"Oh, boy," she said against his mouth.

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"Right," he said, pulling at her, fumbling at her. "Is there a bed in this place?"

"Somewhere around here. Don't tug, Jenny didn't let me pack very many T-shirts."

"Oh, fuck that. We'll hit a souvenir shop later, you can load up."

"No," she said, and laughed. "Fuck me."

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"Oh, boy." This time he said it.

Alex yawned. "Mm-hmm, that was an energetic twenty minutes."

"Twenty-five," he corrected.Energetic twenty minutes . Jesus Christ, she was just like a guy. Weren't women supposed to be all google-eyed and mushy about sex? Especially just afterward? Shouldn't she be halfway in love with him by now? Why wasn't she, dammit? Why wasn't she all soft-eyed and sexily smiley and clingy, instead of looking like she was ready to get up and make a sandwich? Assuming royalty did such things.

"Do you know how to make a sandwich?"

"Uh, sure."

"Just checking."

He put out his right hand and rested it on her bare thigh. Ithad been an energetic twenty-five minutes. They'd wrestled all over the room, finally ending up in the middle of her king-size bed, kissing and licking and sucking and groaning. He'd held off as long as he could, which was a fucking miracle given how she'd used that soft skin and those big eyes to great effect, given how she'd stroked and teased and sighed against him.

And now they were done and… what? If it was any other woman, he'd get dressed and go home and promise to call her in the morning, and he always did. And they'd get together a few more times and then he'd move away, or she would, or they'd decide they weren't compatible, or they would just stop returning phone calls.

He didn't want to leave.

She yawned again. "Well, that was fun, but we both have to get up early tomorrow. Right?"

Shewas just like a guy. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. After years of not giving a rat's ass if a girl wanted him around or not, he didn't want to leave and she couldn't wait to see him gone.

"You didn't come," he said by way of answer.

She shrugged against his shoulder. "It's all right. I had fun."

"You didn't come last time, either. I figured it was because it was so quick."

"Itwas quick," she agreed with irritating cheer.

"But now…"

"I don't, anymore, is all."

"Anymore?"

She sighed and crossed one knee over the other, swinging her small foot back and forth. "No, no. I had kind of a tough year last year and it's hard for me to relax… you know. With a gentleman."

He smiled in the dark. "Have there been that many gentlemen?"

"No you don't. I'm not touching that one with a barge pole."

"Maybe we should try again."

"It's no good, Shel. And I'm not saying this to challenge your male ego in any way. It just… doesn't work for me anymore."

"Not even by yourself?"

"Not even by myself."

"Since…" He thought about what he'd seen in the news, way back. "Since those terrorists or whatever almost killed your dad? And your brother had to take over the country? Since then?"

"I guess," she said stiffly. "I didn't mark the date on my calendar when I stopped having orgasms."

"Hmm."

"It's no big deal, Shel."

"Uh-huh."

"It really isn't."

He rubbed her thigh, thinking. "But you could come before, right?" He tried to remember how old she was. Twenty-four, twenty-five? "I mean, you weren't a virgin last year, right?"

"Right. And that's all we're saying about it."

"But—"

"Shel."

"But if you give it some thought—"

"Shel."

"I'm just saying, we could probably figure this out."

"Dr. Rivers."

"Oooh, I love it when you go all gritty and steely on me."

Thankfully, she laughed. "Shut up, you ass."

"And as a matter of fact, I do have to get up early tomorrow. Everyone has to get up early on Tuesdays. It's like a law."

"Well, then."

He sat up. "What'd you do with my pants?"

"Check over by the lamp."

"Which one? There's a hundred of them in this place." He tripped over something and stifled a curse. "And they're all off. Are you laughing? You'd better not be laughing."

"No, Dr. Rivers," she said gravely.

He finally found them and in short order had dressed, then sat on the bed to tie his shoes. "It's no trouble to stay," he said, somewhat lamely, because she obviously wanted him to leave.

"You don't have to." He could see her smiling in the gloom of the room. "I'm glad you came over."

"You'll see me again."

"Oh, that's not necessary."

He bent and kissed her. "You will, though."

He could feel her gaze on him all the way to the door.

Chapter 18

Jenny rapped on the bedroom door. Alex glanced at her watch and smiled. "Put it through," she called through the door. "And go to bed, for the love of God!"

Her bedside phone beeped. She folded the magazine in half, dropped it beside her, and picked up the phone. "I was sound asleep," she said by way of greeting.

"You lie like old people drive, m'dear."

"Hi, Dad."

"I hoped Iwas waking you up. You know what time it is there?"

"Yes, Dad."

"Well, what time is it? That wasn't rhetorical; Edmund took the clocks out of here—"

"Trying to keep you in the office during salmon season?"

"—and my damned watch stopped."

"Dad, buy a battery-operated one. Honestly. It's three-thirty."

"Damn! What's Jenny still doing up? Isn't what's-his-name, that guy we hired last year—"

"Reynolds."

"Yeah, how come he's not answering on third shift?"

"Jenny had a hot date. And, being Jenny, she can't take an evening off without punishing herself, so I guess she's pulling an all-nighter."

"Jenny had a hotwhat ?"

"Dad, seriously, did you really call me in the dead of night to get all the gossip on the staff?"

"Sure. Edmund won't tell me shit."

"That's because you go around trying to fix things. I can't imagine anything worse than finding out the King of Alaska is meddling in your love life."

"Aw, shaddup. So, did I interrupt you getting ready for bed?"

"Sure," she said, humoring him.

"Liar! How can you look me in the face—so to speak—and lie like that, you little brat?"

"Well, it helps that my father is a sociopath, and my lady-in-waiting is a neurotic, tightly wound bundle of nerves with a crush—"

"Yeah? That's who she had the hot date with? The crush?"

"He's got a name, Dad," she said with exaggerated scorn, then realized that she'd forgotten it again. It wasn't an ordinary name like John. Heron? Vulture?

"Yeah, yeah. So what were you doing?"

She picked the magazine up, flipped it over, and read the cover story aloud: "Those Wacky Royals Are Just Like Us."

"We are?"

"Apparently. They got a picture of Prince Harry outside a pub—morons, like they don't know he hasn't touched a drop in two years—and there's one of David and Christina at the send-off of the Queen Mary III. God, I can't believe you talked her into that one, she's so sick of cruise ships. Oh, and here's one of Nicky on the slopes."

"Goddammit!" the king cursed. "The press was supposed to leave the kid alone on his spring break."

"It's just one candid. It's amazing—they got the names right, but not the place or the day. How do you get the place wrong when you bought the picture? I mean, you'd think the photog would say, 'FYI, I was on the Swiss Alps when I took this,' or whatever?"

"Who gives a rat shit? I'll have Edmund chew some ass."

"Come on, Dad. Besides, what was he even doing on the slopes in the first place? I thought he was in disgrace after the explosion thing."

"This happened just before. Dammit! I'll get 'em all fired, just watch."

"Dad. Relax. It's not that big a deal, why are you turning it into one? Nicky smiling, he doesn't even care. You have to admit, we don't have to put up with it nearly as much as most royals. Don't rock the boat."

"Don'twhat ? Did you get mixed up and forget who you were talking to?"

"Calm down, Dad."

"A deal's a deal. They said they'd leave him alone for spring break, and I'd give 'em you for this aquarium thing. Punks!"

"Oh, very nice," she said dryly, but without heat, as that was how it worked. For all his protests, at fourteen Nicky was still a child, and the family tried to limit his dealings with the national and international press.

For her part, Alex didn't much care. They were as much a part of her life as her blue eyes and carefully chosen wardrobe. It's how things were.

"So you're lying in your bed, wide awake, reading trash about yourself at three o'clock in the morning. Is that about right?"

"According to these guys, the real reason I'm here in Minot is to cover up my raging heroin drug use."

"You're a sly one, girly. I had no idea you were a junkie."

"Can't say that anymore. And actually—I haven't been up here alone all night. I mean, I'm alone now, but earlier—I—I met someone, too."

"You did?" She could hear her father try to keep the shock out of his voice. "Who is it? What's he like?"

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