On her finger, another family heirloom gleamed: her late mother's jade engagement ring. The king had been so pleased that she'd accepted it—that Shel hadn't insisted on buying something himself—he'd had to leave the room.

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In truth, Sheldon didn't care. If he was going to accept the royal thing, he would take all of it, not pick and choose as Christina tried to do. Alex came with the whole mess, and that was good enough for him.

She wanted to please her father by wearing her mom's wedding jewelry? That was fine. In return, she had sworn never to make him eat artisanal cheese, and that was fine, too.

"I'm glad you're not running away," she said, "but it's bad luck to see me before the wedding."

"Hey, it wasn't my idea, sunshine. You're the one who came charging out of the palace like a royal pain."

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"Oh, is that what I am?"

"Sure." He took her in his arms, carefully, mindful of the hair and the pearls and the dress and even the pointy shoes. "But in a few minutes, you'll bemy royal pain. Her Highness Alexandria Baranov Rivers."

"Aw," she said, presenting her ripe, red mouth for a kiss. "Just call me Alex."

They kissed for a lovely long time and oh, it was sublime, she really was like something out of a fairy tale, she—

"Hey! Hey! You two! Cut the shit! You're gonna miss your own wedding!" The king was stomping toward them, Alex's bouquet of calla lilies—red and white and green—all mashed together in the king's fist. "I mean it! Let go! Both of you! Come on, we got a houseful of people waiting on you. Jesus Christ, will youstop kissing for five seconds ?"

"Probably not," Shel said, and hugged his bride so hard, a Baranov pearl popped out of her headdress and rolled away in the grass, glossy cream against the dying green.

"I will turn the hose on you guys. Come on, you've lasted six months, it's only a couple hours more. Guys?" The king was pleading, brandishing Alex's bouquet like a sword, jabbing it at them like they were fighting dogs that needed to be separated. "Come on, I'm giving a royal command here. Let's just go inside and we can do this and then you can have a tiny hot dog. Guys? Okay? Guys?"

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