Her Cowboy Prince - Madeline Ash
“He’s dead. All three of them are dead.”
The phone crackled in Frankie Cowan’s ear as the words knifed between her ribs. Stunned, her breath gave a little hic and she halted on the dirt track that led to her friends’ ranch on the outskirts of Sage Haven. Dead?
“Philip.” Dread shut her eyes and she almost lost her balance. “What are you talking about?”
Her boss didn’t answer. His soft crying fed her panic.
No. The three cowboy brothers she’d spent years watching over couldn’t be—not while she’d been out of town—
The ground pitched beneath her and she buckled, landing on her knees with a hand braced in front of her. This was a mistake. They weren’t gone.
Kris isn’t gone.
“Don’t make me guess, Philip,” she said, fear harsh in her voice. “Report.”
“It collapsed.” He spoke through his tears. “The balcony. While they were banqueting. King Vinci. Prince Aron. And—and . . .” He made a noise of muffled grief, unable to finish, and she knew he meant the king’s middle brother, Prince Noel.
She sank back on her shins in relief. Philip’s call wasn’t about the brothers she’d come to know in this quiet paradise in southern Montana, but their extended family in a kingdom halfway across the world.
The king, his son, and his brother. The royal family of Kiraly.
Except. If the royal family were dead, that meant—
Her chest squeezed so tightly her ribs threatened to snap. “No,” she breathed.
“Yes.” Philip’s own whisper was thin with pain.
“What—” She broke off as her attention settled on the brothers’ ranch ahead. Oh, boys. Did they know yet? Were they inside with their father discussing it right now? “What’s going to happen?”
The answer was obvious. Her heart raged against it.
“Prince Erik is unwell,” she made herself say, and pinched the bridge of her nose. Erik was the cowboys’ father, youngest brother to the deceased king—and sudden heir to the Kiralian throne. “Too unwell. He can’t do it.”
“Then you know the answer, Frankie.”
It was going to destroy her life.
“Your reports show Prince Markus is a good man,” Philip said, voice wavering. “A decent man.”
Her guilt flared at Philip’s mention of her reports and she tightened her grip on the phone, pushing herself to her feet. She staggered a little as she moved off the walking track that ran between the road and the long front fence of the brothers’ property.
“Mark’s steady,” she said about the kindhearted firstborn cowboy as she braced a shoulder against one of the many trees that lined the path. “But you can’t separate them. They’re triplets, for God’s sake—they can’t survive apart. It won’t work like this.”
“They won’t be separated.”
“Then how do you—”
The answer kicked her in the chest.
He wanted Kris and Tommy to leave Montana. Leave their ranch. No way. She could imagine Mark stepping up to his duty no matter how it tore him apart. But his brothers belonged here, in this small town dwarfed by the Rockies. The only home they’d known in their twenty-five years. It had shaped them, defined them—taught them to live with humility and decency and an unflinching passion for honest work.
She’d kill to have been shaped by something so pure.
“You’ve been promoted within the royal guard.” His words silenced her. “You’re now head of personal security to the new royal family.”
Her heart stopped.
She was what?
“Congratulations.” The well-wishes fell like a deadweight on her shoulders.
“No.” Of all things holy, no. “That’s your role—”
“Not anymore. I must focus my attention on training and advising Markus. He’s never even visited Kiraly.” Philip paused as if that fact was only just sinking in. He made a faint sound of distress. “I don’t know if I can handle this.”
“You can.” She offered him the confidence she lacked as she turned to press her shoulder blades against the tree trunk. “But you’ll need support, and that means replacing head of personal security with someone more experienced than me. Which, and you should be nodding along here, is basically everyone.”
It had been four years since she’d traveled to Montana to prove herself capable of security. To get her foot in the door—not end up running the show. Had he lost his mind?
“Give me something small,” she said. “Guard duty in the tourist precinct. Night shift at the gate.” People like her didn’t get put in charge. “I haven’t worked in the palace before. Promote someone else.”
His snap of authority made her cold.
“You alone know these untrained princes, Frankie. You’ve spent time with them. You know the security they need. How they’ll respond