"Your grace." It was said with as much mockery as weariness and a splitting head allowed.

In response, the young man uncurled himself from a posture of negligence against the trunk of her car. "Your highness," he answered with the same mockery, and bowed properly. Though her co-workers also streaming from the building behind her looked at his display of effortless, archaic grace, she did not.

"Go away, Kelnan."

"Is that any way for you to greet me after I've waited so patiently.."


"Yes. Patiently for your eventual decision to grace me with your presence."

"Do you call," she began and then frowned. "Get in." It took only a moment to settle comfortably into the leather seat of her car once the shrill double chirrup declared the alarm had been disengaged: he languidly, she with a sigh of general pleasure. After a moment, she leaned forward to fumble with the ignition and the car purred to life as expected. "Do you call," she started again while fingers pushed at the buttons responsible for lowering the windows, but as the fresh, autumn air filtered slowly through the stifling heat of a car sat in sunlight all day, she fell into mute appreciation.

"I do, in fact," he said, breaking into her reverie.


"I call. In fact, if you will think back, I have been calling you nearly all day."

"Believe me when I say I'm well aware of that fact. You gave me a god damned headache with your summons."

"If you'd simply quit resisting..."

"Don't get all sanctimonious on me, you bastard. I have a job. I can't simply skip over to my boss and explain 'So sorry, but the Duke of Meadows is summoning me to his side. I'll get that paperwork in the morning'." A pause saw her violently switching the A/C fan to high. "Get out of my car."

"You can't revoke invitation once given. Do you really have a headache?"

"Do you suspect I get my kicks out of lying about such things?"

"No, and you do seem a bit drawn. I apologize for causing you pain."

Silence fell, underscored by the breath of artificial cooling and co- worker's tossed farewells. She glanced toward the radio and noticed the gearshift instead. "Move your leg, I don't want to have to touch you every time I shift gears."

"So you've decided to forgive me and give me a ride home?"

"You act so innocently as if I had a choice in the matter. Besides, the chances you'll leave before you tell me why you're here are remote."

"Smart girl," the man replied and lavished her with a smile so charming she felt the pull of it even from a peripheral notice. "His majesty sends for you."

"His majesty may go screw himself."

"Such language."

"True sentiment." With annoyance, she noticed he'd moved to press his leg even closer to the gearshift. Where she might have avoided it before, now her knuckles would brush against his thigh every time she shifted gears. "At least the fabric of your pants is soft," she observed and heard a dry chuckle from him in response.

"Lucky I'm not wearing spikes today, I suppose."

"As if."

"You've forgotten last Hallow's Eve?"

"I don't think one measly spiked collar counts. And besides, I'm not trying to strangle you. Currently."

The traffic moved sluggishly, resisting the best efforts of honking horns and suggestions by frazzled employees just out of work. Leaning forward to switch off the air conditioning, and earn a dirty look from the woman, the Duke of Meadows offered nothing more to the conversation beyond an insolent, toothy grin.

Her patience frayed. "What the hell do you want?"

"Is that any way to speak to your betters?"

"You're not my better."

"Matter of opinion."

"Matter of nobility. Last I recall, I was the heir to the throne, not you."

"So you are. That must be why you've been summoned to the palace."

"Screw the palace."

"What is your fascination with bizarre sexual acts?"

"Screw you, too."

"If you insist. You're going to want to switch lanes or you'll miss the turn."

"I'm not going."

A sigh of long suffering escaped the man, lost in the faint breeze drifting through the open car windows. "Princess..."

"Don't call me that." The response was automatic.

"Your highness, then."

"Nor that."


The tender sentiment inflected into her name gave her pause. As the car came to a smooth stop behind the overwhelming bulk of traffic piling up behind a red light, she cast an unwilling glance toward the man's inhumanly fair face. "You've got a new earring."

"Two, actually. I think they offset the points."

"Alas, if only the poor mortals could see how dashing you truly are."

"Pish. You know I'm saving myself all for you."

"This is about marriage, isn't it." The flat words, as much as the abrupt change in topic, startled a blink out of him.

"Yes, I suppose so."

"I'm not marrying."

"You must."

"I'm not."

"You must. Perhaps if you were a commoner then you'd have a choice in the matter but you're not, and you don't. You can't breed with humans and you must produce an heir."

"That's bullshit."

"Call it royal duty."

"I call what my father does in the toilet 'royal duty'."

"Why, aren't you a potty mouth."

"Hardy har har."

"Ah, the adulation of my loyal minions."

"Kiss it."

"What? In front of all these commoners? What would your father say?"

“I don’t particularly care, to be entirely honest. Jesus! He just cut me off!â€