She grinned. He expected a protest, but all she said was, "I'll have Jenny send out an updated press release."


"No way!" the king hollered. "You know what I'll lose in deposits if you change the date?"

"You can't let them," Nicky said, "just so they cando it . Yech!"

"Shut up and finish your soup," Alex snapped.

"Your love life is yech.

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We must never speak of this

Never in our lives."

"Alexander, I'm serious. If you don't stop with that, and I meanright now …" Kathryn brandished her empty soup bowl threateningly.

"That's amazing," Shel said. "They just come out of you? That's haiku?"

"You bet your ass it is," Prince Alexander said. "Give me any topic and I'll give you a great fuckin' haiku."

The king pointed his fruit fork at the prince. "You just watch your mouth, boy. You're not too big to spank. Or imprison."

"It's really a nice announcement," Christina said. She glanced at the princess. "You warned him, right? I mean, his pic's gonna be in all the magazines."

"I warned him."

"And the wedding coverage! You warned him he'd be on TV, right?"

"It's all right," Shel said. "Well, it's not, but it's worth putting up with."

Alex beamed. "I can't wait." She looked at her prince. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he said, touched. It was the first time she'd said it outside of the privacy of her rooms.

It made ignoring the faux-barfing noises from the younger royals very easy.

Chapter 50

The Royal Household of Baranov, including His Majesty King Alexander II, announces the joyous occasion of the engagement of Her Highness, Princess Alexandria Baranov, to Dr. Sheldon Rivers, an American citizen.

"The wedding will take place at the Sitka Palace on Saturday, October 23rd, 2006, at 9:00 A.M. An expected eight thousand wedding invitations will be extended.

"The wedding will be held on the Sitka palace grounds and the reception will be on the West Lawn, weather permitting.

"All at the Sitka Palace wish life-long happiness to Her Highness the Princess of Alaska, and Dr. Rivers, future Prince of Alaska.

"After her wedding, Her Highness has announced her legal name and title will be Her Highness, Alexandria Baranov Rivers."

Chapter 51

One week later…

Scott Gottlieb fussed around Dr. Pohl's desk for a minute, waiting for his boss to come in. She tended to sleep late, then work until ten o'clock at night. That suited his schedule fine, as this job, cool as it was, was just a stopping point until he saved up enough to buy his own flower shop. He had the spot picked out: there was a lot just half a mile from the Sitka Palace, and one thing the Baranovs were famous for was convenience. If he could just get his shop set up there… he'd have enough funding in another year, maybe two. And his old man had promised to help him with the down payment on the lot this summer…

As Dr. Pohl's assistant, he got to see the business side of things and, even better, had hopes of spotting a royal. Although, Dr. Pohl usually went to the Sitka if she was supposed to see one of them… other than that time with Princess Christina, the Baranovs didn't come here, and why should they? Still, he had hopes…

His boss came in, hung up her duck-patterned jacket (mergansers), and held out the tray of hot drinks she'd grabbed from the local Starbucks. (She'd threatened to strangle him with the cord to the shades if he ever brought her coffee, and he believed her.) She sat down behind her desk as he took his (white hot chocolate with a shot of espresso) and placed hers (coffee, no cream, two sugars) on the desk blotter.

"Hi, Scott."

"Morning, Dr. Pohl. The mail's here. And so's your ten o'clock."

"That's 'Mrs. Johanssen,' Scott, they have names," she corrected him gently.

He colored. "Sorry, doc."

"Try not to do it again, please. I did see her on my way in, so just pop the mail in my bin and I'll get to it—"

"Uh, excuse me, Doctor, but there's something in there I think you should—I mean, it's from the palace."

"Our palace?" she asked, arching white eyebrows. She glanced over and there it was: a heavy, cream-colored envelope with the royal seal (a roaring lion holding a red shield) embossed on the back.

Dr. Pohl picked it up, turned it over to see who it was from (HRH AB was the only hint she got), slit it open with her duck letter opener (a mallard), eased out the sheet of stationery, paper so heavy it had to have some cloth in it, and started to read.

Scott pretended to straighten her files in the corner, then spun around when the doctor burst into tears.

"What's the matter?" he gasped. "Are you in trouble?" He had visions of King Al's troops bursting in to drag the doctor away for… what? He had no idea.

"No," Dr. Pohl sobbed. "I'm going to be a bridesmaid."

"Please, please can I come with?" he begged.

"No," Dr. Pohl said, still crying.

Chapter 52

Six months later…

"I can't believe this," Shel said. "I can't fucking believe it."

"Yep," his future sister-in-law said cheerfully. "The big day is finally here. I couldn't hardly sleep at all last night! Two royal weddings in two years! Too cool."

He grunted and looked down at her, then looked away. Since the braces had come off and her acne had cleared up, Kathryn's promise of beauty had been fulfilled, and now she looked disturbingly like a shorter version of Alex. She was wearing what all the bridesmaids wore, a ridiculously full-skirted crimson gown with what had to be three hoop skirts—the skirt came out tohere . It was like something out ofGone with the Wind , a novel he loved mostly because all the rich people ended up poor.

The crimson bodice was studded with small red beads, and Kathryn was wearing a matching bead choker around her neck and ruby dangling earrings.

Her black hair was pinned up, showing the creamy perfection of her shoulders. If she was wearing shoes, Shel couldn't see them. Alex, his love, his bride, his (groan) princess, called them "meringue dresses" after a movie she had seen.

Kathryn's bouquet, a striking cluster of deep red calla lilies held together with a wide crimson ribbon, was carelessly discarded in the corner while she fussed over Sheldon's already immaculate tie.

"You look really terrific," he told her. "Really, uh, really beautiful."

"Well, finally," she said. "I've been waiting. You watch, I'll be the one having all the adventures next. I'm tired of David and Chris and Alex hogging the spotlight."

"Your dad might have something to say about that… you're only, what? Sixteen?"

"Oh." She dismissed the king of Alaska with a wave of her hand. "He has something to say about everything."

"I just can't believe any of this," he said, looking around his small dressing room. He'd spent most of his days in Minot, tying up loose ends and bringing the new head of the NDISL up to speed while he ducked the servants and guards. He'd shooed away his man servants—paid friends? Butlers? Whatever the hell they were called. He was supposed to have, like, ten, and he didn't need any.

"Can't believe what?" Kathryn asked.

"Huh? Oh, right. I can't believe we agreed to have an outdoor reception in October. In Alaska."

"Note the dresses," she said, pointing to her gigantic full skirt. "This thing might as well be made of Goretex; I can't feel a thing. And all the guys have on long pants and long sleeves, and your tuxes are wool."

"I noticed," he said, tugging at his sleeve. But it was good wool; he didn't really itch. It was nerves. Awful, horrible, unending nerves. The tuxes were actually pretty nice… dark gray, with a stripe on each leg, but done well enough so that he didn't feel like a waiter.

And Alex had insisted—no flower boutonnieres. Said they were tacky and everyone did them, which nearly caused a fistfight with Christina. Instead, the men were wearing inch-wide wreaths made of thyme. Although he had not been consulted (he'd made clear he had no desire to plan any of it, except for one detail which Alex had readily agreed to, thank God) he liked them. Alex was right: in a wedding where tradition ruled, it was nice to see new things.

"And the sun is out!" Kathryn was still babbling. "It's going to be a gorgeous fall day. Nobody's gonna be cold."

Then why was cold sweat trickling down his shoulder blades? Obviously, nothing to do with the weather…

"And don't forget," his future sister-in-law reminded him, "you also promised my dad you wouldn't have sex until after you were married."

"Mind your own business," he said automatically, "you little creep." Since his dick got hard, to paraphrase Eddie Murphy, when the wind blew, Shel needed no such reminding. The king had caught them at a weak moment, making them swear on their honor: no gropey until after the wedding-ey. And Alex, damn her Baranov sense of duty, had made them stick to it. Agh! It was the longest he'd gone without sex in… er…

"So!" Kathryn added, still straightening his tie, which was already perfectly straight, "you must be really really glad today is here finally, huh?"

"Actually, the time really, uh, flew." And it had. It had rushed up at him, like a wild animal free of its leash. It seemed like it had just been spring a week ago. Now he was about to be the Prince of Alaska. Because the only way to get the only woman in the world he wanted was to get a crown.

A goddamned crown!

"Are you all right?" Kathryn asked. "You look kind of pukey."

"I feel kind of pukey," he admitted. "I'm going to walk around outside for a couple of minutes."

She held his wrist and looked at his watch, a gift from the king. "You've got about twenty before you're supposed to be in South Juneau."

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