About A Royal Christmas Quandary:
Readers looking for a light, fun read full of holiday mischief will be delighted by Samantha Hastings’ A Royal Christmas Quandary, perfect for fans of A Christmas Prince and The Crown.
When you spend Christmas in a castle, anything is possible.
1860. Lady Alexandrina Gailey is looking forward to a cozy holiday at Windsor Castle with her best friend, Princess Alice, and her long-time crush, Lord George Worthington. But Drina’s plans are all but dashed when Alice’s parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, declare that Alice must choose one of two royal princes to become engaged to before Christmas.
There’s just one problem: George, a junior member of the Foreign Office, has accidentally misplaced one of the princes.
Together, Drina and George scour the town of Windsor for the missing prince, desperately hoping to deliver him to the royal dinner party with the queen none the wiser. They might just need a royal Christmas miracle to pull it off.
Windsor Castle, Christmas 1860
The city of Windsor was covered in a blanket of white snow, making it look like a Christmas card. Lady Alexandrina Gailey—known to her friends as Drina—had been traveling with her parents for over six hours on a train. She stepped into the horse-drawn royal carriage for the last part of their journey, beyond ready to finally arrive at Windsor Castle for this year’s Christmas visit.
“You are almost as pretty as I was, Liebling,” her mother said in her thick German accent as she sat down beside Drina. They had the same flaxen hair, light blue eyes, and heart-shaped faces. The resemblance was striking, even if her mother was more than three times her age.
“Yes, Mama,” she agreed for the tenth time that day.
“But you are too tall and too skinny.”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about my height,” she reminded her mother.
“And your nose is too pointy.”
Drina could only roll her eyes.
Her father, the Marquis of Rothfield, climbed into the carriage and sat down across from them. He rubbed his own long pointy nose and then patted down the back of his hair, which always stood up. “I’m afraid that I’m to blame for the nose and the unfortunate height.”
“I don’t mind them, Papa,” she lied dutifully.
“And you are still not engaged to be married,” her mother complained.
Drina took her mother’s hand. “I’m only seventeen, Mama. I still have plenty of time to find a good match. You didn’t even meet Papa until you were forty-two.”
“I married a king when I was sixteen years old and had provided him a son by the time I was your age.”
“Your first husband was twice your age, and his previous wife was your father’s sister,” Drina pointed out. “Which makes him your uncle. I feel sick just thinking about it.”
“Among royalty, it isn’t uncommon for such intermarriages between families.”
“Then I’m glad that because Papa is my father, I’m not considered royalty,” Drina said, unable to repress a shiver.
“You may not be royal, Drina,” her mother said in her stateliest manner. “But I am the Princess Royal of Hoburg and I reigned as Queen Regent of Tannheim for thirteen years until your half-brother was crowned king. And you are related to all the great royal families in Europe, including the Queen of England, and as such, suitors from all over the world should be knocking down our door.”
“It would be terribly inconvenient if anyone knocked down our door in this weather, dearest,” her father said, pointing at the icy rain that had begun to fall. “Not to mention cold.”
Drina laughed behind her gloved hand.
“Anthony, I didn’t mean it … you say, literal?”
“Literally,” Drina corrected. “Oh, look, Mama. I see Windsor Castle.”
But her mother wasn’t to be distracted.
“You won’t inherit your father’s English title or his estate,” she said, fiddling with the ruby pendant on the end of her long silver chain. Hoburg was famous for its jewels, and her mother never missed an opportunity to flaunt her jewelry. “This I do not like. We must talk to Cousin Victoria about changing it.”
“I hope she will, Mama,” Drina said, “but you know it is the law. My grandfather Rothfield entailed the estate so that it could only be inherited by a male son and then a male grandson.”
“Tales. Such English foolishness,” she said with a tsk.
At last they arrived at Windsor Castle—a great stone monstrosity from another age, recently updated by Queen Victoria to house her enormous family of nine children. Drina could almost imagine a knight in full armor riding out on his horse as their carriage passed through the guard tower. Inside there was a large courtyard of frozen grass. It was almost as if the castle was its own city; there were so many towers, windows, and parapets. The carriage stopped in front of the door that led to the private apartments, where they were met by servants carrying black umbrellas.
Drina ducked under an umbrella and the servant walked her inside the castle. It was like stepping into another world. The outside was wet and dreary, yet the inside was like a fairy palace. The chandeliers had been replaced with Christmas trees hanging from the ceilings. Pine boughs covered in cones and berries adorned every mantle. Mistletoe and holly decorated the tops of the windows.
She breathed in deeply—it smelled of Christmas, spicy wassail, and everything that was good and jolly.
“You’ve finally arrived,” Lord George Worthington said, bounding toward her. He flashed a smile of his perfectly straight white teeth. His dark hair, so different from her flaxen yellow, was nearly black and completely messy. But on him, messy was extremely attractive.
Critically looking, she noticed that his brown eyes were widely spaced and his eyebrows were thick. His nose was rather too large for his face and he was short for a young man of eighteen. But when he smiled, one simply forgot those obvious faults. Or at least Drina did. She’d fancied George since the first time she’d met him when they were ten years old.
“I heard that you were arriving today,” he said, holding out his hands. Drina placed her gloved ones inside of his and sighed in contentment when he gave them a squeeze. “Drina, I need you desperately.”
Am I dreaming?
“Excuse me?” she managed to squeak, her heart behaving rather irregularly. Her knees trembling like jelly—probably from all of the hours traveling on the train and then the carriage.
“My father asked me to look after Prince Friedrich of Hoburg during his stay at Windsor Castle. The prince arrived this morning and I can’t understand more than a couple of German words that he says.”
Drina pulled back her hands, missing the warmth of his touch immediately. “Friedrich is my first cousin once-removed and he speaks English excellently.”
“He’s only speaking German,” George replied with a shrug. “I don’t know why he won’t speak English. I’ve spoken slowly and loudly and he pretends not to understand—”
“Because speaking louder always helps with language barriers,” she quipped.
He shrugged again, flashing her another grin. “Will you come with me, Drina, and speak to him?”
She would go with him anywhere he asked her to—that was the problem. She cared for him too much and he only thought of her as a friend.
“I suppose so,” she said, wrinkling her nose in annoyance. She handed her bonnet and shawl to Miss Russon, her lady’s maid, who was standing outside her room. “Please unpack my trunk and see that the crimson dress is prepared for tonight.”
“Very good, my lady,” Miss Russon said, bobbing a curtsy.
Drina pointed her hand forward. “Lead on.”
George did, taking Drina’s hand and placing it on the crook of his arm. Drina tsked. She didn’t want to stand this close to him. She was determined not to fancy herself in love with him anymore. Or to notice his intoxicatingly musky smell as they walked down the long corridor.
“It’s been an age since I saw you last,” he said, patting her hand on his arm.
Drina shook her head nonchalantly. He was only being friendly and she wasn’t going to read too much into this.
Not this time.
“Not since the London season, I suppose.”
“More than seven months,” George said, looking at her intently.
“I missed you at the Ascot races in June,” she admitted. “Alice was occupied most of the time with the two princes from Hesse.”
“I wish I could’ve been there,” he agreed with another devastating smile. “My brother had two horses racing in it, but a bridge washed out on the Westerham estate and I was overseeing the rebuilding of it.”
“When I arrived back to Rothfield House in the summer, you … you weren’t at Westerham Palace.”
“Oh,” George waved his hand, “once the bridge was done, my father insisted that I either join the army or take the exams for Cambridge. When I refused to do either of those, he made me go to London and work as a junior secretary in the Foreign Office.”
“Do you not want to work in the Foreign Office?”
“Not at all,” he admitted. “I’d much prefer to train as an engineer.”
“You want to drive trains?” she asked in surprise.
George laughed and shook his head. “No, no. A civil engineer. I’d like nothing better than to build tunnels and design bridges—like the one I built at Westerham.”
“Then why don’t you?” Drina asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “You’re a man. You can do anything you’d like to.”
“If only that were true,” he said, shaking his head mournfully. “My father controls my purse strings and he believes an engineer is too lowly a station for the son of a duke.”
“Even a second son?”
“Especially a second son,” George said with a sigh. “He said if I mentioned it again, he’d pack me off to Austria to be a secretary to the British ambassador there. Lord Augustus Loftus is an old friend of my father’s.”
“I’m sorry for you, then,” she said, her voice still sharper than usual.
George stopped walking and turned to look at her. “You seem changed … different. Have I offended you somehow? If so, I beg your pardon.”
“Even though you have no idea what the offense might be?” she asked, unable to keep her lips from forming the slightest of smiles.
“Isn’t that worse?” he said. “To not even realize how I’ve offended you?”
You keep making me fall in love with you and you aren’t in love with me, Drina thought. She didn’t say that, of course.
“I’m not at all offended,” she said instead. “I’m just a trifle out of sorts from being trapped in a small space with my parents for several hours. If the train ride had lasted even an hour longer, I would have run mad.”
They continued walking until they reached a corridor that led to another wing of rooms. He knocked on the third door and a young man opened it. Her cousin, Friedrich, didn’t look at all like she remembered him—though it had been nearly eight years since she’d last seen him. He was tall, almost a giant. She would’ve guessed his height to be over six feet. His hair was dark blond, nearly light brown, not at all the flaxen yellow that proved dominant in her mother’s family. His eyes were small and green, and his lips thick. He gave her a big smile and bowed with one arm behind his back.
“Fräulein Alexandrina, you are even more beautiful than I remembered,” he said in perfectly cadenced German with a strong Hoburg accent.
Drina hadn’t realized until this moment how much she’d missed Hoburg, her home for the first ten years of her life. The memories were so vivid that she could almost feel the breeze on her face and the leaves in her hair. She remembered countless adventures following Friedrich as they ran through the thick forest escaping from a fiery dragon, an evil drude, or eine böse Hexe, who was about to cast a dark spell on them.
She blinked back the tears that wanted to rush to her eyes. This wasn’t the time to get sentimental.
“You look quite different, too,” she replied in German.
“I’m honored that you would remember me.”
Drina blinked in confusion. It had only been eight years; how could she have forgotten her cousin? Friedrich had been her dearest friend and fellow dragon slayer. They had conquered enemy knights, saved castles with only wooden swords, and then eaten a great many Black Forest cakes together. She could almost taste the bitter cherries with the sweet chocolate on her tongue.
George touched her arm and she tried to ignore the jolt of excitement that she felt. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “What is the dashed fellow saying? Why won’t he speak to me in English?”
He didn’t release his hold on her arm, and Drina attempted to concentrate with his hand touching her. She nodded to George and then said in German, “Lord Worthington would like to ask how you are enjoying your stay here in England.”
The tall prince grinned again with his thick lips. He replied in German, “I like it here very much, ja? They treat servants like kings. I think I might not return to Hoburg with His Serene Highness, ja?”
She felt as if she’d been stabbed in the stomach by one of Friedrich’s wooden swords. Drina’s civil smile faded and she turned to George to say in a whisper, “That isn’t my cousin, Prince Friedrich.”
George made a sort of exasperated grunting noise. “Then who the devil is he?”
“Should I ask?”
“Yes,” he said impatiently.
Drina replaced her civil smile. “This man, Lord Worthington, would like to know your name.”
The giant man touched his chest with his hand and said in a loud voice, “Herr Dietrich Bauer.”
Bauer. She did recognize that name. Her nanny in Hoburg was a Bauer, and this tall fellow was probably her younger brother who had worked in the castle. “Herr Bauer, how long have you been Prince Friedrich’s valet?”
He gave her another face splitting grin and said in the same overly loud, slow voice as he spoke in German, “Three years, Fräulein Alexandrina and Herr Vorthington.”
George leaned in again, his lips brushed her ear. She felt strangely weak. “What is the man saying? I can’t understand him even if he speaks louder and slower.”
“He’s been Prince Friedrich’s valet for the last three years,” she explained with a laugh. “You put a valet in the Crown Prince’s rooms.”
George swore under his breath and raked his hands through his already messy hair until it stood on end. “Ask him where the Crown Prince is.”
Drina smiled at the valet, and asked in German, “Where might I find His Royal Highness? I understand he didn’t accompany you to Windsor Castle?”
Herr Bauer shook his head. “Prince Friedrich is very fond of English beer. Me, I like a good German beer.”
“And?” she prompted with a hand gesture.
“He got out of the carriage in town and said he would meet me at the castle later today, ja,” Herr Bauer said.
This sounded exactly like her cousin—he was never one to follow royal protocol. Drina translated for George. “Prince Friedrich’s in the village getting drunk and will come to the castle later today.”
George released his breath. “Well as long as the fellow is here before the state dinner, everything should be fine.”
“Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Bauer,” Drina said, and acknowledged him with a bow of her head.
Herr Bauer gave her another sweeping bow. “Auf Wiedersehen, Fräulein Alexandrina.”
Drina gently removed George’s hand from her arm—inwardly sighing at the loss of contact—and began to walk back the way she came.
“Where are you going?” George asked.
“To my rooms.”
“But who is going to explain to this fellow that he’s not in the servant’s quarters?!”
“I daresay a future foreign diplomat, like yourself, can figure that out,” Drina said primly, and resolutely didn’t respond to the sad look on his face.
She forced herself to keep walking until she reached her room. When she opened the door to her very pink room, she expected to see her lady’s maid laying out her crimson dress, not a princess. Princess Alice Maud Mary, the third child of Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, was carefully placing Drina’s crimson dress on the bed.
“Alice!” she cried, and ran to hug her friend.
Princess Alice was nearly a head shorter, so Drina hugged her friend’s shoulders and Alice hugged her waist. Drina released her friend and stepped back. Alice’s hair was brown and her blue eyes were the most prominent feature in her face—they were arresting in their earnestness. Her sharp features, paired with her air of intelligence, never ceased to attract attention. And her quiet dignity and poise were the envy of many a young lady.
“Did you get lost on the way to the room that you’ve stayed in over a dozen times?” Alice asked.
Drina shrugged her shoulders. “Not exactly.”
Alice folded her arms across her large chest and sighed. “Not again.”
The princess only said one word, but she said it with contempt: “George.”
Drina felt the heat rising to her face as she stammered, “H-h-he needed my help.”
“With what?” Alice asked. Her large, slightly protruding Hanoverian eyes didn’t miss anything.
“His father put him in charge of my cousin, Prince Friedrich, and he couldn’t understand what he was saying.”
“I thought your cousin spoke English very well.”
“He does,” she said, starting to giggle. “George was playing errand boy for his valet.”
If royal princesses could snort, Alice certainly did, before laughing so hard that she cried. Drina laughed, too, and dabbed at her own tears with a handkerchief. It was several moments before they both could control their giggles.
Alice finally stopped laughing, holding a stitch in her side. “Then where is Prince Friedrich?”
Drina’s smile faded. Prince Friedrich had been invited to Windsor Castle as a possible suitor to Princess Alice, along with Prince Louis of Hesse. Drina contemplated making an excuse for her errant cousin, but she didn’t wish to deceive her dearest friend.
“He’s not here,” she said at last. “His valet said he went to the village to drink English beer.”
“Not a very promising start,” Alice huffed in annoyance. “I don’t want a drunkard for a husband.”
“What about Prince Louis?” Drina asked with a fake smile. “This is his second visit, isn’t it? I remember he came with his brother to see the Ascot races in June, and I thought him excessively handsome then.”
“He is very handsome,” Alice admitted with a sigh. “But I don’t feel like I know him at all. I feel true companionship is an impossibility for us—our interests are so different. I don’t think our thoughts will ever meet.”
“Oh,” Drina said, not knowing what else to say. Few people in the world were as clever as Alice; she was a polymath and gifted with languages. “Our thoughts don’t always align and yet we’re the best of friends. Do you remember the first time we met? You’d escaped from your governess and we played hide-and-seek in the chapel.”
She laughed at the memory and Alice even managed a small smile.
“That particular bit of mischief was your idea,” Alice pointed out.
Drina giggled again. “And then you told your mother that we’d only gone into the chapel to sit among the common people so that you could understand their point of view.”
Reluctantly, Alice laughed, too. “I spared us both a strict punishment with that mistruth.”
“It was a bald-faced lie and you know it!” Drina said, and gave her friend a playful shove on the arm. “Maybe you should play hide-and-seek with Prince Louis.”
Her friend blushed rosily. “You know that none of the royal children are allowed to be alone.”
“Your father’s rule, or Baron Stockmar’s?”
“Baron Stockmar thinks Prince Louis shows a decided partiality for me,” Alice said in a flat voice. “Or at least in my family and fortune.”
“Perhaps you just need to get to know him better,” Drina said hopefully.
“Perhaps.” Alice turned away from her as she added, “My parents want me to pick a royal prince by Christmas.”
“But that is only a week away!”
“I know,” Alice said, still not looking at her. “But I’ve received royal suitors the entire year. And my sister was engaged at fourteen and married at seventeen. I suppose I should be happy that I only have to be engaged by seventeen.”
Drina wanted to say something comforting, but she didn’t know what. Instead she put her hands on her friend’s shoulders and gave her a backward embrace, hoping that her friend could feel her love and support through it. They stood there silently for a time before Alice turned and pointed to the crimson dress laid out on the bed. “My mother would never let me wear such a revealing dress,” she said in a teasing voice.
“My mother selected it,” Drina said with a wink. “I’m supposed to catch a husband in it.”
“Oh dear, I don’t think there’s enough material here for two people,” Alice said, and they both laughed.
About the Author:
Samantha Hastings has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. She met her husband in a turkey-sandwich line. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends most of her time reading, eating popcorn, and chasing her kids. Her novels include The Last Word and The Invention of Sophie Carter.