There were ever so many luncheons and she’d been invited to all of them. But people were shockingly nice to her.
It made her feel like she might be able to weather it after all. And the makeup artist Xander had hired to help her get ready for big public events didn’t hurt. Neither did the new wardrobe that suited her figure so nicely.
She managed to look polished at the very least.
She glanced into the dining room and saw Xander sitting at the table, an expression of doom on his face, papers spread out in front of him. Her heart jolted. She hadn’t run into him at all in days, and there he was, just sitting there.
“Hello,” she said, coming into the room. She wasn’t going to avoid him. He was her fiancé after all, and it would be silly.
He pushed the papers together, stacking them oddly, his frown intensifying. “I would have thought you’d be ensconced in an office with Athena.”
“We’re done for the day. Athena had to go home and see to her sick child. Why are you glaring daggers at the headlines?”
“It is nothing,” he said, waving his hand. “Just...the news is never good, is it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve spent so much time cut off from it.” She wandered over to where he was sitting and he shifted his elbow, like he was trying to hide something from her view.
Buried beneath the top pages, she saw the edge of what looked like her dress from the ball. “What is this?”
“It is nothing,” he repeated.
“Then I can see it.” She reached down and jerked the paper from beneath the stack and his arm, holding it up, her stomach sinking as she saw the headline and the accompanying photo. “The Zombie Princess,” she said. “Oh.”
“I will not have this,” he said, his tone dark. “I will take steps to make it stop. I’ll...”
“Abolish the freedom of the press?” she asked, feeling dizzy. “There’s nothing you can do. They...they can think what they want and write what they want. After all. It’s only...it’s nothing. Vanity.”
“You told me to stop pretending like the things weren’t important.” He took the paper back from her, throwing it down on the table.
“Yes, well, you didn’t follow my advice, did you? Why should I follow yours?”
“Because this is garbage. They’ve hurt you. And I will not allow this to continue.”
“It’s clever. A joke. An old one. Because I look a little undead. All things considered there were worse things to be called, though.”
She put shaking hands on her hips. “I...I can’t think of any but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It could be Zombie Drudge, so...you know...Princess is better than that.”
“I didn’t want this,” he said.
She took a deep breath. “I know. And now it’s happened. The press did what I thought they would do. They took the easy route and insulted my looks. But that’s not actually very surprising. It’s what they do. It’s how they operate. I can’t exactly get upset about it.” As she said it, a tear slid down her cheek. “Ignore that. I don’t know why that happened.”
Except she did. It was like being pulled from her shell, a defenseless crustacean exposed to the elements and scrubbed raw by the sand. This whole experience had been like that. Being with Xander, being back in the world. She’d lost her protection and it left her feeling wounded and fragile.
“Bastards.” He picked up his cell phone and dialed a number. “This is Xander Drakos. I want you to track down the owner of National Daily News and let him know that if he likes his pants, he’d better print a retraction for his recent article featuring my fiancée. Otherwise, I’ll sue them off of him.” He hung up. “There. I feel better, I don’t know about you.”
“It wasn’t necessary.”
“Oh, come on, there’s no point in having power if you don’t abuse it a little.”
“I take back what I said about you being perfect for the job,” she said.
Xander stood, looking down at her, his dark eyes intense. For a moment she thought he might pull her into his arms. Thought he might kiss her again like he’d done yesterday. And she found she wanted him to.
“Can I see the rest of the article?”
He handed the paper back to her and she skimmed the article. One thing that had changed about the tone of the articles was the way the press seemed to see Xander. He was being hailed as a man who had changed. As evidenced by his willingness to marry her.
“Well, they seem happier with you,” she said. “That’s good.”