"I'm looking forward to it."
"Queen Beatrix, Netherlands,"Jenny muttered.
"Good afternoon, Queen Beatrix . . . thank you … yes, it's been a long day, but a very good one.. . thanks .. ."
Christina let her attention wander for a moment, just in time to hear Prince Alex tell Suzanne Somers,
"I like to eat cake
My thighs must pay the price.
Hail the ButtMaster."
She rolled her eyes, which startled the British prime minister. Princess Alex swore up and down tins was just a phase of her brother's … Chris fervently hoped it was true. Sure, the kid had lost a bet… a year ago! How long was he supposed to spout poetry? Poor bastard. Unless he secretly liked it. In which case, weird bastard.
"Crown Princess Victoria, Sweden."
"Hello… thanks for coming, Princess Victoria… did you like Yale?"
"Indeed I did," the princess replied with a kind smile. Another gorgeous brunette with brown eyes… and wearing pink!
"My friend Jenny says you're going to be Sweden's first female sovereign in, like, a million years."
"Three hundred years, and yes."
"Well, good luck with that whole thing."
"And to you, Your Highness."
"Princess Stephanie, Monaco."
"Congratulations," Princess Stephanie said, shaking her hand.
"And to you, too," Christina replied. She'd read in Newsweek that Stephie got around . .. she'd just gotten married for the fourth?—fifth?—time.
"Thank you, Princess Christina."
"Just Christina," she said, "will be fine."
"So I hear," Stephanie replied, and her eyes twinkled merrily.
"Almost done," Jenny said in her ear.
"Thank God… hi, Ms. Beckinsale. I loved Underworld. You kicked ass."
"Thank you," Kate Beckinsale replied gravely. "I'm so glad you enjoyed it."
"Enjoyed it? I loved it! Great accent, by the way."
Beckinsale blinked. "I'm British."
"Oh. Well, then, no wonder."
"We just wrapped the sequel."
"Now that's the best news I've heard all year!" she cried, and people up and down the receiving line laughed. With her, not at her. Sometimes it could be hard to tell, but not today.
It was nice.
Christina was eating an open-faced cucumber sandwich with her salmon. Mmm! What was it about cukes and salmon that they went so well together? Who knew? It was one of those mysteries, like Stonehenge. But she meant to enjoy it all the same. And she chortled with delight every time she saw the guest favors … miniature wedding cakes exactly like her big one, except only two inches high, in a rainbow of pastels. Each table was littered with pink, or mint green, or baby blue, or cream.
"Thought you'd like those," David said beside her. His plate was clean, and he was watching her shovel it in, looking amused. "I'm sure there's more in the kitchen, darling wife."
"Ho-ho. I was too nervous to eat a thing today. Between Edmund nagging and Jenny hovering, I was, like, totally worried that hurling was imminent. On television, no less!"
"I'm glad you avoided it."
"And the food is great. As in couldn't-have-done-it-better-myself great Although I certainly tried, but the chefs wouldn't let me near the kitchen as of seventy-two hours ago."
"They might have had instructions," Prince David admitted.
"Great. How come?"
"I wanted you to enjoy your wedding reception. Tough to do if you're obsessing over the number of egg yolks in the butter cream frosting."
"Shows what you know about butter cream," she grumbled, but she was pleased. "And is it me, or is Queen Rania a total babe?"
"It's not just you."
"Speaking of babes, or babies, rather—"
"Oh, were we?"
"—I threw away my birth control pills yesterday."
He quickly put his wineglass down before he choked. "All right. I, um, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to respond to that. Congratulations?"
"Well. All those classes on Alaskan history that Edmund gave me. They were endless, but mildly interesting. I learned a lot about your ancestors. And we talked about the succession and the royal family and that you need an heir to, y'know, be the boss of Alaska when we're worm food—"
"Yes, but you don't have to get pregnant this second."
"Well, good, because I'm not done with my cake."
He grinned at her. "I meant, you flighty creature, that we can certainly wait awhile."
"Oh. Really? I thought having babies was my job now."
This time he did choke on his wine. "Who told you that?"
"I figured it out on my own. Come on, don't pretend we're like a regular married couple." She crossed her legs and leaned forward, her cape tenting on the floor around her. "Don't you need babies, like, A.S.A.P.?"
"No, Christina. You're young, I'm young. We can wait awhile. If you like."
"Okay, well, I'll think about it." And she would. Most curious! She thought he'd be on board with the Insta-Baby program, but he clearly was in no rush.
Why was that heartening and disappointing at the same time?
"Speaking of jobs—"
"Oh, were we?" she asked sarcastically.
"—have you thought about writing a cookbook? You seem to have very strong opinions about, for instance, omelets—"
"It just makes me crazy when people dilute their eggs with milk!"
"—right, right, calm down and eat your cake. You could write a cookbook—"
"No. Not now I can't."
He blinked. "Why in the world not?"
"Because it would be a cinch to get it published, and there'd be a big print run—like, a zillion copies—but I'd never know if the book was a success because people liked my ideas and my recipes, or because I was—drumroll, please—Princess Christina! You see?"
"I… I do see."
She could see he, in fact, did not see. Since he had always been a prince, he had been able to take his fame and popularity at face value. It was always there, like the moon and the sun. She would never be able to do that. She was well aware that for the rest of her life, people would want to be her friend because she was (insert snicker here) a princess. It was stupid, but there you go.
"Let's talk about it later," she suggested. "It's our wedding reception—we should probably be having fun. Or something."
"I am having fun," he said mildly, and forked the last bite of cake off her plate.
"Creep. You—what's that?"
She heard a mild tumult and looked up to see Kurt's way being blocked by at least three security people.
"What the hell? Those guys know who Kurt is— what's with the 'can we see some I.D.' treatment?"
"Oh," the prince said casually, "I might have accidentally put Detective Carlson's name on a list somewhere."
"Real mature, Penguin Boy. Hey! Guys!" She waved. "Let him come over, it's all right."
"Hey, man," Kurt said to the head of security, exaggeratedly straightening his tux, "I knew the bride when she used to rock 'n' roll."
"Possibly more than one list," the prince added, downing the last of his wine in three gulps.
"Childish much?" she muttered, then gave Kurt a big smile. "Hey! Glad you could make it."
"I wasn't gonna miss the royal wedding of the century," he teased.
"Oh, don't start with that. We're barely even into the century. My God, I don't think I've ever seen you in a suit. You look great!"
"Edmund made me." Kurt ran a finger around his collar and grimaced. "I feel like a total fraud in this thing."
"Did you get enough to eat?"
"Relax, Chris. Food's first-rate. Listen, the reason I came over—me and Prince Alex and a coupie of the guys are gonna go hit a few bars. I just wanted to say good night."
"Well, thanks for coming."
"You look great," he said, looking up and down in that old half-critical, half-admiring way. "Like a princess, for sure."
"Then my disguise is working."
He laughed and bent to kiss her cheek, then eyed the prince and shook her hand instead. "Well, best of luck and all that."
"Will you come tomorrow to see us off?"
"Sure. New York, right?"
"Sure, I'll be there."
"Okay, great. See you."
" 'Bye. See you around, David."
"Good night," the prince said coolly.
"David," Christina said, watching Kurt walk away, "you've really got to let that go."
"It's faded into the mists of my memory."
She laughed. "Sure it has. Speaking of stuff fading into the mist…" She put down her fork and plucked at his sleeve. "I didn't get a chance earlier."
"It's too late to take it back," he said quickly.
"Very funny. Anyway, I didn't get a chance earlier, and I didn't know earlier. About the jewelry. The necklaces and the earrings and my engagement ring and the wedding bands. I didn't know you designed them yourself."
He looked puzzled. There was a bit of cream cheese at the corner of his mouth; she reached up and thumbed it away. "I told you I was going to take care of the jewelry."
"Yeah, but I thought that meant, 'Edmund, take care of the jewelry,' or something."
His mouth twitched on one side. "Well, it didn't. And if I ordered Edmund to 'take care of anything, he'd likely laugh in my face."
"Still. All the same. I didn't know, and I'm sorry about all the ones I rejected."