Could her royal fling…
…last a lifetime?
Princess Viktoria made a promise: do her duty and marry a duke. But she wants one final adventure first! So she welcomes the freedom that working incognito at the Legion’s Games gives her. There’s only one tall, dark and brooding problem – surgeon and medical team leader Campbell Hamilton. Because the delicious-yet-damaged army doc leaves Viktoria wondering if the adventure she really wants is forever with the man she’s falling for…
Two years ago
Campbell’s headphones blocked out most of the engine noise, but he could still hear a faint rhythmic thump-thump as the chopper blades beat the air and he could feel the vibrations as they shuddered through his body. After almost six months he thought he’d be used to the overwhelming assault on his senses—the smell of fumes and dust, the incessant noise, the constant jarring and jolting—but he had yet to get used to the tension. He was always on edge when he was in flight, despite knowing that one of the Australian Army’s best pilots was in control of the aircraft, and he was looking forward to getting back on the ground.
Cam kept his eyes cast down, focusing on his patient. He kept up a one-sided conversation despite the fact that his patient was heavily sedated, and the engine noise would make conversation almost impossible even if he were conscious. He gave him a rundown of his situation—only the positives though. His IV line was running smoothly and his vital signs had stabilised, he told him. He avoided the specifics of his injuries. The soldier was badly wounded, but he didn’t need to be reminded of that. He’d live, at this stage that was the important information, but he’d be getting sent home for a while. Home to Australia. Where he’d have a chance to recover physically, if not mentally.
Cam knew the soldiers would always be haunted by their experiences fighting a war on the other side of the world. Some would cope better than others. He knew he’d have scars too. Mental, not physical. This war wasn’t what he’d anticipated or expected.
Gemma had warned him, but how did you warn someone who had grown up in rural Australia? A land of dust and dirt but safe enough. Hot, and at times desolate, but it had been a different sort of barren. A different sort of danger.
Apart from the snakes and some angry rams or falling off a motorbike or a horse, Cam hadn’t really had anything to worry about. Now, every day was a battle. Here, there was always a chance of getting hit by a bullet, being on the wrong side of an IED, being wounded or killed by enemy fire or even by a civilian on a suicide mission. Life here was stressful.
His job as a medical specialist with the Australian Army meant he was responsible for lives in a country where lives were not highly regarded. Lives here were seen as disposable, which went against everything he believed in and made his job difficult and, at times, impossible. He still had access to First World medical facilities but, more often than not, he was trying to save lives in the middle of a dustbowl, trying to do his best while war raged around him. Gemma had tried to explain it to him but, until he’d seen it with his own eyes, until he’d lived through the experiences she had told him about, he knew he hadn’t understood.
He glanced towards the cockpit to where Gemma sat in the pilot’s seat. As if she had felt his gaze, his fiancée turned and looked back at him and smiled.
Cam was looking forward to getting back to base. He was looking forward to dinner with Gemma, even if it was just in the mess tent. He could pretend for a moment that they were a normal couple, looking forward to making a life together, planning a family. He needed that idea of his future—it was what kept him going on tough days. Gemma was the bright spot in his world. He loved his job but, if he was asked, he’d have to admit he preferred to do his job in the sterile environment of an Australian medical facility. He didn’t mind dust and dirt, he was country born and bred after all, but practising medicine in these conditions was challenging, often unpleasant and definitely not fun.
But no one was interested in his opinion and if he wanted to be with Gemma, this was where she was.
He wondered if he had any chance of convincing her to quit the army and return to Australia. She loved flying but it would be years before she would achieve flight instructor status with the army. Years before she wouldn’t have to fly combat missions. Perhaps she could work privately instead.
He wondered when it would be safe to have that discussion. Would it ever? Could he ask her to give up something she loved? How would he feel if she started to tell him how to live his life or run his career?
He knew he wouldn’t be happy.
He blew her a kiss just as a bright light burst in his peripheral vision.
The chopper lurched as Gemma’s head whipped around and even through the headphones Cam could hear the sound of tearing metal.
The chopper shuddered and he could see Gemma and her co-pilot fighting to keep control as the bird started to spin.
It took him a few seconds to work out what had happened. It felt like an eternity.
They’d been hit.
There was a second explosion, the burst of light so intense that Cam closed his eyes against the glare.
He could feel the chopper spinning wildly. He opened his eyes and saw the ground rushing towards them as the machine fell from the sky.
Black smoke filled the cabin, making Cam’s eyes water. He couldn’t see Gemma. He couldn’t see anything. He lost all sense of space and time.
He threw himself over his patient as the helicopter plummeted. He knew it was a ridiculous gesture. He wasn’t going to be able to protect him. He wasn’t going to be able to save him. The situation was completely out of his control.
There was nothing he could do.
Campbell’s leg ached and he fought hard against the urge to stand up. The meeting had been long and he was beginning to get restless. He’d never been good at sitting still and these days it was almost impossible. He needed to stand and stretch; prolonged periods of sitting disagreed with him. Irritated his mind and his body. If he sat still his leg complained and his mind wandered. He needed to be moving, he needed to be busy. He wanted to keep his mind occupied. He didn’t want time to dwell. Too much time to think had proven to be difficult.
He stretched his right leg out under the boardroom table as he tried to ease the cramp in his hip. He needed to get in the pool. Swim a few laps. He would prefer to swim a few laps in the ocean, but he knew from experience that he’d fare better in a warm pool. The heated water would ease his aching muscles. It had been two years since the chopper crash and he didn’t need ice baths any more.
It had been twenty-four months since the incident, but he was still adjusting to his new life.
A life as a solitary man.
He brought his attention back to the meeting as Douglas began to wrap it up.
Thank goodness it was almost over. Cam hoped no one had any additional items for discussion. He looked around the table at the ten other men and women, trying to gauge if any of them looked like they had something on their mind. He’d had enough experience with meetings, ward rounds as well as military discussion groups, to know that there was always one person who seemed to delight in dragging meetings on for far too long but today, for once, it appeared as though everyone was just as eager to escape as he was.
He stood up the minute Douglas officially closed the meeting. He stretched, knowing that if he didn’t take a moment to ease the stiffness in his back and leg his limp would be far more pronounced, and he preferred not to draw attention to himself.
He was used to being noticed but he didn’t want to be noticed for the wrong reasons. He knew that was ironic and he’d never say it out loud, not when he was surrounded by so many others with far more severe disabilities and injuries than he had, but he knew that perception was a very personal thing.
‘You okay?’ Doug was beside him.
Cam knew Doug would have noticed his attempt at surreptitious stretching. Doug was one of his closest friends in the service and had been a good support to him during his rehabilitation and recovery phase. His family and friends had helped get him through the past year. He felt he owed it to them to pull through, although there had been times when it had seemed like too much effort, but he was having better days now.
‘I didn’t think it was possible to have this many meetings.’ Cam had made no secret of the fact that he liked to be busy and when he’d agreed to be on this committee he’d imagined that he’d be doing something practical like overseeing the medical facilities and programme for the games, not sitting around talking.
‘We’re almost done,’ Doug said, making an effort to appease him. He knew full well Cam’s opinion about meetings. ‘The Games start next week.’
The countdown was on until the Legion’s Games began, when hundreds of injured veterans from twenty countries around the world would descend on Sydney to compete in a dozen different events across ten days. The Games were the brainchild of Prince Alfred, an army captain himself, and the Games Committee was responsible for the event but, as the host nation, the Australian defence force was heavily involved. It was a massive exercise and the logistics of the Games fell to the Australians, which was how Cam found himself involved.
‘Not much longer and your suffering will all be over,’ Doug added with a smile.
Cam doubted that. Sure, he’d have fewer meetings to attend but his current life was still so far removed from what he’d thought it was going to be; he wasn’t sure that his suffering was ever going to be over.
He’d hoped the Games would be a good distraction, a way to mark the passing of time. He’d expected to be consulted over the details of the medical facilities, but somehow, he’d found himself dragged along to every damn meeting in existence. He tried to be positive. He’d put his hand up for this project after all, but he’d put his hand up for any work that had been offered to him over the past year. Exhaustion was the only way he could get even a half-decent night’s sleep. A few hours when he could shut out the horrors of everything he’d experienced during his tour of duty in the Middle East.
‘Before you go, can I have a word with you about tomorrow’s schedule?’ Doug asked.
‘Don’t tell me there are more meetings—I’m consulting tomorrow and I know my list is pretty full.’
‘I know you’re out at the rehab centre tomorrow; that’s why I need to speak to you. I have a favour to ask. The Prince’s social media manager has arrived in Sydney ahead of the Prince and has asked for a tour of the facilities.’
‘All of them. But I thought we could start with the old barracks first.’
One of the old inner-city army bases had been repurposed as a rehabilitation facility when the site had needed updating. The active units had been reassigned to a new purpose-built base in the outer suburbs of Sydney and the old base had been upgraded and was now home to the medical facilities, including doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, exercise physiologists, a purpose-built gym and pool for the injured and returned soldiers, along with outdoor sporting facilities. The repurposed base was going to serve as the venue for the majority of the events in the Legion’s Games.
‘You’re out there tomorrow,’ Doug continued. ‘Can they go out there with you?’
‘You want me to babysit the Prince’s—what did you call them—social media manager?’
Doug nodded and sweetened the deal. ‘If you can do me this small favour, I promise I won’t drag you into any meetings for the rest of the week.’
Cam sighed and ran his hand through his thick, dark hair. A day out of the boardroom was preferable to another day of meetings. Even playing tour guide to a stranger would have to be better than that. ‘All right,’ he agreed.
‘Okay, I’ll send you the details,’ Doug said as he took out his phone and tapped away. ‘Can you collect her from her hotel at o-nine hundred hours?’
‘Her?’ he asked as his phone pinged with the incoming email. Prince Alfred had a military background and Cam had, incorrectly it seemed, assumed his social media manager would be a man.
Cam had met the Prince once while he’d been deployed in the Middle East. Once, in the days before the incident. In the days before his life went down the toilet.
‘Yes—’ Doug grinned ‘—see if you can dredge up some of your old charm. Be nice.’
Cam looked at the email on his screen and noted her name, along with the hotel address, with a raised eyebrow. Apparently, Viktoria von Grasburg was staying in one of Sydney’s five-star hotels on the Harbour. He wondered who was paying for that.
‘Sure,’ he said as he sighed and stuck his phone back in his pocket, before massaging his hip subconsciously.
Viktoria had woken up well before sunrise, unsure whether to blame her excitement or her body clock which still hadn’t adjusted to the Australian time zone. She was on the other side of the world and about to start her first day ‘on the job’. A job that had nothing to do with her being a royal, a princess. Nothing to do with cutting ribbons, shaking hands or making speeches.
She was working for her cousin, the Prince, but no one in Australia actually knew who she was. No one here knew she was a princess. As far as the organisers of the Legion’s Games were concerned she was just running the Prince’s social media campaign.
Freddie had told her no one would be bothered anyway but she hadn’t believed him. She was about to find out.
‘There’s a Dr Campbell Hamilton here to escort you,’ her assistant informed her as she handed over a small bag. ‘I’ve put your phone, a credit card, a make-up purse and your sunglasses in there. Your schedule is on your phone.’
Viktoria took a deep breath to calm her nerves, suddenly realising this was it. She was doing this. Going off to work like a regular person, out into the world.
She took the lift down to Reception. She stepped out, wondering how she would know who to look for, before realising the reception staff would advise her. She looked to the front desk and her attention was caught by a man in army uniform standing near the concierge.
‘Miss von Grasburg?’ he addressed her, and she was momentarily flummoxed. She wasn’t used to being addressed so casually. There was no Your Highness or even ma’am.
No, this was what she wanted, she reminded herself. He knew all he needed to know. She smiled to herself and swallowed her surprise.
She was Miss von Grasburg.
‘Please, call me Viktoria,’ she said as she nodded and held out her hand to shake his.
He was tall, over six feet, with thick dark hair which was a little longer than she thought would meet standard army regulations. He looked lean and muscular, fit without being too bulky. He had wide blue-grey eyes and a dimpled chin. He was clean-shaven with a full mouth and she could see a small scar running through his bottom lip. He was handsome. Very handsome.
She wasn’t sure who she had been expecting but she had never imagined this.
His handshake was firm, his skin cool, but she wasn’t prepared for the heat that spread from his fingertips into her hand and up her arm. She managed to maintain her composure even while her skin tingled and flared under his touch.
She waited for him to say it was a pleasure to meet her, but he didn’t. Was that something people only said to be polite?
‘I understand you want to see the Games facilities?’ he said as he released her hand.
She nodded. The power of speech had deserted her momentarily. Dr Campbell Hamilton was tall, dark and handsome and made her feel strangely nervous.
She had an odd sensation that this man was the reason she was here. That he was what she’d come for. She had an overpowering sense that he was going to play an important role in her days here. Or was she just getting caught up in the excitement of the day ahead?
‘My car is out the front,’ he said as he turned and began walking towards the exit. He was quite abrupt, and Viktoria was a little thrown. While she had the sense that he was important, that there was some sort of connection between them, he didn’t appear to share her thoughts. She got the impression she had annoyed him. He seemed to wish he was somewhere else. Doing something else. Her bubble of enthusiasm deflated slightly but, refusing to be completely crushed, she followed him outside.
He was standing beside a white SUV, holding the door open for her.
‘Is there a problem?’ he asked when she made no move to climb in.
Viktoria looked down the driveway and saw Hendrik pulling to a stop.
‘I arranged for Hendrik to drive us,’ she said.
She gestured towards the black luxury SUV that was now stationary behind Campbell’s car. ‘Hendrik. My driver.’
‘You have a driver?’
‘No one said anything about a driver. This is my car. I will be driving.’
Viktoria made a split decision. She didn’t want to irritate him further and she wanted to live like a normal person. She’d let him drive. That would be safe enough, surely? After all, he was a government employee. ‘Do you have some identification?’ she asked.
‘Identification?’ He was frowning.
‘Oui. If you can show Hendrik some identification to verify yourself, I will give him the day off and let you drive me.’ She knew Hendrik wouldn’t be happy, but she’d deal with him later.
‘You’ll let me drive you?’
His tone was frosty, but Viktoria nodded even as she wished they could begin this conversation again. They were not getting off to a great start.
Cam bit back a sigh and resisted the urge to run his hand through his hair in frustration. He should have taken the meetings. This was going to be a nightmare. They already seemed to be at cross purposes, working off different briefs. He couldn’t care less if she came with him or not, but he had gone out of his way to collect her this morning and he didn’t appreciate finding out that it hadn’t been necessary. He could have easily met her at the barracks and sorted out her credentials and visitor’s clearance then. But he knew he had to be polite. This woman worked for the Prince. It wouldn’t do to get her offside. He suspected she was going to be demanding. She probably had every right to be, but he wished he wasn’t going to be the one who had to meet her demands.
And then she smiled at him.
The photo provided for her clearance documents hadn’t done her justice. It had been a flattering photo—she’d looked attractive—but he’d been mistaken. She wasn’t just pretty; she was absolutely stunning.
Her smile was like the sun coming out and it burnt through the fog that had surrounded his psyche for the past two years. As the fog lifted, he felt as if he could see clearly for the first time in months…and what he saw made him catch his breath.
The Army Doc’s Secret Princess is available here