“Okay, darling,” Harrison said, dragging Angela over to the vid screens. “What’s the proper name for this fantastic skirt and robe you showed us?”
“It’s called a sari,” Angela answered.
“Hmm…sari,” Harrison repeated, seemingly trying out the word. “Sari, yes, I like that. Now, Angela, any color preferences?” Angela just raised an eyebrow at Harrison, making him laugh. “Okay, okay, Maya and I will work on it. Maya, dear, what colors were you thinking about for yourself?”
“Mmm,” she hummed. “Not sure yet. But I do know I want a sari too.” Harrison grinned with barely concealed glee, but Angela frowned.
“Sweetie, I don’t want to make things more difficult for you, especially with your mother,” Angela said gently. “If you’re dressed like me, people will be gossiping about you all night.”
“Exactly,” Maya grinned, showing off the same smile she and her brother had inherited. “So when people think it’s somehow okay to make fun of you, I’ll just show up and viciously put them in their place. With, you know, politeness.”
Angela couldn’t help but laugh.
“Humans had this old saying, I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but it was something like, avoid people who smile too much to your face, as they’re also stabbing you in the back.”
Maya lifted her arms into the air in exasperation.
“How have kept overlooking humans?” she asked rhetorically. “They’re absolutely brilliant!”
Angela laughed, settling down on a sofa out of the way and grabbing a drink, so she could observe the masters at work. It was oddly calming, just watching Maya and Harrison compare different colors to her and Maya’s skin tones and listening to them discuss hairstyles. Angela was just feeling relaxed when her comm link beeped, alerting her to the use of her name being used publicly on the planet Axion. Angela frowned and was about to use her ocular implants to read or watch where she had been mentioned, when her comm link started beeping like crazy. Clearly her name had been leaked to the press.
Angela sighed and decided to skim through the headlines and pictures so she had a general idea of what was going on. As soon as she activated her ocular implants, headlines began flying by, forcing her to stop the rate of flow and go back to the beginning. After the first few headlines, nausea hit her and she carefully set down her drink.
Crown Prince Uses ABA for “Human” Match; The Human and the Prince: All The Details!; Crown Prince Breaks Trade Alliance, Chooses Subspecies As Match; Prince Spits in Faces of Titled with Match Choice; Human Social Climber Ensnares Prince; Prince Matches With Untitled Race-Will He Lose His Crown?; Queen Furious at Prince’s ABA Match, Threatens To Remove Him From Line of Succession; Has the Subspecies Tricked the Prince Into a Match?.
Angela swallowed hard, barely glancing at the photos taken of her as she walked through the Palace. In those, at least, she looked lovely and elegant, thanks to Harrison. Angela couldn’t believe the commotion this was already causing. What would happen when the titled found out she was Exalon’s Sonsara? Her comm link started beeping again, alerting Angela to her name being used across the GU. Taking a deep breath, she began reading those headlines.
Axion Prince Chooses Human as Match-New Day for Lower Species?; Human Revealed As Axion Prince’s Match; Finally a Chance for “Lower Species” as Axion Prince Has Human Match; Axion Prince Snubs the Titled for a Human; Is Angela Winslow Our Hope for Equal Rights?; Prince Exalon Shames His Planet, Race, and Name with Human ABA Match; Untitled Rejoice Over Axion Prince’s Human Match; Is Prince Exalon Using His Match to Force Through Untitled Freedoms Act?.
Angela turned off her ocular implants, thoroughly overwhelmed, just as Exalon burst into the room. He looked panicked and was sweating, as if he had run straight from his office.
“Your Royal Highness,” Harrison said, bowing quickly, but Exalon only had eyes for Angela. His face dropped when he saw her expression.
“You’ve already seen some of them, haven’t you?” Exalon asked. Angela just nodded and he collapsed next to her on the sofa, gathering her into his arms. They both sighed, knowing the nearness of their Sonsara was helping to calm them down.
“I’m so sorry, my love. I haven’t the faintest idea where they got your name, unless someone at the ABA leaked it. Don’t let any of it get to you.”
“What get to her?” Maya asked. “Ex, what’s going on?”
“There are about a billion articles being written across the GU about Angela and our match. Some are being quite nasty,” Exalon explained, an undercurrent of anger in his voice.
Angela could see both Harrison and Maya activate their ocular implants, so she turned to Exalon.
“Some of the outer planets’ headlines were okay,” Angela said. “Even some of the more powerful planets weren’t terribly unpleasant. Just news of the match. Nothing salacious. I’m guessing your mom is pissed.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Exalon said with a weary chuckle. “She’s already has a team of investigators looking into who leaked your name and is demanding that person’s head.”
“Aw, I had no idea she cared so much,” Angela said sarcastically, making Exalon smile. “She, um, she’s not literally demanding someone’s head, right?
“Figure of speech.”
“Oh, good. ‘Cause, well, with your mom, you just never know.” That caused Exalon to actually laugh.
“I think this is more about saving face than anything,” Exalon explained. “Proper protocol dictates that the Palace announce any Royal match. The people that saw you last night would have known you were matched, but they wouldn’t have risked my mother’s wrath by leaking even that to the press. And none of them could have known your name.”
“So it was either someone here at the apartment-” Angela started, but Exalon was already shaking his head.
“No one in the apartment would have done this,” Exalon said, shaking his head. “I only hire those who have proven loyal to me.”
“That leaves the ABA,” said Angela. “I suppose that’s a rather easy guess, though.”
“How so?” Exalon asked.
“A quarter of those headlines mentioned the ABA. It’s not possible they all could have known the ABA arranged our match unless the ABA themselves told them.” Exalon smiled proudly, before frowning again.
“I just don’t understand why, though,” Exalon murmured. “The ABA pride themselves on their discretion.”
“Probably because they got to match a Prince,” Angela said with a shrug. “And not just any prince, but the Crown Prince of Axion. The fact that I’m a human makes it an even more impressive match. Someone like you shouldn’t agree to a match with someone like me.”
Exalon looked shocked, which quickly morphed into surprised admiration.
“None of us ever even thought of that. We figured it was for money. Mother’s investigators are trying to find a money trail. But if you’re right, then it would have to be someone with a significant stake in the ABA. I’ll have to alert my mother’s team.” Exalon stood, bringing Angela up with him. “Don’t fret, my love. We’ll find who did this.”
“That’s not really what I’m worried about,” Angela said, leading Exalon away from Maya and Harrison, who were both still on their ocular implants. She lowered her voice. “The galaxy is already in an uproar over our match. What’ll happen when they find out we’re Sonsaras? A Sonsara bond between a titled and a lower species could have unprecedented repercussions.”
Exalon smiled as he gently drew Angela into his arms, his forehead on hers.
“You know what will happen? It will finally be indisputable proof that their horribly prejudiced beliefs against lower species is absolutely wrong. And then they’ll just have to deal with it, because you and I are together forever. We’re a team.”
Angela smiled and gave Exalon a brief, sweet kiss.
“Yeah, we are. Best team in the galaxy.”
Exalon laughed, gave Angela another kiss, then slipped out, already talking on his comm link. Angela was a jumble of feelings, but the strongest, and most frightening, was the absolute fact that she loved that man with all her heart.