"They do," she said soberly. "If I hadn't killed him, he would have been beheaded. That's still the law on the books in my country."
"More so than the electric chair," she snapped. "You Americans! 'Our way is the best way and if you don't like it, move over.' Very nice!"
"Okay, okay, let's not get into that… I mean, we can't help being the greatest country in the world, but that's not—"
"I bet I know why you don't like inherited wealth."
"Go ahead, Dr. Freud."
"You said you were an Army brat, right? So virtually everything your family made in terms of money was paid by taxes, right?"
"Well, not exactly—"
"So here's your family, defending your country and getting paid next to nothing to do the job, while the rich assholes who are supposed to pay their fair share of taxes get a million shelters and only pay a fraction of what they owe. Right? That's how it is in this country, isn't it?"
"More or less," he said grudgingly. "It's a little more complicated than that."
"We have a flat tax in Alaska," she explained, trying not to sound smug.
"Well, bully for Alaska."
"Everybody pays exactly the same percentage. It works out really well. If you came to visit—if you ever wanted to come—you'd see the roads and bridges and hospitals are all in good shape. We've got plenty of money for infrastructure."
"Well. I'm pretty busy here. I—I'd like to visit but I'm not sure when I could—"
"Forget it." She paused. "Wow."
"I'm impressed, is all. I mean, you weren't kidding around when we first met. Youreally didn't like me. I might as well have been wearing a cheese bikini."
"It sort of took me by surprise," he admitted. "You being so pretty and funny and fearless. I was expecting a snob who wouldn't talk to anyone."
"It's irresistible," she said, pouncing on him, "that you didn't like me."
"I think," he said as she leaned down to nibble on his mouth, "you should up your visits to the shrink."
"Oh, shut up," she mumbled.
Two days later, Jenny brought in the paper along with the usual morning correspondence. Alex was not surprised to see Dr. Sheldon Rivers glaring up at her from page one.
"Here we go," she muttered.
"He looks like Sean Penn from the old days," Jenny said admiringly, peeking over her shoulder. "Like he's about to belt one of the photogs."
It's his anti-cheese glare, she thought with a silent snicker. Aloud, she added, "It had been a long night." And an even longer day. And night. Sheldon had some stupid out-of-town conference for geeks he couldn't get out of. So she hadn't seen him, in fact, since the night of the nightmare. Well, the nightmare he interrupted. It was awful, how much she missed him.
Awful. In about five different ways.
"And Princess Christina called again."
Alex shook her head. "I'm in no mood for one of her lectures, Jenny. Keep telling her I'm out."
"Yes, Princess." This in a voice of doom.
"Jenny, I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for, Your Highness."
"I know she squawks and yells and knows you're lying and screams and gives you a headache."
"It's part of my job, Highness," Jenny said bravely, unconsciously massaging her temples.
"Well, I really appreciate it. If it makes you feel better, I feel loads of guilt every time I dodge a call and make you take the fall for it."
Jenny perked up. "Thank you, Highness."
"You're taking the evening off, right? Giving someone else phone duty? Relieving my constant, nagging guilt?"
"Yes, Mr. Grange is taking me bowling."
Alex felt her mouth pop open. "He is?"
"I want to go," she said defensively.
"Well,he wanted to go. And I don't mind. I've never ever been. Imagine! Rented shoes and—and—beer in—in—disposable cups."
Alex almost smiled at the revolted look on the other woman's face. "I'm sure it will be swell. Jenny, did you bring jeans? Or at least slacks?"
"I have a skirt that's an inch above my knee," she said slowly.
"Whoa, slut on the loose! Look, go through my closet and grab a pair of jeans, willya?"
"Thank you, but I'll have enough trouble learning the game without tripping over five inch cuffs."
"Then I strongly advise you to take some time this afternoon and go shopping. You don't want to learn how to bowl in a skirt."
"Thank you, Highness, I will take that advice. Now, back to business. According to this," she said, tapping the newspaper, "you and Dr. Rivers have been working on the plans for the new wing in your private chambers. Implying, of course, that you're really just having sex."
"Which, of course, we are."
"Yes. But they're very careful. They're letting the readers jump to conclusions, instead of leading them by the nose."
"The conservative Midwest?" Alex suggested.
"Or they've been sued so now they're careful. Either way, Dr. Rivers won't be pleased, though there isn't anything too damaging here. Unless you realize the picture was taken at four A.M. outside your hotel."
"I warned him. He said he didn't care."
"Very good, Princess. I take it there will be no official response to this?"
"If we got caught with his hand up my skirt, that's my fault, and I'm sure not going imply the newspaper lied."
"As long as Dr. Rivers understands…" She paused delicately.
"Well, like I said. I did tell him."
"I guess we'll find out if he meant it."
"Yes. I imagine we will."
"He should get some warning, though, don't you think? I mean, he's not used to this kind of thing at all. Maybe I'll bring it over to his office this afternoon," Alex suggested. "Sort of muffle the shock. He never reads the paper, anyway. I could probably get it to him first. Warn him, you know?"
"I think that's an excellent idea, Princess," Jenny said gravely. "You've got some room in your schedule today. Perhaps you should meet him at the airport and ensure no one else shows him the paper first."
"I could, but… I don't have his flight information. And he's the only guy on the planet who refuses to turn on his cell phone."
Jenny smiled. "With all due respect, Your Highness, you don't think much of your staff, do you?"
Five hours later
"Damn that ball anyway!"
"Easy, cutie," Teal said. He was still holding the paper and grinning admiringly at the scowling photo of his best friend. "Everybody has a hard time at first. Shit, that's how I found out I needed glasses. I kept throwing my ball down the wrong damn lane."
"You're lying," she said, puffing a strand of hair out of her face and stomping back to the small cubby where they were keeping score, "to comfort me. Thank you."
"Hey, you're doing great for your first time! And I gotta say," he added with a friendly leer, "I love you in blue jeans."
"They're new," she said, pleased. "I went to Target. Her Highness insisted."
"Her Highness knows her shit. You look great."
"I dread your reunion with Dr. Rivers," she teased. "Since you appear to be carrying that newspaper wherever you go today."
"I can't help it. I never knew anybody important enough to be on the front page before. In a good way, I mean. But that's a whole other story. Man!" He smoothed the paper and added admiringly, "I cannot believe Shel's in the paper. Because he's knocking boots with the friggin' Princess of Alaska!"
"Umm," Jenny said noncommittally.
"I can't even believe they're dating," he continued, getting up and plucking a new ball from the steadily growing pile. "Shel hates rich people. I mean,hates 'em."
"How can he hate a class of people most of whom he's never likely to meet?"
"Because he's a weirdo."
"He seemed… prickly… when we first met at the Aquarium," she said carefully.
"Yeah, your tact's in overdrive today, honey. He wasso pissed when he heard you were coming and that his boss wanted him to play tour guide. I can't even believe he did it."
"He got a good look at her," Jenny guessed. "It happens to a lot of men."
"Y'know, he didn't have much money as a kid and rich people really torqued him off. Said his dad busted his ass for practically minimum wage, and as thanks they kept sending him overseas when he was practically an old man."
"His father didn't like that?"
"His fatherloved it. That's the whole problem. His old man was an adrenalin junkie, and traveled all over the world setting up triage centers—he was Dr. Rivers, too, only an M.D. Never around, I meannever ."
Teal seemed to realize what he was doing, because he rolled a strike, then turned and shrugged. "Sorry. Here I'm spending our whole date gossiping about my friend."
"Yeah, and it's all going into a memo to your boss, I bet."
"It certainly will not!"
"I mean," she added, "I might mention it in passing, over a cup of coffee, but not if you asked me to keep a confidence."
"Oh." He considered that for a long moment, taking off his glasses and polishing them on his cherry red flannel shirt. "Well, I guess I'll leave it up to you to decide what to pass on and what not to."