"If you didn't like them, Chris, I'm glad you were up front about it."

"But I love the wedding band," she said fervently. Set in a platinum ring, the band was studded with a blue diamond for every two white diamonds. It went amazingly with her engagement ring. David's, she noted, was a simple platinum band. "I really do, David."

"Then that's worth a kiss," he said easily, and she laughed and bent toward him, and kissed the corner of his mouth, and in the background she heard clapping, and the king roaring with laughter.

"While we're on the topic of things we really liked," he continued, pulling back but resting his arm on her shoulder, "I thought the ice sculpture was a nice touch."

She shrugged. "Oh, it was no biggie. It's not like I chiseled the damn thing myself."

"No, but it's a very nice penguin couple."

She concealed a shudder. She'd said to the caterer, "Maybe something in penguins," and in return, he had created an eight-foot-high monstrosity: a pair of penguins, keeping the shrimp cool. It was nightmarish and hilarious at the same time.

"I'm glad you liked it. So, um ..." She toyed with his sleeve. "How long do we have to stay?"

He grinned at her and started to answer, when she nudged him in the ribs hard enough to evoke a groan and said, "Look at that. It's a party, and Jenny's being bugged for, like, the millionth time."

"It's her job," he started to explain.


"Yeah, but everybody gets to quit for the day after a while. I mean, come on! It's. .. what? Almost ten o'clock at night?"

"Well... we're in a room full of visiting dignitaries, American celebrities, European royalty—"

"—and the royal protocol officer has been on her feet longer than I have. Don't go 'way."

"Christina, I'm begging you—no international incidents."

"Not on our wedding day, silly! Sheesh."

Cape flying, Christina charged over to a table in the far corner heaped with chocolate-covered strawberries, grabbed half a dozen and plunked them on a napkin, and hurried over to catch the tail end of Jenny's response.

"... can certainly spend the night at the palace, although I believe His Majesty's security detail had already vetted the Marriott..."


Jenny stopped, and looked at her. Edmund raised his eyebrows, and also looked at her. And the person bugging them, a balding man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and carrying a clipboard, actually cowered.

"You guys, give it a rest. It's a party. Hi," she said to Clipboard Boy.

"Actually, Your Highness," Edmund corrected, "it's a wedding reception."

"Whatever. You guys, take a break, for crying out loud. As of this second, you're officially off duty."

They spoke in alarmed unison. "Oh, Your Highness, I couldn't—"

"—entirely inappropriate—"

"—to be available to answer questions of—"

"—never really 'off duty,' as you so quaintly, yet idiotically, put it—"

"Stawwwwwwwp! Seriously! You guys! Enough already. You've been working like dogs—"

"That's true enough," Edmund said. Then, to Clipboard Boy, "That will be all, William."

"I want you guys to have some fun," Christina continued as he scuttled away. "In fact, take a vacation. Both of you."

"Your Highness, it's really out of the question—"

"Jenny, now quit it. I don't want to see your face—either of your faces—for a week."

"Twenty-four hours," Edmund said.

"Seven days, Edmund."

"Forty-eight hours."

"Seven. Days. Edmund."

His black-clad shoulders slumped in surrender. "As you wish, Your Highness. Seven days."

"Good. That's really good." Holy shit! I won an argument with Ichabod Brain! "Now go enjoy the party. I—I command it!"

"Yes, Your Highness," they chorused dutifully.

"And cut that shit out—you know I hate it."

"Yes, Your Highness," they chorused evilly.

Chapter 26

From The Queen of the Edge of the World, by Edmund Dante HI, © 2089, Harper Zebra and Schuster Publications.

By all accounts, the wedding of Prince David and Princess Christina was a charming, beautiful, and, yes, historic occasion. There was ample television coverage, and of course the famous Cook photograph of the prince and princess laughing together at the altar.

In its own way, the Cook photo was as famous as the 1939 photo of Judy Garland dipping her hands in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater. The Cook photo was used again and again throughout the century because it so aptly summed up Alaskan royalty—the prince, grave but amused, and the princess, laughing with unashamed joy.

It was also at their wedding that Prince David would suggest the now-famous book that would later become the international bestseller (over a hundred million copies in seventeen languages) Christina on Cooking: Favorite recipes of HRH Princess Christina of Alaska.

One assumes, however, that there were other things on the prince and princess's minds than cooking. . . or photographic opportunities. . ..

"David, for God's sake, will you put me down? You're gonna, like, rupture something."

David staggered to the bed—their new bed in their new apartments—and dropped her in the middle of it, then collapsed beside her.

"My, you're ... you're a big girl," he said, clearly struggling not to gasp.

"And you're an ass." She propped herself up on her elbows and kicked off her shoes, watching as they flew across the room. The room was lit entirely by candles; there were at least a thousand of them. Which she supposed was supposed to be romantic, but frankly, it made her nervous. One thing she learned in her years of working cruise ships: fire is bad.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: day-amn, this is a nice bunch of rooms! Say, blow those candles out, willya?"

He blew a few out, and she blew out the ones on her end table beside the bed—cripes, they were, like, two feet from the down comforter! Did feathers burn? They must. And they probably stunk like a bastard, too.

"This will be the first time I've slept in the palace in a place other than the apartments I've had since I was a baby," he said thoughtfully.

"Really?" She stopped in mid-blow. "You've never slept anywhere else? Don't you have, like, a cot in Allen Hall with the penguins?"

"Yes, but I don't sleep there."

She put a hand over her eyes. "Oh, my God, David. First of all, I was only kidding, and second of all, that's scary on at least five different levels."

"It's only so I can lie down and rest while observing their behavioral—"

"David. Seriously. Stop talking about the fucking penguins and kiss me."

"Can't I do both?" he teased, and bent over her, and kissed her for a lovely, long time.

"... stupid cape ..." She was wriggling all over the bed. "Help me get this stuff off, willya?"

"A pleasure."

"Don't take this the wrong way or anything, but I've been wanting to jump your bones for the last six days."


"Oh, that's so romantic! 'Likewise.' You should write for Harlequin."

"Sticks and stones. And Christina—shut up and kiss me back."

"A pleasure." With a wicked gleam in her eye, she grabbed him by the ears and kissed him. Then they were both wriggling and her cape was on the floor, followed by his suit jacket, and she yanked at his shirt and his blue diamond cufflinks went flying (she was later to find one of them had landed in her shoe), and then his pants were flying, and then one of his socks, and one of her stockings, and then—

"Christ! How many buttons are on this thing?"

"The designer guy had to use a buttonhook," she said anxiously, peering over her shoulder. "Can you get it undone?"

"Got an axe? Never mind. I'm very dexterous."

"Well, congratulations."

About half an hour later, the dress finally slid off her shoulders. She kicked it away, relieved to be free of it at last. By now her hands were shaking; she'd waited so long and wanted him so badly, it was difficult to believe that the moment had come at last. She hoped David wasn't the type who suffered from performance anxiety.

"My God! Christina, you're—you're really quite lovely."

"That's just the lingerie. And seeing me in a bedroom as opposed to a closet." She grabbed her boobs and hoisted them up. "See? My boobs are not normally this high—it's the stupid corset."

"Ummm ... yes, I see ... fascinating... leave it on, would you?"

"Am I asking you to leave your underwear on?" she griped.

"I can, you know—these are boxers. Fly vent."

"Forget that. I've been wanting to grab your naked ass for, like, ever."

"Grab away," he said, choking on a laugh. He gasped as she squeezed—hard!—and pounced on him and rolled over, with him on top.

"I knew it," she said, deeply satisfied. "Those baggy shorts and those geeky suits didn't fool me. You have a fantastic ass."

"Likewise," he said, and ducked as she swung a small fist at his ear.

"You're impossible!"

"Yes, I suppose I am," he said, and dipped his head, and found the soft sweetness of her cleavage. He nuzzled for a time while she sighed and stroked his thick black hair. She'd been longing to touch the silky-coarse strands for so long. The final, insane days leading up to the wedding had left them with very little—make that zero—time to sneak off for closet nookie.

It seemed unreal that he was here with her now, that he was her husband, he belonged to her, and she to him.

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