EXCERPT: Danielle Steele's 'HRH'

When the dog strayed from the path, she called his name, he hesitated only for an instant, and then came back to her each time. He was normally well behaved, but the rain excited him, as he ran and barked. Christianna was having as much fun as the dog. After nearly an hour, slightly out of breath, she stopped, the dog panting heavily beside her. She took a shortcut then, and half an hour later, they were once again back where they began. It had been a wonderful outing for both mistress and dog, and each looked as disreputable and disheveled as the other. Christianna's long, almost white-blond hair was matted to her head, her face was wet, and even her eyelashes were stuck together. She never wore makeup, unless she had to go out or was likely to be photographed, and she was wearing the jeans she had brought back from Berkeley. They were a souvenir of her lost life. She had loved every moment of her four years at UC Berkeley. She had fought hard to be allowed to go. Her brother had gone to Oxford, and her father had suggested the Sorbonne for her. Christianna had been adamant about going to college in the States, and her father had finally relented, though reluctantly. Going that far from home spelled freedom to her, and she had reveled in each day she was there, and had hated to come home when she graduated in June. She had made friends she missed sorely now, they were part of another life she missed so much. She had come home to face her responsibilities, and do what was expected of her. To Christianna, it felt like a heavy burden, lightened only by moments such as these, running through the woods with her dog. The rest of the time since coming home, she had felt as though she were in prison, serving a life sentence. There was no one she could have said that to, and doing so would have made her sound ungrateful for all she had. Her father was extremely kind to her. He had sensed, more than seen, her sadness since returning from the States. But there was nothing he could do about it. Christianna knew as well as he did that her childhood, and the freedom she had enjoyed in California, had come to an end.

Charles looked up at his mistress questioningly as they reached the end of the bridle path, as though asking her if they really had to go back.

"I know," Christianna said softly, patting him, "I don't want to either." The rain felt gentle on her face, and she didn't mind getting soaked, or her long blond mane getting wet, any more than the dog did. The slicker protected her, and her boots were caked with mud. She laughed as she looked at him, thinking it was hard to believe that this muddy brown dog was really white.

She needed the exercise, as did the dog. He wagged his tail as he looked at her, and then with a slightly more decorous step, they walked home. She was hoping to slip in the back door, but getting Charles into the house, in his disreputable condition, would be a greater challenge. He was too filthy to take upstairs, and she knew she would have to take him in through the kitchen. He was in desperate need of a bath after their muddy walk.

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