“You need help, man.”
“You need to mind your own business and remember who’s in charge.” Gil wanted to fire Otto but knew his father would never allow it. Plus, he was too stoned to get off the floor so figured he might as well let his advisor boss him around like he always did.
“I’ll consider you in charge when you’re sober enough to be in charge,” Otto said, kicking Gil’s leg. “We have to leave in half an hour, and you’re not even showered or dressed. Do you want Ayelet to see you like this?”
“She’s seen me worse,” Gil said with an internal shrug. Physically moving his shoulders would be too much work. “Besides, she loves me no matter what.”
“Yeah, well, she’s not going to want to be seen with you at the festival if you’re strung out and filthy. Now, get in the shower. I’ll pick you out some clean clothes and somehow make you look like the prince that you supposedly are.”
“I’ve been a prince longer than you’ve been alive.” Gil forced himself off the floor and looked his advisor in the eye, sort of.
“By six months,” Otto said. “That hardly counts. And if you take maturity into consideration, I’m years older than you.”
Otto was right. At twenty-years-old, Gil acted like a seventeen-year-old stoner, and Otto acted like an adult with a real job and real responsibility. Gil stood in the center of his room watching Otto paw through his enormous closet trying to find something he felt was suitable for the festival.
The Festival of Tribute happened every July whether the princes wanted to drag themselves from the twelve territories of the kingdom or not. Considering that Gil had nothing in common with any of the other princes, and had already met the woman of his dreams, he had no desire to attend the banquets and tribute ceremonies and church services and parades and grand ball. Ugh.
If only Gil could just send a donation to the Levites for their exemplary service in the temple of the gospel he didn’t even believe in, he’d be happy. But no, the kingdom forced him to physically come to the temple and offer his tribute like a servant instead of a prince.
Not willing to let his advisor choose his attire for the two-hour journey, Gil strode over and pushed Otto gently out of the way, choosing his black jeans, black tunic, and black trench coat. Then he reached into a drawer and grabbed a pair of boxers and a pair of socks and headed for the bathroom.
“You’re seriously going to wear all black?” Otto called after him.
“Do you see any other colors in my closet?” Gil called back to him, then firmly closed the door to his bathroom.
Standing at the bathroom vanity Gil regarded his reflection. Otto was right; he looked like crap. His blue eyes were blood shot. His dirty blond hair looked more dirty than blond, and his ponytail holder was missing leaving strings of uncombed snarls. Time to clean up and act like a prince.
“Greetings, I am Pagiel, Prince of Asher,” Gil said to the image in the mirror. “I’ve come to offer my tribute to the gods, excuse me, the one God who supposedly exists and I should be honored that he created me. Here’s my tribute oh-high-and-mighty temple protectors. Now let me go home to my palace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea where I can paint abstracts and get high and dream of the day when Ayelet agrees to marry me so I will no longer be the only prince of Israel who’s still a virgin.”
Knowing he’d feel better once he’d allowed the steam of a shower to clean his pores and his lungs, Gil shucked out of his dirty clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor rather than walking four feet over to the hamper.
Hot water, steam, shampoo with natural essential oils, soap made with hemp oil, and a softened loofa sponge combined to wake him from his stupor, and Gil managed to look presentable by the time Ayelet arrived twenty minutes later. Other than his hair, which he knew she’d help him with.
“Where are you?” Ayelet called from the entrance to his suite. She didn’t wait to be invited in just pushed open the door to his bathroom, which he’d cracked to let out some steam and heat. She kicked his dirty clothes out of the way then reached into the drawer and took out his comb. “Sit down.”
“Nice to see you too, babe,” Gil said, his stomach fluttering when he took in the gorgeous blonde who had invaded his bathroom. Luckily, he was already dressed when she barged in. That or unluckily since he was dying to marry her and had been ever since he figured out what would finally happen on their wedding night. “Don’t I even get a kiss?”
“We’re late,” she said, pushing his shoulder down to force him into the chair at his vanity. “We can make out in the car on the way there if you really want to be wearing my lipstick by the time we get to Jerusalem.”
“I would be honored to wear your lipstick if it means I get to make out with you all the way to Jerusalem,” he said, looking up into her sparkling blue eyes. She glanced down at him and fought a tiny smile that pulled at the corners of her mouth.
“Fine, one tiny kiss and then I’ve got to comb your hair and tie it back so we can leave.”
Gil pulled Ayelet down onto his lap and kissed her way longer than anyone’s definition of one tiny kiss. When they finally pulled away, Gil mumbled, “I can’t wait to marry you.”
“You need to brush your teeth,” Ayelet said, totally breaking the vibe. “You taste like pot.”
“You like the taste of pot,” he teased her, knowing the only time she’d even come close to tasting pot was by kissing him. She was as straight as the white lace she wore to church on the sabbath. Ayelet had never touched alcohol or drugs and wouldn’t let Gil push their make out sessions past kissing. She tortured him.
“No, I don’t.” She pushed herself off his lap. “Now let me up so I can comb your hair.”
“I love it when you play with my hair.” Gil moaned softly as she took the stringy but clean locks in her hands and tugged lightly with a comb.
“I’m not playing with your hair to get you turned on, so don’t get any ideas,” she said. “I’m combing your hair to make you presentable in public, Your Highness.”
“How can you expect me to not get turned on when you talk dirty to me, princess?” His mumble was accompanied by soft growls from the back of his throat. “Let’s skip the festival and get married.”
“Shut up and hold still.” Ayelet smacked his head lightly with the comb. “Come to church with me and go to rehab then we’ll talk about getting married.”
“Sorry.” Gil sighed in mock dismay. “I can’t go to rehab. I’m expected at the Tribute Festival in a few hours. You’ll have to drag me there next week when we get home.”
“I’m gonna hold you to that.” She stopped combing and met his gaze firmly in the mirror. “You need help.”
Gil looked away, knowing she was right but also knowing he wasn’t ready to admit that out loud.
“And you can come to church with me tomorrow morning.” She resumed combing.
“That’s right,” Gil grumbled. Every morning of the festival a church service was offered at the temple, and everyone was expected to attend. He never had attended and didn’t intend to start tomorrow. But he didn’t say that to Ayelet. Let her think she could somehow reform him into the good boy she deserved. The good man she deserved. One of these days he’d pick himself up and become the man she deserved.
“There, you look handsome once more.”
Gil met her gaze in the mirror again and gave her a half smile. “Thanks for helping me.”
“I love you, Pagiel,” Ayelet said with a serious face. “I always have. And I always will.”
“That’s good, because I’m a complete idiot and you deserve better.”
“Actually, you’re quite intelligent and one of these days you’re going to get your head out of the cloud of smoke you live in and do something with your life.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Gil said without sincerity, then stood and pulled her into his arms. Before releasing her so that they could leave for the festival he whispered, “I love you too, Ayelet. Always have and always will.”
Click here to read the entire prequel to the Princes of Israel Series, First Prince of Israel, which is only available to my newsletter subscribers.