"Mock all you will…"
"… but I remind you, you'll be Mrs. Dr. Prince David of the Penguins."
"Oh, barf. Is there time to cancel this thing yet?"
She heard a light tap at her door and groaned into her pillow. After a moment, she rolled over and said, "Nicholas! It's after midnight, you little twerp! Enough of these weird, late-night excursions! Go to sleep!"
A head poked into the room. Not Nicholas's. "Remind me to have a talk with the royal twerp," David said. "Although I can hardly blame him for being unable to stay away. May I come in?"
"What is it with you people? Don't any of you need sleep?"
"We take long naps in the morning." He stepped into the room. "Interesting day today, hmm?"
"If you say so. But if I have to look at one more peau de soie shoe, I'm going to barf. What the hell is peau de soie, anyway?"
"You're asking me? And there's no way your shoes are going to be less comfortable than mine."
She laughed as he sat down on the edge of her bed, and propped herself up on her elbows. "Since I plan to wear flats—and I thought the designer dude was going to cry when I told him—I'll give you that one. And d'you know what's worse? This was just, like, preliminary stuff. We're going to have meetings and meetings, every day. Flowers, shoes, dresses, food, cakes, time, place, shoes—"
"While we're on the topic of fashion …" She could see him a little better now, in spite of the room's gloom, and once again wondered if his hair would feel like it looked .. . like coarse silk. "What's this about a white wedding gown?"
"Oh, are we gonna do that? Because the time to do that was before you asked me to marry you."
"I'm just curious," he said mildly.
"Sure you are. Let's put it this way: I'm not a virgin, but I'm not a slut, either."
"You can't know," he said, perfectly straight-faced, "how relieved I am."
"Listen up, wise guy—I can count the number of partners I've had on one hand." She paused and added pointedly, "Can you?"
"Ah .. . not on one hand, no … in fact, I think I might need a third hand . . . maybe .. . and possibly a few of my toes …"
"Well, I am six years older than you. Oof!" He said "oof!" because she'd swung her pillow, sidearm, into his face. "Ah-ha! Now the truth comes out— you're going to be an abusive wife, I can sense it."
"Sure I am. Look, if you really want chapter and verse, we can do that. I mean .. . you're right, it's a fair question. But I expect reciprocation."
He shook his head. "No need."
"No, it's like I said, I was just curious. It's in the past, it has nothing to do with me, or us, and besides that, it's your own personal business. That's not the main reason I came in here, anyway."
"Yeah? Other than keeping me from much-deserved sleep, what are you doing here?"
"I like teasing you. It's .. . something different. Your reaction, I mean."
"Super. Listen, not that this isn't fascinating and all…"
"You’re fascinating." Was he leaning in? He was! The lean-in! Oooh, prelude to a kiss. Their second kiss. Excellent. She'd been ready to make a move herself if he wasn't going to. "I didn't expect that. I knew you'd be pretty, but. .."
He's really got to work on this romantic prince thing. Because he just sucks at it. Well, maybe princes don't have to try as hard. "Thanks."
". . . but I didn't expect. . . the sheer excitement … I think it's the force of your personality…"
"David. Will you shut up and kiss me?"
"… it's really extraordinary, you fairly vibrate with life …"
He said "ack" because someone had grabbed him by the shirt collar and hauled him off the bed. A very large someone, even broader than David. In fact, it was—
"Ah-ha! Trying to get some nookie before the big day, eh?" The king shook the prince like a terrier would shake a rat. "Nice try."
"Al!" she said furiously. "Get lost! Go to bed!" On top of being weird, they 're all insomniacs… bizarre! "Don't make me kick your big butt out of here."
"Save it, sweetie. And you … time to go to your own room. I'm a modern guy—"
"A modern idiot is more like it," Sweetie snapped.
"—but I can't have premarital royal sex going on under my rooftop."
"It's none of your damned business if I want to have sex with a duck!" she screeched.
"No," Prince David said, extricating himself from his father's grasp, "but it's mine." He straightened his shirt and jerked his head, tossing his dark hair out of his face. "Oh, and my lord king, if you ever yank me away from my fiancé again, I'll break out all your teeth."
"Whoa," the king and Christina said in unison.
David treated them to a frigid bow. "Good night."
"Did you hear that?" the king cried as the door slammed. "He threatened felony assault!"
"He's not the only one."
"On his sovereign! Awww, they grow up so fast." He tapped his chest, which was currently covered with a T-shirt that read, I'M THE KING, WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? "Gets me right here."
"I'm going to get you right there. Go away."
"Calm down—I'm going, I'm going."
What a bunch of nutjobs, she thought, lying back down. I must be out of my mind.
Sure you are. Then how come you can't wipe that silly grin off your face?
Sleep was hard in coming; she spent entirely too much time thinking about the lean-in, and replaying the look in his eyes. For the first time, she didn't worry so much about what she was getting herself into.
"—don't take this the wrong way or anything—"
He sighed. "I am bracing myself, because you always say that before coming out with something thoroughly offensive."
"Cracked my code, eh? Anyway, I'm going to be the princess, right? So who cares what fork I use when? I mean, I'll be …" She snorted a giggle through her nose. He fervently hoped she would get over the habit of laughing like a loon whenever she contemplated her future station. ". . . royalty, and all."
"Exactly why you must set an example."
"Me?" He noted she nearly fell out of her chair in surprise. "Set an example?"
"I admit," he said, admiring the way the sunlight bounced off her shoulder-length waves, making the blond strands look like beaten gold, "it pains me to speak of it."
It was fortunate she had excellent hair, because there was a truly unpleasant expression on her face at the moment. In fact, her dimples had entirely disappeared. They were, he privately drought, her best feature. They made her look mischievous and charming at the same time. "Edmund, I've got a real news flash for you. People don't give a crap what fork royalty uses."
"I beg to differ."
"Ed—they totally don't."
They glared at each other and then Edmund, who had battled the king for years, switched tactics. "Of course, if you want people to disparage His Highness because he chose a commoner who refused to rise above her station—"
"Whoa, whoa. You're saying David will have to eat shit if I'm not a good princess?"
"In a word, yes."
"Well, son of a bitch!"
"On the contrary, my mother was an extraordinarily patient and kind woman."
"Uh-huh." She grabbed a hank of hair and chewed on it. A loathsome habit he needed to break her of before she appeared in front of television cameras. "Hey, Edmund, can I ask you something?"
"You mean, something else?"
"Yeah, yeah. How come you're doing this? Aren't there, like, a zillion underlings here in the palace who could be doing this? Tell me you wouldn't rather be just about anywhere else." She added in a mutter he heard perfectly well, "God knows I would."
"I lost the coin toss," he said, striving for the right note of cool disdain. She really was quite something. He had seen instantly why the king had been charmed, and why David had dropped his I-don't-care-who-I-marry pose. She would be a splendid queen, if he could get her to lend an attentive ear.
And naturally, such a vitally important job could not go to just anyone. He would oversee her education himself. Even if it killed him. "Now. Again— oyster fork, soup spoon, marrow scoop, fish knife, entree knife, main course knife, salad knife—"
"—fruit knife, dessert spoon, dessert fork, and a partridge in a pear tree!"
He stared at her, completely surprised. "Oh. Oh! Well, that’s very good. Ah … if you understood all along, then why… ?"
"Well, I'll tell you … I just can't resist yanking your chain." She tipped her chair back (French Louis XIV, circa 1860, listed for $972 Alaskan at Sotheby's) and grinned at him. "What do you think of that, Eds?"
"Whatever. What's next on my agenda from hell?"
"You have a history lesson in thirty minutes with our palace historian."
The legs hit the carpet with a thump. "History lessons?"
"If you are to be a member of the royal family, it's important you know something of Alaskan history."
"Can't you just pick up that fruit fork and stick it in my eye instead?"
"It would be improper before dessert is served, my lady. After history, you'll be meeting with Horrance, your wedding gown designer. We try to use local artisans whenever possible," he added, pretending she was remotely interested in an explanation, "to aid the economy."