Just Once - Page 14

“Forgive me, your Highness,” the man she had addressed replied, “but--”

“My safety is your 'first duty,'” Annika finished for him. “I know, I know.” She turned to Art. “I am so sorry about this.”

“Uh huh,” Art said, still taking care not to move. “Since this would be a bad moment to mention to your friends that they're trespassing on private property, should I move straight to the begging for them not to kill me, or would that be a waste of everyone's time?”


“Dude!” Caleb interrupted. “You did not really say that!”

“I did,” Art assured his brother. “It wasn't bravado though, it was panic! Once I opened my mouth, I just could not shut myself up, and I tried!”

“I'm surprised you didn't crap your pants; I would have!”

“I think I would have too,” Art admitted, “if I hadn't been so afraid that sort of 'move' would have counted as moving.” He sighed. “Fortunately for me, Annika mistook my babbling for bravery.”


“They will not hurt you, I promise,” Annika assured Art, her eyes sparkling and her smile amused despite the circumstances. “Because while the good Captain does not truly require my forgiveness for the interruption so long as he is assured of forgiveness from my father, should even the slightest injury befall you, there would be no forgiveness for him.” Annika was most decidedly not smiling by the time she finished saying that.

The Captain, a blandly nondescript man who shared a family resemblance to Annika in both coloration and features, gave an unctuous nod of his head in acquiescence. “As you say, your Highness,” he said, one corner of his mouth upturning in what was intended to convey good humor, but only served to betray his annoyance. “Shall we depart?” he asked, extending a hand to help her to her feet.

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