“Have my brother and Rebecca been tucked away in their tent the whole time we’ve been gone?” Levi asked Tiani in Yucatec since they were alone at the campfire. When none of the archaeology team was around, he didn’t feel like he had to speak Spanish or translate to English for those who had a limited vocabulary in Spanish.
As a world-renowned scientist and professor at Harvard University with a PhD in linguistics, Levi was fluent in a variety of languages including every known ancient and modern dialect of the Mayans. He was the only person on the archaeology expedition who could communicate with Tiani in her native language, Yucatec.
Tiani laughed, one of the few times Levi had seen her let down her guard. Growing up as the daughter of Chief Gabor Sayid, and more recently learning of her royal lineage, the mysterious and exotic Mayan princess was always so serious, so professional, so regal. Her tribe held her in high esteem, and she acted the part.
Levi discreetly hid any romantic attraction to the Mayan princess for a variety of reasons not the least of which was a fear of rejection. But the reality of their circumstances was they lived in separate worlds.
The jungles of Guatemala, where Tiani had lived in isolation her entire twenty-nine years, was so different than his modern life in the United States. Most of the conveniences Levi took for granted would be completely foreign to her.
They could never be anything more than friends.
“Your brother’s behavior with his wife is very normal for married couples,” Tiani said, seeming relieved to be speaking in Yucatec. Having her words translated constantly was probably annoying. “Most newly-married people remain in isolation for many days. Some even leave the tribe for a time. I was surprised when Nicholas and Rebecca asked me to lead them to visit you. Whatever married people do together makes them smile and they are happy. I do not know. I have never been married.” Tiani lowered her gaze and folded her hands in her lap.
“I have never been married either,” Levi said. The late evening offered a measure of relaxation not available in the daylight. He and Tiani were sitting in full view of all other members of the tribe here in the center of the village near the community fire. But the pressures of the day were off their shoulders. They could let down their guard a little. Speak freely. Speak about topics that were a little more personal. “I’ve never even had a girlfriend.”
“What is this word? Girlfriend?” Tiani asked, creasing her brow. “Are men in your village forbidden to speak to girls?”
“That’s not what I meant.” It was Levi’s turn to laugh. “All men are allowed to speak to all women. A girlfriend would be a woman who is also allowed to kiss and hug and hold hands with a man before marriage.”
“No.” Tiani lifted her façade again. “Men and women should not touch each other before they are married.”
“Things are different in America, I guess.” Levi placed his hand to his chest. “But I have never kissed or hugged or held hands with a woman before.”
Tiani visibly relaxed with a sigh as if she was afraid Levi had defiled himself. He almost wanted to laugh but realized in Tiani’s world this was serious. The rule was so strict that her father had forced Nicholas and Becky to get married before sleeping in the same tent. Levi would need to tread carefully to avoid offending Tiani or scaring her away.
“How does a person in your tribe choose who to marry?” Levi asked, suspecting he already knew the answer. Chief Gabor seemed to have a great deal of power and respect among the tribe members. Levi wouldn’t be surprised to learn the chief was the one to decide.
“My father chooses who a man can marry,” Tiani said. “Women are sacred, and a man needs to prove his worth before my father will allow him to marry a woman.”
“That’s beautiful.” Levi felt a chill travel across his arms and the heat of the jungle led him to believe the goosebumps weren’t caused by cool air. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea of someone else choosing who he could marry, but he liked the idea of men needing to prove their worth.
He also liked the idea of women being sacred. This was one of the reasons he had committed to celibacy before marriage. In all the societies he’d studied, those which seemed the happiest were those who treated marriage with sanctity. The power to create life was an honor and privilege. That power should not be taken lightly.
“Why has your father never chosen a husband for you?” Levi once again suspected he knew the answer.
Tiani lifted her chin. “No man in our village has yet to prove his worth.”
“Have there been any men in your life who you’ve wanted to prove his worth?” Levi was treading lightly.
Tiani hesitated and glanced to her side then lifted her gaze again. “Not in our village.”
Levi couldn’t help the tiny smile that pulled on his lips. He also noticed the twitch on her lips before she pulled together her perfect façade.
“Why are you the same person as your brother?” Tiani changed the subject. Identical twins were a phenomenon this Mayan tribe had never witnessed.
Leaning forward to poke at the campfire with a long stick, Levi considered how to answer. “Our mother had two babies on the same day. Nicholas and I lived inside of her together and were born together. We still live together. Well… now that he is married, we probably won’t live together anymore.” Levi’s heart sunk when the realization fully registered in his mind.
Levi couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent a night apart from Nicholas. They shared a townhouse, shared an office at Harvard University where they were both professors, and shared a tent or hotel room when they traveled on archaeology exhibitions. They’d attended the same college and graduate school, always rooming in the dorms together, and had shared a bedroom growing up even though their family estate was worth over a billion dollars and they could easily have their own rooms.
All that changed forever when Nicholas married Becky three days ago. Not only would they never room together again, but Levi wasn’t sure he could pitch his tent within earshot of his twin. Now that he and Becky were married, they were insufferable to be around. Apparently living thirty years on this earth without having sex causes a person to feel they need to make up for lost time by not getting out of bed for days after the wedding. Go figure.
He wanted to be happy for them but a tiny part of him was jealous.
The funny thing was Levi wasn’t jealous of Becky for stealing his twin brother. He was jealous of Nicholas for having won the competition to get married first. They’d been forever competing with each other in a good-natured way. About everything from intelligence quotient—of course Levi had the higher IQ—to who could graduate college in the fewest number of semesters—they tied—to whose portfolio would be worth more when they retired.
They even competed for the privilege to drive their candy apple red Lamborghini Urus. Levi allowed Nicholas to win that competition. That silly car had been Nicholas’ idea and his baby. Levi had no desire to drive.
But he did have the desire to get married and he suspected the reason had less to do with competition and more to do with his growing attraction to Tiani. Now that he knew how much fun Nicholas was having with his new bride, suddenly that’s all Levi could think about.
Nicholas and Levi thought they’d be bachelors forever. What woman would want to marry an identical twin who was practically joined at the hip with his brother, spent every day studying and researching and travelling on archaeology expeditions?
Dr. Rebecca Benson had swooped in and turned their lives upside down. A ghost from Nicholas’ past in one of the few college classes the twins hadn’t taken together, Becky had been a graduate assistant and completely out of reach. The unattainable dream Levi never realized Nicholas had. When she showed up on their doorstep after eight years apart asking them to accompany her on a treasure hunt to Guatemala, the twins couldn’t pack fast enough.
That was one competition Levi had lost before he realized they were racing. Becky only had eyes for Nicholas, even though she flirted with every man who would hold still long enough. She had every scientist on their archaeology team eating out of the palm of her hand from day one of the exhibition even though they all knew she was out of their reach as well.
Nicholas and Becky getting married was as inevitable as the sunrise. They just didn’t realize they’d get married in a Guatemalan jungle village by the tribal chief who had a proverbial spear to their chests.
Princess Tiani Sayid was even less attainable than Dr. Rebecca Benson had been. What Mayan princess would be tempted by a geeky professor from America? His only endearment was the ability to speak her language.
He’d captured her attention. But would he be able to capture her heart? More importantly, should he even try?