ISBN# 9781402224270

Sourcebooks, Inc.

November, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

          “Rod,” Valerie asked during a lull of “Do you see?”s. “Will you please tell me what’s going on? Why there’s an albatross after us? Where we’re headed? Why we’re headed? Why I’m in a car with a prince?”

          Rod swung his gaze from the window. He exhaled, his chest expanding in a way guaranteed to make her forget her own name, not to mention the questions she’d asked him.

          But she wasn’t going to allow herself to be distracted. Good looks and charm—and a crown—only got someone so far. Right now she needed to know she wasn’t heading toward some hostage situation or international incident.

          And why. Why her? All she wanted was to collect the inheritance so she could save her store.

          “This won’t be easy for you to understand, Valerie.”

          “Tell me something I don’t know.”

          “He’s got a lot to tell you that you don’t know,” said the talking seagull with what she would swear was sarcasm, as he ran from one side of the backseat to the other, beak skyward, “but now’s not exactly the right time for it. Albatross, remember? Just go east.”

          “I remember, Livingston. That doesn’t necessarily mean I believe it. Besides, I have more important concerns on my mind.”

          “Nothing’s more important than this right now, trust me.”

          A talking bird? She was supposed to trust a talking bird?

          “Valerie,” Rod, a voice of reason, answered. “There’s a lot you need to know, but most of it you won’t believe without proof. When we get to our destination, I promise to explain everything.”

          “Does this have anything to do with my inheritance, or was that all a story to get me to come on this mission for God-knows-whatever reason?” She should have taken a closer look at those papers.

          “Indirectly, yes, it does have to do with the inheritance,” Rod answered.

          “Indirectly? How indirect are we talking?”

          “Direct enough that if this albatross succeeds,” quipped Livingston, “you won’t be able to touch the inheritance. My guess is you won’t be able to touch much of anything.”

          Words she did not find comforting.

          “What if I don’t want to go to this mysterious destination of yours?” she bluffed. She was going, but only to get her inheritance. She hadn’t signed on for albatrosses, and surely she didn’t need Rod with her to claim the inheritance.     “You can just tell me the lawyer’s name and I’ll contact him myself. I’m perfectly capable of getting to New Jersey without you guys. Then you can take your albatross wherever it is you want to go and none of this will affect me.”

“No can do, Valerie,” the bird said through tight lips—er, beak. Which was an interesting ability.

“Sure I can—”

“Valerie, he’s right.” Rod touched her arm again. “Once we get to the beach, The Council will administer your inheritance. It’s all been spelled out. So you’re along for the ride.”

As long as she wasn’t being taken for one…

Wait a minute.

“The beach? You mean the beach town where they’re going to meet us, right? Not the actual beach?”

“No, our rendezvous point is on the beach behind my brother’s home. He has… facilities there for such a meeting. Is that a problem?”

For her? Yes. Big one. “Okay, what’s going on? This isn’t funny. I’ve got taxes to worry about and you guys are taking me on a wild-goose chase.”

“Al-ba-tross, Valerie. Not a goose,” Livingston said from the backseat. “Albatross are bigger. More cunning.”

Someone’s trying to be cunning. What—are you guys working for the developer? I’ve already told him I’m not selling. Is this the next tactic? Trying to make me late with the taxes by getting me out of town?”

“Valerie, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Rod said, all insulted.

She was insulted. “Look, I don’t like being made a fool of. I’ll find some way to come up with the tax money. I’m not selling to him, especially after he’s pulled this, and that’s final. You and your trained bird can tell your boss to take a hike. I’m turning this car around right now so you two can go find some other patsy to play your prank on.”

“Prank?” Rod almost growled the word as he grabbed the steering wheel. “I am not playing a prank on you, Valerie. I don’t play pranks. I came here to tell you about your inheritance and bring you to it.”

“On the beach.”

“Yes.”

“See? That’s where this falls apart, Rod.” She wrenched the wheel out of his grasp and turned them back the way they’d come, jamming the stick shift into the correct gear. “Even with the seagull, I was onboard with this whole thing, but next time, you should do your homework before you try something like this.”

“Something like what? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Fine. Here’s the problem with this scenario.” She jerked her head to face him. “I can’t go to the beach.”

“Why not? It’s not that hard to get to.”

The sarcasm came from the bird, so she threw it right back at him. “Because, Livingston, I’m allergic to the ocean. Deathly allergic.”

 

 

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