"Yeah, I guess you've got another big day tomorrow."
"I guess you're right."
Well, fine. We both got ours and now we're being adults about it.
Then how come he felt so shitty?
"This has been nice," she said as they pulled up to the hotel.
"Yeah, a laugh a minute," he said flatly. He put the car in park and slung an arm over the back of the seat, looking at her. "That's a new one for me. The snow bank."
She giggled; she couldn't help it. "Not for me. I'm from Alaska."
At last, at last he smiled. Oh, she loved that smile. "Spare me your snowy lovemaking ways. On second thought, don't."
There was a pause, and she realized he was waiting for her to invite him up to her room.
"Thanks again for—" The tour. The smile. The fabulous big cock. The laugh. The ride. The other ride. "—for everything."
"No big. Are you sure you don't… uh… need anything?"
"No. It's been a long day, and Jenny's going to want to debrief me. I'd better get up there."
"Yeah, okay. Well, see you later."
"I'm not sure," she replied, "I'll have to check my schedule." She opened her car door and stuck a leg out, only to stop in surprise when she felt his arm on her elbow.
"Just a minute here," he said, squinting at her in the sudden glare of the dome light. "Just so we're clear,I'm givingyou the brush-off. Right? I mean, we had a one-night stand and now I'm the one saying that was nice, see you never."
"Oh, of course," she assured him. "That seems fine to me."
"Wait a minute!"
She stopped again in mid climb. "What?"
"It sounds like you thinkyou're the one givingme the brush-off."
"Well, I'm really going to be very busy in the next few weeks…"
"So am I!"
"Okay," she said, trying to keep her temper. What the hell was this guy getting so worked up over? Not to sound like a reverse chauvinist, but he was a guy. He got laid and there weren't any strings. He should be zooming off into the dark, singing a happy tune. "So I guess this is goodbye."
"Like hell it is!" he nearly shrieked.
"For God's sake, will you keep it down? Thereare people with guns around, you know."
"I've got news for you,Princess . We're going on adate . Tomorrow."
"But my itinerary…"
"Shove your itinerary up your tight ass."
"You never mind my ass!" she cried, stung.
"We're going out. This wasnot a one-night stand. Repeat," he added through gritted teeth, "after me."
"This wasnot a one-night stand," she parroted obediently.
"Damn right it wasn't! So cancel whatever you have to cancel; I'm picking you up at seven."
"We could have a nice dinner in my hotel room," she suggested.
"You're damn right we could!"
She finally escaped from the car, and watched from the sidewalk as he roared off.
The phone was ringing as she stepped into her hotel suite. Jenny rose to meet her, picked up the phone, and said, "Good evening, Your Majesty… yes, she's right here… at once, Sir."
Alex took the phone, covered the receiver with her palm, and whispered, "I have to shift some things around tomorrow night."
Jenny looked vaguely alarmed. "Yes, Princess."
"I'll tell you about it later. Get to your own room; it's late."
"Yes, Princess, and good night."
Alex slumped onto the couch, returned Jenny's wave, kicked off her shoes, and said, "What are you still doing up, Dad?"
"Me? How about you? It's, what, three o'clock in the morning there? The hell? What have you been doing?"
"Meeting the locals." She swallowed a yawn. "Shouldn't you be signing a bill into a law or something?"
"Off my case, you little jerk. Did you know about this?"
"About what, Dad?" she asked patiently.
"That this little trip was going to be practically for a month!"
"Dad, my schedule's been on your desk for over a week."
"So? I still say they tricked me."
"Read your damn schedules," she told the king, "and quitcher bitchin'."
"Nice way to talk to your father. And your sovereign!"
"I beg your pardon, Your Majesty."
He chuckled. "Betthat tasted bad."
"I can do the dance when I want. We all can, isn't that right? How's the baby?"
"Got tossed out of A.L. Prep for blowing up the teacher's lounge."
"Ooooh, ouch! What a budding sociopath you're raising, Your Majesty."
"Me! This is all Edmund's fault. I just have to figure out how. The boy's on his way back; he's due in here a couple hours. Then he gets the reaming of his life. You're lucky you're there, because the press is going apeshit here."
She shuddered. "Makes me glad I'm a thousand miles away. On the other hand, if people think he's dangerous, they won't mess with him."
"Uh… yeah." The king coughed. "Anybody giving you trouble out there? Funds doing okay?"
"Dad, it's only been a day, my funds are fine. And everybody's very nice. Except this one guy—Dr. Rivers."
"So, get rid of him."
"No, I kind of like that he's so grumpy. Seriously, I don't think he gives a tin shit that I'm a Baranov."
"I smell fortune hunter."
"You wouldn't if you'd seen his… clothes." She'd almost said "underwear."
"They're the worst kinds. The poor ones."
"I thought you said the ones who had a little money but were greedy for more were the worst ones."
"Well, they're more guidelines than rules. I still think you should get rid of him if he's bugging you. Have Jenny take care of it."
"I dunno, he's okay." She could hear herself slipping into her father's speech pattern; the first voice she had ever heard, the one she loved the most. "I'm thinkin' about seein' him again tomorrow."
"Like I said, he's bugging me, but in a good way."
"Seeing him, like on a date?"
"That's what he said. Insisted, actually."
"Well, good for you! And you may, once I get the paperwork on him—"
"—and Jenny and your guards turn in their reports—"
"What? It's standard op, sweetie."
"Embarrassing, is what it is," she grumbled.
"Look who's talking," he said, and laughed and hung up with a loud click.
"… and we've moved the fund-raising dinner to Wednesday, to accommodate your… private meeting… with Dr. Rivers."
"Snarky, snarky," Alex said, not looking up from the newspaper.
"He isn't worthy of your interest, Your Highness, and I can't help it if that's how I feel." Jenny's lip actually curled. Alex was amazed. "Dr. Rivers. Hmph."
"You sound about sixty years old when you do that."
"He could have shown more respect."
"Yes, he could have," she said, smiling. "But he didn't."
Her suite was on the eastern side of the hotel, and the sun had come up in a blaze of spring glory, making all the silverware and dishes look as though they were on fire. Truly, a gorgeous day. And best of all, no nightmares! Instead, she had paced and thought and fretted and read, the grumpy Dr. Rivers never far from her mind.
"Another thing, Your Highness, if you'll allow me."
"I don't think—that is—I noticed that—"
She yawned. "Spit it out, Jenn."
"I don't think forcing yourself to stay awake is the best solution for your… problem."
Alex turned the page, skimmed the "Lifetime" section, read about her arrival in town, and after the long, heavy silence, Jenny took the hint and busied herself with returning phone calls and distributing the many flower bouquets sent to honor the Princess on her journey to the Midwest.
"Ooooh," Teal teased, walking into Shel's office. "Got a big date?"
"As a matter of fact, yes." He was practically strangling himself trying to get the knot right in his tie, and for what?She certainly didn't seem the type to care. "And you're coming with me."
"Aw." Teal moved a stack of journals to one side and sat in the chair. "That's really sweet, Shel, but I think of you as a friend. I'm not saying I don't find you attractive, because you're a good-looking guy, but I think we shouldn't risk ruining our friendship by taking it to the next level."
"Are you done?"
"No. Be gentle, it's my—"
"Shut the hell up and help me tie this thing." Teal obligingly got up and, with a few deft motions, had a neat Windsor tied. Shel nearly cried with relief. "Thanks."
"I can tie a fly on a line so fine you can't see it, I can do a tie. Anything for you, beautiful."
"And you're coming with me, like I said. I'm seeing Alex, and you're going to take her 'I must be everywhere the Princess is' gal-pal out."
Teal's green eyes widened. "Jenny? That gorgeous brunette who looks like—"
"Shania Twain, yeah, yeah, I heard you babbling about that while I was rotting in jail. That American singer, right?"