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"Wow!" Kathryn said, looking dazzled. "That is wonderful!"

"You think so? Really?"

"Chris, you look beautiful. The ice-blue really brings out your eyes."

Jenny looked up. "I thought your eyes were green."

"Never mind my eyes." Chris took a tentative step. Everything felt right. Nothing was too tight. She could breathe. Success!

Horrance pulled the matching cape from another body bag and flung it over her shoulders. "There!"

"Ooooooooh," the princesses oooohed.

"Outstanding. Horrance, really, you've outdone yourself."

"Thank you, Jenny." He rubbed his hands together. "I'm going to make a fucking fortune this year." Then he clapped a hand over his mouth, but Christina just laughed.

There was another knock on the door, and Naomi entered with a tray. "I brought something for everyone," she said. Then she gasped when she saw Christina. "My lady! You look …"

"Like a big icicle?"

".. .wonderful!"

"Well, thanks," she said, pleased. "Thanks for the snacks, too."

"My lady, the minister would like to see you, if it's convenient."

"How'd you get out of having a bishop marry you guys?" Alex asked. "That's standard protocol for royal weddings, right?"

"Easy. Cray was the devil I knew, as opposed to … you know how it goes. I put my foot down about that one. Send him in. Jenny, have a sandwich. You do not look well, pardon me for saying so."

"Stage fright," she said weakly. "Forgive me, my lady. The spotlight isn't even on me, and—"

"Just eat already, willya? I keep expecting you to pitch face-first into the carpet. Or my cleavage."

Horrance and his assistants left, after admonishing everyone not to breathe or move or touch. There was a rap at the door and Minister Cray called, "May I come in?"

"C'mon in!"

He was, if possible, even paler than Jenny, except for the two hectic dots of color on his cheeks. There was a sheen of sweat on his forehead which he continually wiped away with a handkerchief. "Your Highnesses. Jennifer. My lady. You all look lovely."

"Thanks. Have a sandwich."

"No, I—I'd better not. My stomach—I'd better not. My lady, I just wanted to go over a few things with you. As in rehearsal, I will be asking you some questions, and then—then I'll—as we did yesterday, I'll—" He fumbled with his note cards and sprayed them all over the room.

"Whoa! Easy there, Cray, you look even more freaked out than I feel."

"I've never been on television before," he said weakly.

"You'll be fine. Come on, you've done this a million times."

"Not conduct an historical event, he hasn't," Kathryn commented with bright-eyed malice.

"Quit it, Kath. Go back to being mute—I mean it, now. And I meant weddings. You've done a million weddings."

"Yes, I—that's true. I—oh! I almost forgot! The prince asked me to give this to you." He held out the dark blue velvet box, and Christina took it.

"Thanks." Now what the heck was this? She opened the box and nearly gasped. It was a choker, set in platinum, with ice-blue diamonds as big as the first joint of her thumb set every two inches. "Oh my God! Sorry, Cray."

Alex was looking over her shoulder. "Huh. That turned out great."

"Turned out?"

"David designed all the jewelry."

"He did?"

"Well, sure. Did you think he just called a catalog and had them surprise him?"

"And my ring?"

"Yes. See, how it works is, when I said all the jewelry, I meant all the jewelry."

Christina put a hand over her eyes, then jerked it away, mindful of her makeup. "You mean all the rings I… I…"

"Cruelly rejected?"

"Oh, shit. Sorry, Cray."

Alex shrugged. "Eh, it was good for him. He needed a challenge."

Kathryn snickered.

Jenny had jumped up and taken the box. "Turn around, my lady, I'll put it on for you." She did so, and Chris felt the weight of the stones, cool at first, then warmed by her body.

Tonight, Chris thought, I'll take everything off except this. The thought caused desire to bloom inside her like a black orchid.

"You okay, Chris? You look a little flushed."

"I'm fine." And with any luck, she soon would be.

Chapter 24

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

Although Edmund Dante's notes are extensive, he of course could not know every detail, nor record every conversation, of the king and queen's (or prince and princess, as they were then) wedding day. Edmund's notes for that day are surprisingly succinct, ending with, She was as charming a bride as she was a houseguest.

This leaves us no choice but to speculate on what was going through Queen Christina's head in the moments before the wedding began. Was she thinking of her late mother? Or perhaps her future duties as sovereign ? Could she truly grasp just how quickly her life would change, or was she merely concentrating on her first turn at center stage?

We will likely never know.

"Jenny, did you know you look an awful lot like Shania Twain?"

"Wh-what?"

"Shania Twain. You're, like, the spitting image of her."

Jenny blushed again. She'd been doing it with distressing regularity this morning. "The American singer? Oh, I—no. No, I don't. She's much prettier."

"Jenny—do you own a mirror?"

"Yes, of course." Jenny looked nervously at her watch. "Still ten minutes, my lady. I—uh—I had something I wanted to tell you, but I can't find ray notes."

"You don't need notes to talk to me, you dark-eyed dork."

"Ah—yes. My lady—Christina—I just wanted— um—that is to say—well—"

"Spit it out—you're giving me the fidgets."

"Sorry. It's just—I wanted to thank you again for allowing me to be in your wedding party. My mother—my mother is very pleased. And very honored to be invited, as well," Jenny added.

"Jenn, seriously. We've been over this. It was no big deal."

"It is a big deal," she corrected sharply. Chris raised her eyebrows . .. she didn't know Jenny could be sharp. "My father died two years ago, and since then my mother hasn't been very interested in—well, anyway, the wedding is all she's been talking about for months. It's nice to see her excited about something again."

"Well, she got a good seat, right?"

"Oh, yes! Yes, she's in the third row, on the left. She's wearing a purple hat. She bought it especially for the occasion."

"Swell."

It was so nice to be out, not just on a lovely day like today, but also to be in attendance at a truly historic occasion. Mrs. Smythe, Jenny's mother, had only one wish: that her dear husband could have been there as well.

Jenny's wedding followed within a year, and soon Mrs. Smythe was enjoying the wonderful distraction of grandchildren. And until the end of her days, she told The Story over and over again. Jenny looked on but never demurred, and Jenny's children—particularly her twin girls—begged many times to hear The Story.

The Story went like this: "Well, I was sitting in the pew, waiting to get a glimpse of the queen— only she wasn't the queen then, don't you know? And when she came down the aisle, she looked almost as pretty as your mother did."

(Jenny would always break into The Story at this point: "Oh, Mother! You know that's not true. On my best day I could never have been as pretty as the queen." And Mrs. Smythe would always say, "Hush up, girl. Nobody's talking to you.")

"She was wearing a beautiful ice-blue gown, and a matching ice-blue cape, and a gorgeous blue choker, and a little crown of diamonds. And she was smiling. A little pale, but a lovely smile. And she found me! She looked in my little aisle, and looked at my hat, and looked at me, and she winked. The queen winked at me on her own wedding day! Why do you think she did that?"

And one of the grandchildren would say, "Because Mama told her you had come to see her get married, and bought a purple hat specially."

"That's right," Mrs. Smythe would say. "That's just right."

Kathryn and Alex had vanished for a final pee break before the big moment. Jenny had been called away to settle the matter of whether Prince Charles should be seated with the Spanish princess or Queen Noor.

So, for the moment—in fact, for the first time since Kurt and Edmund had gotten her up—she was alone.

Alone with her thoughts. Alone to sweat it out. Alone to realize she was in way, way over her head. Alone to …

"You believe this?" The king burst in. "Elizabeth didn't come, but she sent her kid. Well, we can talk about hunting at the reception. Too bad he didn't bring the little ones."

"The little ones," she said faintly, "are grown men and over six feet tall."

"Aw, they're punks. Nice punks, but still. Hey! Ready to face the enemy?" The king strolled toward her, chortling. "Damn! Kid, you look good enough to—what's wrong?"

"Oh,Al!"

"Jeez, what's the matter? Are you sick?" He hurried across the room and patted her ineffectually. She had time, even in the midst of her sudden, surprising onset of misery, to be amazed: the king was wearing a suit. He actually looked .. . well…kingly. "Did you eat something? You gotta eat something."

"It's not that. Oh, Al," she said, resting her face against his broad chest for a moment, then jerking back before she ruined his shirt with makeup. "I don't think I can do it. I really don't. All those people!"

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