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"Right."

"And I don't know you."

Except that he was the finest, most maddening man in the world. That he whispered her name in the dark and ate all the peas on her plate. That he resented his father and revered his mother. That he hated being the new kid when he was in school. That he thought she was beautiful and smart and sexy. That he wanted to be with her. That he hated not spending the night.

With her. Only with her.

She took a breath. "Are you really telling me you're going to move? Again? You want the happily ever after? You want to uproot, change everything, move to Alaska of all places, where you'll be rich—PrinceSheldon—and your son will be a prince, and all your grandchildren?"

He opened his mouth, and she could instantly see he had never thought of it in those terms. He'd been so focused on having her, he'd never considered the fact that he'd have to give up everything to do it.

"I didn't think so," she said triumphantly, and then started to cry. "Don't you dare!" she shouted when he took a hesitant step forward. "You get your pants on and get out of here!"

"Is that a royal command?" he asked hoarsely, pale as the sheets.

"Take it however you want. Just get out."

"Fine, Princess. Nice fucking you."

"Lovemaking!" she yelled as he hopped out the door, struggling to get his right leg into his left pant leg. "It was lovemaking, and don't you ever forget it!"

Chapter 44

She'd broken the last lamp when the gentle tapping became insistent pounding. "Get lost!" she yelled, kicking one of the delicate side tables into the wall. "No visitors, Jenny, I don't care if it's the new Pope!"

"How about the king of Alaska?" a familiar voice said through the door.

"Not now, Dad!" She booted another table.

"Aw, come on, honey, you're costing me a fortune in there."

"Take it out of one of my trust funds!"

"Open this door."

She tried to make her mouth say "go away," but her training and background were too strong. She could no more ignore an order from her father—or the king—than she could attend a press conference without a shirt.

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She trudged to the door and opened it, then waded through the detritus her rage had made and flopped facedown on the bed.

"Jee-zus," her father whistled, tripping over a broken lamp. "It looks like Guns N' Roses were in here with you."

"You're dating yourself, Dad. They broke up. It's the way of the world: desertion and despair."

"What?"

She rolled over so she was no longer mumbling into her pillow. "What can I do for you, my king?"

"Uh… live happily ever after?"

"I was thinking more a short-term project."

"How about getting something on besides that robe? It's almost noon. You can have lunch with your old man."

"I've got a plane to catch."

"Yeah, uh, about that… I guess the boy isn't coming with you?"

"Not hardly."

"Too bad."

"Dad. You hated him."

"No, I admired the shit out of him. But I covered it up real good," he bragged. He picked up an intact chair and set it beside the bed, then plopped into it. "How many times are you gonna meet someone who likes you—"

"For who I am, not what I have, blah-blah."

"No, I meant, likes youdespite who you are."

"Oh, that's a nice thing to say," she snapped.

"You want nice? Get Jenny in here, she'll fill you up with it. I'm a truth guy."

"Says the man who sneaks on fishing boats in disguise."

"That's because I have a hard time finding people who like me for who I am," he said bluntly, "and do you get where I'm going with this, or do I haveta get Edmund in here with the crayons?"

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"God, not Edmund, too. I couldn't face both of you."

"In that case, good luck," her father said quietly, "looking in the mirror."

"What, Dad, what?" She propped herself up on her elbows. "You're saying I should tell him I love him and whisk him away to Alaska?"

"Well—"

"First of all, he won't go. Second, if he did go, he'd never let his kids be, as he puts it, 'rich assholes.' And I'll never give up my family duties. Never."

"No," he said quietly. "I wouldn't expect you to. And maybe the boy doesn't, either."

"It was stupid, stupid, stupid. I never meant for this to happen. I should never have—" She closed her mouth.

"Alex, sometimes this stuff… it's beyond your control. But that doesn't make it a bad thing."

"Dad, beyond my control is the very definition of bad."

"Come on. Anybody who can brain a traitor and knock him out with one swing can adjust to change. I mean, Jesus. It's not like self-defense and attempted regicide was on the schedule that day," the king joked.

She stared at him. "It's not funny, Dad."

"Well. It's a little funny."

"No."

"Jeez, kid, is that what this is about? Because you like everything on the schedule, all the time? How'd you get to twenty-three—"

"Twenty-five."

"—without realizing some stuff will never, ever be planned?"

She opened her mouth, and nothing came out.

"See, that's why I'm the smart one," he said smugly.

"You are not. It goes me, David, Kathryn, Nicky, Alexander, and you."

"Like hell! Punks."

"And things can be planned," she insisted. "It doesn't have to be chaotic."

"It's my fault," the king decided. "It's no way to bring up a kid."

"Don't be an idiot."

"Wave and smile and sign this and break the champagne bottle on that, and at eight-oh-two we'll have cheese omelets with the American President, and at nine-oh-seven we'll visit the new elementary school named after your mother…"

"Dad, come on. It's how it is. Your childhood was like that, and so was Grandpa's. You know the upside—we never have to worry about paying the electric bill, never in our lives."

"Alex, you get that you didn't do anything wrong that day, right?"

"Yes."

"I mean,really get it? Because you were a good girl and a patriot, too, and that coward got what he deserved, and if you hadn't done it, your brother would have."

"Which one?"

"Either. Listen, Dr. Pohl told me—"

"Nothing, I assume, due to doctor-patient privilege."

"It was a hypothetical."

"Oh, hypothetical. My ass."

"Anyway, she says, even though you didn't have to face any consequences—like being arrested or what-have-you—she says that doesn't mean there weren't any consequences at all."

"I might have heard something like that," she admitted. "But how did we get on this topic? You were lecturing me on my love life a minute ago."

"Sweetie, if you haven't figured out how it's all related, than you're not the smart one. At all."

"We were talking about how I was stupid to let Shel get away," she said in a monotone.

"I didn't use the word stupid. And you've got to stop punishing yourself for what happened last year. Look what it's costing you! Insomnia was bad enough, the dreams were bad enough, not being able to let an hour go by without checking on the baby was bad enough."

"Dad—"

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"Now you're running away, and for what? So you can go back to bad dreams and worrying about the next assassination attempt? Bullshitting Dr. Pohl because you know what the problem is, you just can't face it?"

"I can't handle this right now, Dad." She put a hand over her eyes. She hadn't cried in front of him since the hospital. Twice in one day? Both in front of men she wanted to impress? No no no. "I really can't."

"Looks like you don't have to. Because you're on a plane, and the boy's staying put. Everything can go on the way it's supposed to. Safe and sane and scheduled."

"He won't come anyway, Dad. And I'm not exactly in a job I can quit."

"No," he allowed, "but did you ask him?"

"He won't."

"Well, nothing to be done about it, then."

She peeked at him from between her fingers. He looked deceptively innocent. "That's right," she said. "Nothing to be done."

He pulled a piece of dental floss from his pocket and she rolled over, away from the horror. The final, complete horror, the official point of no return: the worst day of the year. Second worst of her life.

Chapter 45

"Oh. My. God." Teal was gaping around Sheldon's lab. "Who'd you kill?"

"Get lost," he suggested warmly.

"Oh, Sheldon," Crane said, gingerly crunching across broken glass. "The soul of politeness, even in the depths of being dumped."

"Hey, hey! I dumped her. Hi, by the way."

"Big bro had this nutty idea that it'd be nice to see you again," Teal said, jerking a thumb at his twin, who had an expression on his face as if he was smelling a room full of elephant droppings. "I told him you'd be an asshole about it, seeing as how Alex's plane left a while ago, but he's a moron. So here we are."

"It's nice to see you again," Shel sighed. He was lying prone in the corner, on a bed of equipment requisition paperwork. "How's things going?"

"Er, fine. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet the princess."

"It's overrated. How long you in town?"

"Not long." Crane took off his glasses, pulled a small, gray cloth out of his breast pocket, polished them, then settled them back on his nose. "I'm moving to Alaska next week."

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