a doctor for being in a hospital, strapped to an uncomfortable board, without her I.D., her credit cards, her status as a female billionaire, her favorite lip gloss, and in danger of Detective Jensen Allendale finding her again. The country of Augustine, had its own legal system and royals that were above reproach and insanely wealthy, or so she’d heard. She doubted any of them would take a bribe or bow to her superior money.
“Of course.” He looked up at the nurse who’d been waiting patiently. Hattie imagined most women would wait patiently for anything this doctor prince wanted. His accent alone was worth lying on this uncomfortable bed. “Mark her as Jane Doe until we figure out who she is.”
‘Figure out who she is’? Oh, no. No, no, no. Nobody was figuring out who she was. As soon as she got out of these straps and nobody was looking, she was out of here. She was resourceful—when she wasn’t half-sedated and strapped to a board. Usually she was rich, well-liked, generous, and powerful. Until she found Franz and her money and credit cards or a computer or phone so she could Google contact info for her personal bankers, financial advisors, and investment gurus, she’d have to rely on her charm and brain. She probably looked awful enough nobody would recognize her.
“Are you all right if we call you Jane?” Dr. Steffan turned those dang blue eyes on her again. She wanted to lick her lips and bat her eyelashes, but … Jane? No way. Her heart raced and her palms got clammy. Poor, poor Jane.
“No, please. Any other name.”
He smiled. “You’re right. Jane is too basic for you. How about Alexandria or Isabelle or Celestia or … Angelica? I like that one. You look like an angel to me.”
Hattie’s eyes widened. Was this handsome prince flirting with her, and while he was her doc? She had to look horrible. Maybe he was simply a benevolent and complimentary person.
“I’ve always wanted to be angelic, but I don’t think I am,” she admitted. Why had she just admitted that to him? She’d always been the ‘sassy one’ or the ‘feisty one’ where Sadie had been the kind, angelic, spiritual, inspiring, perfect… She could go on listing positive descriptors of her saintly cousin all day. She’d never been jealous of Sadie, and she’d always clung to her feisty nature and loads of money and power like a protective shield, but she had secretly wished she was like her beautiful sweetheart of a cousin and best friend.
“I’m sure you are. Angelic, but a little sassy as well.” He put his hand on her arm. Warmth and happiness traced through her from his simple touch and the way he perceived her. Maybe this amnesia idea wasn’t half bad. She could remake herself. Angelic and sassy? She liked it.
“Let’s go with Angelica then.” They exchanged … a look. Hattie felt a pull toward this man she’d never experienced before. She would’ve floated if she wasn’t strapped to the bed.
“Dr. Steffan?” the nurse questioned.
The connection between them broke, and he stood. “Thank you, Keri. Let me know when you finish the CT scan.”
“Of course, Dr. Steffan.”
Hattie had completely forgotten the nurse was standing there. In her defense, she was in a very weird position strapped to this bed and the woman was to the side of her head and hadn’t said much.
The doctor prince nodded to Hattie. He looked like he wanted to say something but seemed to catch himself. He turned and strode off.
Hattie watched him walk around the curtain, noting his regal bearing and hating that he had to leave. She heard a sigh and looked up. The nurse was scrutinizing his departing backside as well.
The nurse glanced down and gave her a guilty smile. “Sorry. He’s just so hot.”
“I’m not blaming you. He’s the ‘doctor prince,’ right?”
“Yeah. He’s so humble, too. He doesn’t like anybody to draw attention to his princely status, though everybody knows who he is.”
“He was very kind.”
“He is that, too.” She sighed longingly again. “All right, let’s get you through this CT scan, Angelica.”
Angelica. Why had she let him settle on that? Despite those old hidden desires, she was so far from an angel it was a joke to think about. Even her parents and her cousin Sadie, who adored her, would tell anybody Hattie was spicy and feisty and the only thing angelic about her was her loyalty to family and friends and her generosity with her vast financial means.
“Yes, let’s do it,” she told the nurse. “The quicker I can get off this hard board, the better.”
The nurse laughed and wheeled her out of the room.
She had to focus. Get through the CT scan, then scheme a way to hightail it out of Augustine. She’d never see Prince Doctor Steffan August’s blue eyes in person again. It was for the best. What did one more handsome man matter to her?
Now if she could only put those eyes, his smile, and his kindness from her mind.