Wearing the livery of a servant, Tilly boldly walks out into the Palace.
This was both the easiest and riskiest part of the break-in.
It was easy because there are always servants going about their business in the Palace — even in the middle of the night. I was just one among many. As long as none of the real servants paid too much attention to me — and I was just as invisible to them as to anyone else — I was golden.
It was risky because I’d known quite a few servants and guards well by the time William and I parted ways. A servant’s position in the Royal Palace is a very good job, complete with a certain level of status, good pay, great benefits, and the Royal family’s well-known tradition of providing sizable retirement gifts to loyal servants. It was extremely likely my friends among servants and guards still worked here. If I ran across any of them I could be in serious trouble.
That’s one reason I carried the towels and linens. I had my left hand propped beneath the stack and brought my right hand across to balance it. Servants always walk next to the walls, leaving the middle of the hallway free for nobles and government officials. The stack of cloth blocked my head entirely from most people using the hall while my right arm blocked much of my face from anyone in front of me. It was far from a perfect disguise but it was the best option available to me.
Despite looking as if both hands were busy, I had little trouble lifting a key card from another servant wearing the same livery as me. If Palace security followed the same protocols as before the card would unlock any door in the living area except for the Royal quarters.
I was most fearful of the servants’ stairway. Lift chutes were the location for servants to exchange gossip, so there was no way I would risk using one of them. Still, the stairs were comparatively narrow, meaning passing servants quite close to each other. With my big pile of stuff, I’d have to turn sideways to let another servant go by. And that’s exactly what I did each time I passed someone. It worked great until, suddenly, it didn’t.
Trudging up my fifth flight of stairs, I heard the quick footsteps of another servant descending. They were too light to belong to a man, which was unfortunate. I knew many more female servants than male. I also couldn’t count on my body below the neck — shown to good effect by the curve-hugging uniform — to distract a woman as easily as it would a man. Still, as the other servant drew near, I turned to face the wall and continued up the stairs sideways. My worst fears were realized when the servant slowed her descent as she approached me.
“Well now, who have we here?” The voice was husky for a woman, a tone I knew most men found extremely sexy. “You must be new because I know I’d recognize that ass if I’d seen it before!”
Did I mention one of the downsides to a servant’s position in the Palace? Some senior servants considered the younger members of the staff fair game for sexual conquest. Many of them were open about their interest to the point of discomfort among other servants. Everyone who could put a stop to the whole thing tended to look the other way as long as the senior servants never got overly familiar without permission. It did make life uncomfortable for anyone who ended up attracting unwanted attention though.
I kept moving but knew a reply was required. Hoping to sound younger than I was, I pitched my voice higher than normal, “I prefer men, miss.”
A hand caressed my butt and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’re young. I bet I could change your mind. Why don’t you turn around and let me see the rest of you?”
“Why not, little girl?”
“Because I don’t want you grabbing my tits, miss.”
A throaty laugh exploded behind me and she gave my butt another squeeze, “Cheeky, aren’t you?”
She released me and resumed her trip downstairs. Her last words floated up, “I’ll wear you down eventually, little girl.”
I passed several more servants on the stairs, but none of them spoke or even slowed down. Finally, I reached the level with the Royal quarters and exited, happily putting the confining stairway behind me.
My relief was short-lived. Approaching the corridor to the Royal quarters and the quarters reserved for special guests, I heard two voices coming from the direction of William’s and Olivia’s suite.
One protested, “I did not say I was fantasizing about Lady Jeanine!”
A second replied in a calm tone, “Sure you did.”
“No, Rob, I simply asked if you had seen the vid about her abduction and rescue.”
“And then you pulled out your pad and offered to show it to me, Josh.”
“So?” Josh asked. “Offering to show you a vid doesn’t mean I’ve been fantasizing about her!”
“She’s a beautiful woman, Josh.”
“So is Princess Olivia, but that doesn’t mean I imagine myself having my way with her.”
Josh and Rob could go on like that for hours. Josh would say something that sounded benign and then Rob would respond with a nonsequitur that no one saw coming. Josh would demand an explanation but never accepted the one Rob gave. To be fair, Rob’s logic was twisted in the extreme. But it was also logical — if you turned your head just right, closed one eye, and squinted through the other one. I never figured out if Rob’s mind was as twisted as his logic, but he always got a rise from Josh.
A year and a half ago, I thought they were hilarious. When William was busy with affairs of state, I sat in the hall and listened to them bicker for hours. Of all the guards in the Palace, Rob and Josh were the worst ones to find outside the Royal heir’s rooms.
Before I reached the intersection with the Royal corridor, I switched the towels and linens from my left side to the right. It blocked my face from them as I walked through the intersection, never once even hinting that I might turn into the Royal corridor.
Once past the intersection, I keyed my comm and whispered, “Problem.”
“What?” Nathan replied.
We’d worked out some simple phrases to keep our comm exchanges short. I’d just told Nathan that two of the guards could recognize me. I just hoped there was something he could do about it.
Nathan was silent for a few seconds, then asked, “Alarm?”
Triggering an alarm would clear the corridor for a brief time while the guards went to protect the Royal couple. And by ‘brief’ I mean twenty to thirty seconds, max. Once the false alarm was discovered, the Palace would be crawling with guards looking for whoever triggered it. It would also disable all key cards except those carried by security. That meant I would have to sprint to the suite next door to William and Olivia, spoof the lock, and slip inside. In less than thirty seconds. No thief alive could do that.
“Lock?” I asked, hoping Nathan had discovered a way to unlock doors within the Palace security system.
“Wait,” he replied.
Seconds ticked by and I kept walking down the hall, farther and farther from my actual goal. Finally, Nathan came back.
I released the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. Turning around, I replied, “Signal.”
Approaching the Royal corridor at a steady walk, I once again heard Rob and Josh arguing. Five meters from the intersection with the other corridor, I whispered, “Go.”
Alarms sounded throughout the Palace. Praying the guards wouldn’t hesitate, I dropped my camouflaging burden and sprinted around the corner.
Does capture await Tilly around the corner? You’ll have to wait to find out because we’re going to check in with Jana in Chapter 45, coming Monday.