“This isn’t right,” Curt murmured, his voice full of disappointment.
“I’m sorry, lover.” Aliya also sounded let down. “I had such high hopes.”
“Why isn’t it right?” Tristan asked.
“This mine is probably only a hundred and fifty years old.” Curt gazed around.
“Maybe the cure was hidden here before they started mining,” Philippe said.
“If it was, they probably ruined it.”
A wooden door swung open straight across the cave and overhead lights flicked on. Tristan blinked against the sudden brightness and stared as four men walked through the door. Three walked and one was shoved into the cave.
Two large men in black clothing each carried the Steyr AUG, the Austrian bullpup assault rifle. They were flanked by William Rindlesbacher. The despicable man was pushing the prime minister with the butt of a gun. Henry’s hands were tied behind his back, his suit was ripped, blood matted on his brow and at his hairline, and bruises marred his face. Tristan’s gut lurched seeing his respected friend and mentor in such a state.
His first thought was how to keep Jennifer safe from those guns. His second thought was they shouldn’t have left the guards to guard the opening. Cold chills prickled his skin.
They were in desperate trouble.
“Dad!” Jennifer cried out, rushing across the cave toward her father.
“Jenn, wait!” Tristan made a grab for her but missed. He had no desire to see her anywhere near William.
“Jennifer, come.” William beamed at her. “You’re exactly the beautiful woman I want by my side.”
Jennifer faltered, clearly realizing she was running straight into William’s power, but wanting to get to her dad’s side. Her eyes darted around, and she shifted her weight back and forth. Her worry, fear, and indecision were palpable.
Philippe yanked out his sidearm. Curt, Tristan, and the king all followed suit. Curt ushered Aliya behind him with his free hand. How could they get Henry away from William’s gun and keep everyone safe? The sheer amount of bullets William’s men could unload in this small space was terrifying.
“Jenn, come back,” Tristan said softly.
Jennifer eased her way back toward them. Surprisingly, William let her. He watched her like a falcon eyeing a mouse, but he didn’t move. Every step Jennifer took away from William, Tristan’s shoulders relaxed a centimeter.
Philippe suddenly leaped at her, jabbed his pistol in her temple, wrapped his other arm around her waist, and yanked her across the space toward William, Henry, and William’s mercenaries.
“Jenn!” Tristan hollered, starting toward them with his Ruger pointed straight at Philippe’s head. What was their lieutenant general doing?
“No!” Aliya cried out.
“Philippe!” the king yelled.
“Please stop moving forward, sir,” Philippe demanded of Tristan in his usual simpering tone. “Unless you want her death on your hands. I respect and admire you, Prince Tristan, but her life means little to me.”
“No.” Tristan stopped moving. “Don’t hurt her.”
“How much pain we inflict on the beautiful and long-lost lady all depends on your next move, Prince Tristan.” William grinned at him, looking like a contented pit viper.
Tristan’s gut clenched, and it was all he could do to not shoot Philippe in the head or rush across the space and pummel the man. He was afraid if he loosed a bullet, it would quickly become a bloodbath.
“Or should I even call you prince?” William asked, all smiles and benevolence. “Once you four royals are dead, and I use the term ‘royal’ very loosely regarding Princess Aliya.” He sneered at her. “A backwoods hick from America elevated to a princess. Despicable.”
“What is in a person’s heart matters much more than their wealth or blood, you disgustin’ fool,” Aliya shot at him.
Curt held her firmly behind him.
William rolled his eyes. “Princess Macey and Princess Ellery are almost as bad. Hattie Ballard being given the title of ‘princess’ is a stain upon the royal house. At least Prince Malik had the common decency to fall in love with an Augustinian.” He waved a hand. “Of course the common people of Augustine agree with me that the August family has befouled the throne by marrying beneath their station. The other princes and princesses will be executed soon after you all die. Thankfully, Lieutenant General Cordon, Prime Minister Shule, and I will be there to help Augustine pick up the pieces. The military will turn to the lieutenant general, naturally, and I’ve got two loyal followers in the police department simply awaiting their moment to assassinate Chief Jensen and take his place.”