May 13 = DAY 2 = Chapter 2
You can also download the free sample from Apple Books on any iOS device. Don't forget to PRE-ORDER HERE from your favorite ebook website to get ROYAL right when it's released! https://blairbabylon.com/books/royal/
Cold air chilled Maxence’s bare skin. His back rested against the ship’s frigid steel wall.
He maintained a steady rate in his breathing: five seconds inhale, hold for five seconds, five seconds exhale, and hold for five seconds.
The steel of the ship groaned around him as the vessel crested a small wave, the floor rising and sinking under Max’s butt and legs in the dark. He was naked except for his torn tuxedo trousers, which he’d ripped the legs off at his mid-thigh.
Maxence shivered in the wintry, damp air.
Fetid garbage stink filled the sea air so strongly that Maxence could taste spoiled meat on the back of his tongue. The faint taste of rusted iron was his own dried blood that had flowed from his nostrils, and he’d spat from his mouth where his teeth had cut the insides of his lips during the fight.
After he’d stripped off his shirt and tuxedo jacket he’d been wearing, he’d tried to wipe the blood off of his face with it, but the metallic taste still pooled around his gums.
One molar wiggled when he probed it with his tongue where he’d taken a hard punch to the side of his face. The puffy flesh around his eye was tender, too.
The backs of his hands rested lightly on his lap, his raw knuckles touching the bare flesh of his knees below the torn fabric of his pants.
His Patek Philippe watch, a Christmas gift from his friend Arthur years ago, encircled his wrist, and the crucifix he always wore weighed on the back of his neck.
His bare toes explored rivets on the steel floor as he waited, resting.
His clothes and shoes were heaped beside him, touching his thigh. Maybe someone would find them someday, analyze his blood on them, and discover what had happened to the prince who’d been kidnapped from a gala during a mass murder. He doubted it. After his kidnappers killed him, they would doubtlessly throw anything of his into the Mediterranean Sea, where it would sink to the bottom, perhaps to settle near his body.
In the stinking darkness of the sealed room on the ship, Maxence couldn’t rule out that he had already been murdered and was confined to his own personal definition of Hell.
The floor of the small dark room on the ship fell, and Maxence slid with it in the dense black air.
His body stank of sweat, adrenaline, and terror. He hurt all over, from the constant strain of his wrenched shoulder and where the plastic zip-ties had flayed his wrists, to the soreness of bruises deep in his muscles and ribs where his kidnappers’ punches had landed.
He’d managed to slither out of the zip-ties within an hour of being thrown in the locked room, his blood acting as a lubricant as he slid them off.
Pain had ceased to have meaning for him years before. Most of the time, it felt—cold.
Only that morning, Maxence had awakened in Dree’s arms, and the day had offered him two mutually exclusive dreams that were both all he’d ever wanted in his life.
Father Booker had been dispatched from Rome to offer Maxence the chance to be ordained as a priest, which he’d been working toward for a decade.
And yet, the possibility of a life married to Dree Clark had tempted him so much that he had retrieved his grandmother’s engagement ring from the vaults of Monaco and proposed marriage to her in the middle of the Sea Change Gala.
His stomach roiled, and he vomited seasick bile on the other side of his clothes in the darkness.
Yes, he must be in Hell.
Time ceased to have meaning as minutes or hours crawled over his skin with the same weight.
His stomach clenched with hunger and nausea, though he knew it was nothing compared to what was going to come if he didn’t get off the ship.
Maxence breathed, completing what must’ve been hundreds or thousands of practiced respiration cycles meant to keep himself calm.
Something scratched at the door.
Maxence’s eyes turned toward the sound, the muscles around his eyes and in his temples straining to see in the absolute blackness.
His heart tapped faster.
Rusty gears in the door ground against each other.
Maxence rolled, lightly bracing himself on his toes and fingertips and crouching. He grabbed his discarded clothes beside him.
A slice of sunlight blasted into the room.
A man’s silhouette blocked the brightness, the barrel of a semiautomatic handgun visible in his black shape.
Maxence stayed low as he threw his clothes at the man, standing well to the side of the beam of sunlight. The dark fabric fluttered in the air in front of the guy like attacking birds.
The silhouette recoiled, and sparks and a gunshot slammed through the air in the tiny room. Acrid sulfur stung the inside of Max’s nose.
Maxence leaped and drove the man’s hand holding the gun against the wall beside the door. Steel clanged.
The gun discharged again, a blast that barreled pressure into Maxence’s ears. The bullet ricocheted off the metal with a sharp ping.
Maxence slammed the man’s hand into the wall again, forcing him to drop the gun. The heavy steel landed on Max’s bare foot. A spike of pain shot through the thin bones there.
The man bent, reaching for the gun skittering across the floor. Maxence drove upward with his knee, catching his assailant in the face. The man’s head whipped backward.
As the kidnapper was toppling out of the room, Maxence kicked the gun, and it skittered away into the darkness.
The man had another gun and was bringing it around to aim at Maxence.
Maxence punched him hard on the side of his head.
The guy crumpled at Max’s feet.
Shouts rang out on the deck of the ship beyond Maxence’s prison cell.
Maxence sprinted out of the darkness and into the fire of the morning sunlight.