"This is Marge Sims," Edmund said into her ear, nearly making her leap out of her chair. "What she doesn't know about flowers isn't worth knowing, so for God's sake, go easy on her."

"Okay, okay! You're acting like this is fun for me. And leggo." Christina wriggled until Edmund's skeletal fingers fell away from her shoulder. "Got news—this is about as much fun as commercial fishing. In fact, I would rather be commercial fishing."

The florist swallowed and, when she spoke, her bream was redolent of Turns. "Margie Sims, m'lady."

"Hi, there. Nice to meet you. Well, let's get to it, Margie m'girl."

"Yes, my lady," Margie said, slumping across from Christina as if going to her doom. "I've brought several photos of my past—what's that noise?"

"The king fell asleep," Prince David whispered. "Again."

"Oh." Marge lowered her voice. "If any of these catches your fancy, Lady Christina, we can—uh— perhaps if you looked a little more carefully, you might find ... um ..."

Flip. Flip. Flip. "No—tulips will cost a friggin' fortune that time of year."

"You mean spring?" David asked doubtfully.

"You hush. This is pretty, but it's too delicate for me—has it escaped anyone's noticed that I'm a blond hulk?"


"Now, my lady, that's just not so," Marge said kindly. "You're slender and quite lovely. But you are of striking height and coloring, and you're quite right, no one would see such a diminutive violet bouquet."

"Hear that, Eds?" Christina said triumphantly.

"Marge says I'm right! Eh? No, these are all too small. And this is too Thanksgiving-ish. Oooh, now this I like!" It was a large cluster of old-fashioned roses in a rainbow of pastels. "Except for the colors. Oooh, this is nice, too!" Again, a cluster of roses. "Except it's in a heart-shape—hello, cliche, anyone? You know what I like, Margie?" she asked, turning to the woman, who now had beads of sweat on her upper lip. "I really like irises. Dark purple irises. Which would go with the dresses. And if we could stick some big red roses in there ..."

"Easily done, my lady."

"But don't make it too heavy. I'm gonna have to lug it around all day, okay?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Okay. Next?"

"The caterer," Horrance whispered, terrified.

"Great," David muttered. "We'll be able to settle on a menu by sundown, at the latest."

"This is Don Musch, my lady," Edmund said, bringing over another tall, strapping Alaskan, this one with blond hair caught back in a ponytail. He looked like he'd be more at home splitting timber than whipping up souffles. "He'll be the head caterer."

Christina slapped the last sketchbook closed and cleared her throat. "Okay, Don-o, listen up. I want nice, light drinks... real lemonade, some sherbet punch—orange sherbet, not lime or pineapple— maybe a nice honeydew punch, too—and use frozen fruit for ice cubes, or it'll be a watered-down mess before we get to 'I do.' And I'd like Bellinis, please— that's champagne with apricot nectar, to you non-Americans. Not orange juice—mimosas are such a cliche. Plus, I had to make about a zillion a day on the ships .. . I'm not having them at my reception.

"For hors d'oeuvres I want a nice variety of open-faced sandwiches, maybe some cucumber and watercress, cream cheese, and you can dress it up with caviar, sesame seeds, whatever. Some nice crostini would be good, too, but make sure the tomatoes are ripe ... I don't want a bunch of red potatoes served with the mozzarella. Actually, yellow tomatoes would be really great with that, if you think you can get them. They're so pretty. And fresh basil, please, nothing out of ajar.

"Some asparagus, maybe steamed and served with a really tangy vinaigrette, would be good, too. No need to go for the white—green asparagus will do fine. And shrimp cocktail. I love shrimp cocktail, and I bet you guys could get a great price.

"Now, for entrees, let's do some poached salmon— no halibut, it's too friggin' expensive—and serve it with a nice homemade mayo, maybe some cukes, too. Do not make a salmon mousse—I don't expect the guests to choke down whipped fish. I'd also like to do a couple different pasta salads, one with meat, one without. I mean, there's gonna be some vegetarians there—be nice if they had something to eat, too.

"A cheese course would be good, but only if you can protect it from the heat. . . nothing worse than sweaty cheese."

"Nothing worse?" David asked, managing to get a word in edgewise.

"I'd also like lots of fruit—I love fruit. Minted melon balls, strawberries, and a really good fruit dip—try two parts cream cheese to one part marshmallow fluff—that's good stuff. Melon wrapped in prosciutto would be good, too—yum! Oh, and lots of crusty bread, and I've got a great recipe for strawberry butter. It sounds weird, but it's actual) very good. Especially if you can keep the rolls warm."

Don, the caterer, was managing to take rapid notes, while everyone else's jaws were hanging open. Even the king had awakened and was paying attention.

"Now, dessert. I do not, repeat, do not want colored Crisco on the wedding cake. Real butter cream, please. I want a multi-tiered cake, and I'd like each tier to be a different flavor. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mocha, lemon. Something for everybody. Fillings can be fruit, mousse, whatever, but again, no colored Crisco. And I'd like a pearl-ized fondant to decorate the cake, and have each layer be a different color. You know—blue, orange, pink, green, yellow, whatever. You can pipe swirls over the fondant to create a what-d'you-call-it?—a Wedgewood effect. My mom," she finished defiantly, "loved Wedgewood."

"Gaaaaaaah," Marge said, trying and failing to articulate her startlement.

"Oh, and I've got a great idea for Penguin Boy's groom cake ... we could do a chocolate cake with white fondant icing and cut out black fondant in the shape of playing card symbols—you know, decorate it with aces, hearts, spades, clubs. It'd be really dramatic and kind of fitting, too, because of the black and white, you know? Anyway, we can have that the night before, and on the big day, the tiered cake. And a Croquembouche. It's so pretty, and so good. I love cream puffs. I know it'll be a pain, but I'll help.

"Anyway," Christina said into the dead silence, "those are my ideas. And whatever David wants to eat, too."

"Of course!" David burst out. "She's a chef!"

"I'm a cook," she corrected. "Chefs go to school."

"This—this is all very fine, my lady," Don said, still scribbling furiously.

"Nice and specific, you mean, you lucky bastard," Marge muttered.

"Okay. And don't worry, Don, I'll help."

"My lady, that's really not—"

"Oh, I want to! With the cakes, at least. What's left? All this food talk has me starving."

"Me, too!" the king said. "I'm ready to go for some of that croakembooch right now."

"Just some minor details . . . transportation—"

"Where? I thought we agreed the wedding would be here."

"Yes, Lady Christina, but the people will want to see you," Edmund explained. "I thought we could use the royal carriage—"

"Forget it."

"How come?" David asked. "It's romantic. Isn't it'"

"Trotting behind a steaming horse butt? Pass."

"I, uh, never thought of it that w-way," David said, his voice almost breaking on "way" as he choked back a laugh.

"And on that note," Edmund sighed, "I suggest we adjourn for the day."

"Good call," Christina said. "I'm missing Jeopardy."

Chapter 13

She had no idea where they were—closets weren't as big as living rooms, right? But what other room was bulging with coats on hangers? Anyway, they were groping and she heard a seam tear and then she was clawing at the clothes for purchase, finding the pole beneath the furs and hanging on for dear life as David's tongue parted her lower lips and slipped inside her. He was on his knees in front of her, his big hands on her thighs, spreading them apart, as he licked and teased and kissed and stroked, and she thought she was going to scream.

She must have made a sound, some sound, because he said, "Shhhhh," against her slick flesh, and she whimpered in reply. His tongue sped up, no longer leisurely licking, finding the quivering button that was the very center of her, sucking it, licking, stabbing at it, and her uterus clenched as her orgasm bloomed within her, as fire raced down her limbs and she let go of the pole, tumbling to the floor of the closet in a heap of furs.

His mouth was instantly on hers and she tasted herself; she was groping wildly for him, found him, felt him sliding inside her with delicious slowness, came again as he started to thrust, cried out in his mourn. They still had their shirts on (and their shoes) but his hand found her left breast and squeezed it through the cotton, and through it all his mouth never left hers, not once, and he shuddered above her when she came again, as if he could feel it, as if they were reading each other's minds.

"Is it me, or is it sort of depraved to do that before we go see a minister?"

"Oh, it's just you," he said seriously, then laughed when she tickled his ribs.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather go find that closet again? Those furs felt awesome! And a cedar closet! Yum! What floor was that, anyway? We've got to make a mental note of that room ..."

"We've defiled it enough for one day."

"Nice! Defiled! Hey, I'd prefer to do it in a bed like a regular person ..." A rather large lie. David was fiendishly inventive in closed spaces. "... but if we did, we'd give Nicholas a real education. Or one of your sisters. Or the king would burst in, or—yech!—Edmund. Or Jenny. Or—"

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