Kelly Ray is nineteen and a recovering heroin addict. To stay sober, she lives by a severe set of rules, and the last thing she needs is a complicated guy. And who could be more complicated than the heir to the throne of a war-torn European country? But when, by chance, she meets Prince Tomas Teronovich, Kelly is hooked--not so much by his looks, his gentleness, or his obvious attraction to her, but by the idea of getting him on her Aunt Kit's radio talk show. So begins one amazing night, during which she will need to keep Prince Tom entertained, hidden from his guards and the politicians who want to control his every move; keep secret for as long as possible her connection to the controversial host of "Kit Chat"…and keep herself from falling in love.
Dakota City is a small town. The numbers might add up to Big City, but don’t let that fool you. Want proof? Three million people, but only one hotel ritzy enough for potentates and movie stars.
The Poppy Hotel was thick with thugs—swarming with security guys intent on protecting the leaders and diplomats of every nation on earth, or at least every nation that wanted to be seen as concerned about peace in yet another war-torn small country in Eastern Europe. The local police had set up a security check at the hotel, and, patiently, I went through metal detectors, smiled while they checked my name against a list, waited cheerfully while they placed a phone call to the room upstairs to verify a final time that I was expected. A pair of Dakota City cops was handling everything, but they were being watched by what had to be a multinational phalanx of dark suits.
Before they ran the wand over me, I handed over the bag I was carrying. Kit had told me not to bother with gift-wrapping. She’d warned me that I and anything I was carrying or even wearing would be subjected to maximum security. No lie. I was fine with the wand, the questions, the close and skeptical scrutiny of my wallet and KLIP ID. I didn’t even squawk when they confiscated my cell phone, a cop explaining apologetically that all electronic devices that hadn’t been pre-screened would have to be held until I returned from the twentieth floor. Fine. But I must have made a noise when they started in on the gift I was taking to Simone Sanchez, because suddenly all the dark-suited men stiffened and stepped close.
“It’s a rare book,” I said. “It’s fragile.”
The Dakota City cop looked it over and then handed it to his partner, who scanned it with a wand and riffled the pages.
“A kid’s book?” she said.
“A rare kid’s book,” I replied. “Rare and expensive.” Probably twice as expensive as it really should be, because the dealer had sniffed out my desperation.
“You’re taking a kid’s book to Simone Sanchez? A used one?” The cop shrugged, then handed the book over to the nearest dark-suited thug. Then it got passed around, and one by one they made a show of personally examining Little Girl, Big River.
After they finally handed back the book, two guards escorted me to the elevator in the Center of the lobby. I balked. “When we called, her people said we should take the private elevator. They said to come up that way. I’m expected on that one.”
Simultaneously they pointed at this elevator just as the door slid open. My escorts were twins: both tall, big, and mean-looking. Deciding I wasn’t really in the mood for argument, I stepped into the elevator with them right behind. The one on my left did the buttons while the other one watched me. I hugged the gift bag.
Just as the door started to close, two well-dressed and very tan shoppers rushed toward the elevator, their Neiman Marcus bags banging against their legs. “Hold please,” the man called while his companion popped her mouth open and closed in silent distress. One of my guards held up his hand, palm out, and said, “Sorry.” Outside the elevator, yet another suit stepped into view, barring their entrance. The elevator door closed and we began the smooth ascent.
“How come they don’t need an escort?” I asked.
“Should I have put the book in a Neiman bag? Flashed cash? Worn different shoes?”
The guy on my left was watching me with mask-like disinterest. I widened my stare, daring him to look down past the tasteful, cleverly belted dress to my feet, now clad sensibly in a pair of gleaming white, never-used Nikes I’d found in my aunt’s office.
His pal cleared his throat. “They were going to a different floor.”
We reached the twentieth floor—the special floor—in seconds. The door opened and the thugs nudged me out. Not surprisingly, it was no ordinary hotel corridor with a long row of doors. This was penthouse country and there were only two doors: one to my left and one to my right. The thugs nudged me to the left, 20-B. I looked over my shoulder at 20-A, wondering who was staying there and why they merited this security. No doubt one of the powerbrokers arguing impotently about peace. Thug Number One nudged me yet again, trying to move me along. I stopped and faced the jerk. “Don’t touch me,” I said “Don’t ever touch me again.”