"But it's not necessary."
"Oh, one of your guards is gonna shoot him? That's good; it'll save time. Plus, I can get back to theCSI marathon."
Alex laughed, but Jenny never cracked a smile; she was staring raptly into Teal's gorgeous green eyes. "There's no—there's no need to bail anyone out, Mr. Grange."
"Teal. Mr. Grange is my brother."
"Yes, of course. Your brother. Yes. Ah… the Baranov family acknowledges this was an unfortunate misunderstanding, and of course Dr. Rivers will be free to go as soon as we finish some rudimentary paperwork. It won't take long at all, you have my word… Teal."
Nice, Alex thought, amused.What if he'd had a gun? Or a rope? Jenny's got a crush, so my security goes out the window. I'm dead of strangulation, hut she gets laid .
"Hey," Shel said. Then, louder: "Hey! That's really nice of you, Jenny."
"You're welcome," she replied, not looking at Shel. "How—how do you know Dr. Rivers?"
"Are we still in the room?" Shel muttered to her.
Alex shook her head.
Teal's scowl disappeared into a grin. "Oh, I went to high school with the dumbass here, me and my brother."
"Spent one year with him, then I couldn't shake any of them for the rest of my life," Shel volunteered.
"Hey, am I down here at ten o'clock at night to bail your sorry ass out? Yeah. Are you the most ungrateful dumbass on the planet?"
"Yes," Jenny said, dazzled. Then, "Any of them? You couldn't shake any of them?"
"I'm over here," Shel called helpfully. "In the cell."
"Shut up, Dr. Dumbass," Teal commanded. "The lady's obviously talking to me."
Alex snickered, and Shel continued. "Teal's got a bunch of sibs. Tell her. She looks like she could use a good laugh."
"Crane, Robin, Crow, and Raven."
"No way," Alex said, blinking.
"Bunch of bird-brained morons, each one of them," Shel muttered.
"My parents," Teal explained with exaggerated patience, "were ornithologists."
"How interesting! That's so interesting. I'm really interested in hearing more about your—er—interesting family."
Teal smiled at her and Alex could see the attraction; she could actually feel the man's smile in her knees. Blondes weren't really her type, but… poor Jenny!
"Anybody ever tell you that you look like Shania Twain?"
"Uh-huh," she replied.
"Date later!" Shel shouted, startling everybody. "Bail first!"
"I think I can take care of that," Alex said, which was just as well, because Jenny wasn't listening anymore.
"Thanks for walking me to—er—where are we going, anyway?"
"I worked on the polar bear exhibit after you took off. I thought you'd like to see it."
"Oh, your bear came in?"
Shel shook his head. He was getting a headache from trying to look at her out of the corner of his eye. Even while walking down a muddy sidewalk in beat-up sneakers (were princesses allowed sneakers?), she was breathtaking. He couldn't believe she was out with him, here, now. Hell, he couldn't believe she'd come downtown to grease the skids so he didn't have to spend the night in a cell!
Then, cool as a cuke, she tells Jenny and the guards (nice enough fellows with hands like iron), "That will be all for tonight," and like that, he was walking her out and they were climbing into her car. No press—it was late, and Jenny had probably gotten rid of them.
The car pulled up to the back entrance of the NDISL, and they both got out. "That will be all for tonight, Kara," she told her driver. "I'll make other arrangements to return to the hotel."
"Highness," Kara replied, touching her cap with a forefinger, and pulled smoothly away from the curb.
"Is that smart?" he asked, watching the red taillights grow smaller in the distance. "What if someone tries to kidnap you or whatever?"
"Someone like who?" She gestured to the deathly quiet streets of Minot.
"Well, you know. Someone. There could be an elaborate plot to snatch you. I mean, it was in the papers. You coming here."
She shrugged. "You'll have to protect me, I guess."
"I could be in on it. I could be the mastermind!"
Another shrug. The woman, he mused, either truly didn't give a rat's butt for her own safety, or possessed the acting ability to make it appear that way.
"Aren't you worried about your own safety? I mean, you're a public figure worth big bucks."
"No, you're not worth big bucks?" he teased, because even in the near-dark, he could see she was stiffening up.
"No, I don't care. Shall we go? You said your bear was here?"
"No, I never had a chance to answer. The big guy's showing up tomorrow. I thought I'd show you his habitat."
"Almost as fascinating a sight," she said, "as the city jail."
"… and in a year or so, we're hoping to get him a mate."
"You don't have to be a jerk about it," he said, trying not to be hurt. Then mad at himself because he was trying… or even hurt! "If it's not interesting to you, just say so. I can take it."
"No, it's interesting," she said, poking a toe at one of the piles of snow.
The habitat was large—bigger, Shel thought, than his own apartment—and cool, with piles of snow everywhere, and a large pool off to the left. Since it was currently bear-free, the place had a fresh, clean smell.
"He'll get a lady friend in here, will he?"
She was walking around with her hands clasped behind her back, just like a dignitary. A dignitary in spotless jeans, a spotless white blouse, and sneakers. Her black hair looked like a starless night against the starkness of her shirt and the cool white of the habitat. Her lips were pursed in thought, but it was too close to looking like she was ready for a kiss, and he had to look away.
"So, you're hoping to get cubs out of the deal?"
"Assuming she accepts the fellow you picked out for her."
"Well…" He could feel the blood filling his face and told himself to grow the hell up. He was a scientist, for Christ's sake, not a giggling high school freshman. "Polar bears are solitary, actually. So we'll only put them together for mating purposes. She'll have her own habitat most of the time. And they'll—if they're compatible, they'll mate several times in one week."
"So, they'll do it again and again and again, and then she'll go back to her own place?"
He coughed. "Yeah."
"Now thatis enthralling," she said, and pounced on him like a big cat. He was so startled he staggered back, clutching at her, and they toppled into one of the snow banks.
Her lush mouth clamped over his, and her arms curved around his neck. He clawed for air and gasped, "You must really be into polar bears."
"Dr. Rivers," she murmured, fumbling with his belt buckle, "shut the hell up."
He did, and tried not to gasp again when her chilly hands closed over his dick. Cool or not, he wasvery happy to see her. He fumbled for the buttons on her blouse and got them open with fingers that felt like flippers. Her breasts, pale white with rose-colored nipples, filled his hands. Her scent filled his nose; his face was hidden in the dark blaze of her hair.
They wriggled against each other, working out of their jeans, and then her knees were on either side of his hips and he was thrusting up into her. She was tight, and dry, and, if possible, more determined than he was.
"It's fine," she gasped.
The last of the blood left his brain and cognitive thought became a thing of the past. Before he could do just about any crossword in pen, now his thoughts were reduced to: Yum smell. Feel good. Want more. Sleepy soon.
He had to have been hurting her—hell, the friction was almost hurtinghim —but she didn't seem to mind, seemed to be enjoying it. She'd thrown her head back and was rocking against him, bracing her palms behind her on his thighs. He groaned as his climax didn't so much approach as gallop up to him, overtake him, bury him.
"Oh myGod ," he managed, as she stopped rocking, as she surged forward to look down at him and her hair swung into her face. "You're an angel!"
She grinned. "Keep it between us, please. I don't think theMinot Daily News needs to know about my angelic properties."
"This snow bank is freezing," he complained. It was actually the first time he'd really noticed, but snow had gone down his collar and up his ass.
"What a whiner," she said good-naturedly, and climbed off him. In seconds, she had arranged her clothing and was standing patiently, waiting for him to get his act together.
"Well!" he said brightly, brushing snow off his jeans. "That was… that was really nice. I'm sorry you didn't—"
She waved a hand at him. "I had fun. It was fine."
"Yeah, but I think I had Imore fun, physiologically speaking, if you know what I—"
"It's fine, I said."
What was going on here? He frowned at her but she seemed not to notice. She was more distant and chilly than usual, acting like—well, acting almost like a guy who'd gotten his and now wanted to be gone.
"I'll—I'll give you a ride back to the hotel," he said.
"That would be great."
"Maybe you want to get a drink or something first?"
"No," she replied. "I'm really tired."