EXCERPT: Danielle Steele's 'HRH'

She left her slicker hanging on a peg outside the kitchen, and took off her boots. They were noticeably smaller than any other pair there. She had tiny feet, and was so small she was almost a miniature. In flat shoes, her brother often teased her that she looked like a little girl, particularly with her long blond hair, which was still hanging wet down her back. She had small delicate hands, a perfect figure nothing like a child's, although she was very slight and always just a little bit too thin, and a face like a cameo. People said she looked like her mother, and somewhat like her father, who was as fair as she was, although both he and her brother were very tall, well over six feet. Christianna's mother had been as small as she was and had died when Christianna was five, and Friedrich was fifteen. Their father had never remarried. Christianna was the lady of the house, and was often her father's hostess now at important dinners or events. It was one of the responsibilities expected of her, and although she didn't enjoy it, it was a duty she performed lovingly for him. She and her father had always been extremely close. He had always been sensitive to the fact that it had been hard for her growing up without a mother. And in spite of his many duties, he had made every effort to be both father and mother to her, not always an easy task.

Christianna bounded up the back stairs in jeans, sweater, and stocking feet. She arrived in the pantry slightly breathless, nodded at the people there, and slipped quietly into the dining room. Her father was sitting at the dining table alone, poring over a stack of papers, wearing his glasses, with a serious look on his face. He didn't hear Christianna come in. He glanced up and smiled as she slipped silently in to the chair beside him. He was obviously pleased to see his daughter, he always was.

"What have you been up to, Cricky?" He had called her that since she was a little girl. He gently patted her head as she leaned over to kiss him, and he noticed her wet hair. "You've been out in the rain. Were you riding in this weather?" He worried about her, more than he did about Freddy. Christianna had always been so small and seemed so fragile to him. Ever since losing his wife to cancer eighteen years before, he had treated their daughter like the priceless gift she had been to them when she was born. She looked so much like her mother. His late wife had been exactly the age Christianna was now when he married her. She was French, half Orleans and half Bourbon, the two royal families of France, who had been the ruling monarchy before the French Revolution. Christianna was descended from royal families on all sides. Her father's ancestors were mostly German, with cousins in England. Her father's native tongue was German, though he and Christianna's mother had always spoken French, as she did with her children. Once she was gone, in her memory, Christianna's father had continued speaking to his children in French. It was still the language in which Christianna was most comfortable, and which she preferred, although she spoke German, Italian, Spanish, and English as well. Her English had improved immeasurably during her years in college in California, and she was totally fluent now.

"You shouldn't go out riding in the rain," he scolded her gently. "You'll catch a cold, or worse." He always feared her getting ill, excessively so, he acknowledged, since the death of his wife.

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