(Book 2 American Royalty)
Principality of Höhenburg
Karl sat on the floor of his room in the guest wing of his family’s ancestral castle, his back against the massive carved bedpost. He held an unopened vodka bottle between his bent knees, twisting it end over end, once for each day of this latest round of sobriety. He’d reached the hundred and ninety-fifth revolution when his cousin Alexander barged in as if he were already the reigning sovereign.
Setting the bottle aside, Karl sneered. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to knock? Oh, right, she couldn’t. She abandoned you for twenty years.”
Alex hauled him up by the lapels. “Why can’t you straighten yourself out the way Freddie did?”
Karl pulled away then smirked. “If he’d really straightened himself he wouldn’t be taking it in the backside from you, would he?”
Gritting his teeth, Alex stopped short of a punch, dropped his arm and stepped back. “You’d like that wouldn’t you? Then you could play the victim as you always do.” He pointed to the door. “Downstairs. Now. You’ve kept the council waiting long enough.”
Karl’s laugh was bitter as he sauntered across the thick carpet and into the long corridor. “Such a good little dictator you’re turning out to be. He always did have you and Christian trained like dogs on a leash.”
“While you were left to run the streets of Europe like the ill-tempered mongrel you are.” Alex slammed the door shut.
Ignoring his pompous cousin, Karl concentrated on the cute maid stepping aside to bob a curtsey at their approach.
Alex handed her the vodka bottle. “Search the room for more and remove it. If you find any drugs call my father immediately.”
Karl laughed. “And when you find the room clean, feel free to strip and wait for me in my bed. I don’t think I’ve had you yet.”
Her cheeks flushed and she scurried away.
Alex gave him a shove forward. “Can you be a more crude bastard if you tried?”
“I don’t know, Alexander. Perhaps that will be my New Year’s resolution.” Though he considered ducking down any number of the corridors, Karl decided to follow his cousin’s directive like a good little family problem. The sooner he got this latest censure over with the sooner he could get out of this boring little shithole and back to his life. Such as it was.
Liveried footmen bowed then pulled open the heavy doors to the throne room where the highest ranking males in the principality’s line of succession sat stiffly behind a wide Medieval table. Interesting. He hadn’t even done anything illegal this time yet Gerhard had assembled the entire Family Council.
Alex took his place between his father and younger brother, Christian; the lot of them looked across the ancient table like so many condemning judges as he stood before them.
“Sit,” his Christian said.
“Woof,” Karl mumbled before plopping down onto the hard oaken chair that could have come from the old torture chamber for all the comfort it offered. While Gerhard shuffled through a sheaf of papers before him, Karl scanned those sitting in judgment. The sight of his father looking insufferably happy with life returned the scowl to his face.
He’d undoubtedly brought that new whore of a wife along. She’d been a companion of his own for a few days until he realized she was only out to snare a husband by any means necessary. One who had money and not just a worthless if lofty title like her own. She was a shrewd one, getting pregnant even before his parents’ divorce was final. He’d heard she was on the road to popping out a second. And his stupid father couldn’t be happier.
It turned Karl’s stomach to see tabloid pictures and videos of him with his new son. He’d never shown him that kind of attention or affection. Franz barely acknowledged his existence at all.
The minute this fucking farce was over he was going to get out and get drunk.
Karl turned his attention to his annoyed uncle.“Forgive me, Your Serene Highness.”
“Have you anything to say for yourself?”
“Should I? I didn’t realize there’d be an exam or I would have studied.”
“Don’t make light of these proceedings.”
“I don’t even know why we’re having these proceedings.”
Gerhard looked to his middle brother, Karl’s father.
“We’ve sent you to three rehabilitation clinics in the past eighteen months and you’ve failed each time.”
Karl sat straighter, despite the way the old carved wood dug into his back. “Correction, Father. I’ve failed twice. I haven’t relapsed from the last one I left six months ago.”
“Yet,” Alex said. “He had a bottle in his hand when I went to get him.”
Leaping to his feet Karl pointed.“Fuck you, Alexander. The bottle was sealed. I wasn’t even trying to drink it.”
“Karl! Contain yourself!” his father ordered.
“No.” Karl skewered each of his relatives with a sweeping furious stare. “Why shouldn’t I relapse? You’re all so sure I will. If I’m going to be accused of something I might as well do it.” He stalked to the door, and yanked it open only to find an armed royal guard barring his exit.
His derisive laugh echoing off the vaulted ceiling of the room, Karl spun on his heel to face his family again. “Why not lock me in the dungeon and throw away the key? I don’t care!”
“Your not caring is precisely what’s gotten you here,” his cousin Christian said with quiet authority. “We, however, do care about your well being.”
“Oh yes, you all care so very much, especially you, Father. You’ve consistently shown me such love and care the same as you do your new, unspoiled son.” Karl was not surprised when his father couldn’t look him in the eye. Slamming the door shut in the guard’s impassive face, Karl leaned against the heavily carved wood, shoved his hands into his trouser pockets, and crossed one ankle over the other. “Get on with it.”