Chapter 1^»He felt like an insect being scorched under a magnifying glass.Barely nine in the morning, and already the west-Texas sun searedthrough Alek's knit shirt as he walked down the dust-filled, airlessstreet. Even on shaded porches, petunias drooped in their baskets,commiserating with the patches of bleached grass infecting otherwisetidy lawns, while dogs sprawled like dead things under whatevershelter they could find, dreaming, not of steak or rabbits, Alekimagined, but of cooling breezes.Hottest August on record, according to the woman at the quaint littlebed and breakfast where he was staying.
Just might be something tothis global
' business after all,
she'd said, then told him thestreet he was looking for wasn't but four blocks away, he couldn't missit. He walked slowly, squinting up through his sunglasses at hazedhouse numbers, uncomfortably aware of his loafers scuffing againstthe root-buckled pavement.No one had recognized him. Thank God. True, he was more filledout,his hair both darker and shorter than it had been during his twenty-four-hour sojourn inSandy Springsmore than eleven years before. Butunlike his hitherto reclusive sister, Sophie, Prince Aleksander Vlastos of Carpathia wasn't exactly unknown to the press. Not these days, at anyrate. And Jeff Henderson had been the town's fair-haired boy,especially with his string of Grand Prix wins last year—Up the street, a screen door slapped open. He stilled as a verypregnant woman, her dark, curly hair clipped up off her neck, came outonto the porch of a modest yellow-and-white two-story house huddledunderneath a pair of ungainly mulberry trees. She paused to let out ahalf-grown, straw-colored pup too young to know how hot it was,thenmade her cumbersome, barefoot way down the gray steps. The dogtumbled down in front of her, nearly tripping her as she crossed to ahose neatly coiled by the outside spigot.He said her name, softly. Prayed for the strength to get through this.A sandwich of some sort clamped in one hand, she twisted on thewater,then dragged the hose across the yard to a small flower bed,bending awkwardly to lay it among the wilted plants. Alek was still farenough away, his presence apparently camouflaged by the comfortlessshade of a struggling cottonwood, that she hadn't noticed him. His