“Is it normal to have the reading of a will happen before the funeral?” Mark asked, settling at the table and pulling up his chair. The fine Mahogany shone with polished elegance from the reflection of the crystal chandelier directly above. He’d always loved his grandfather’s dining room.
“The will needs to be read in advance of the funeral because of the coronation,” Benjamin explained. “You’ll see why in a few minutes.”
“Why are Hazel and I invited but Noah and Drew aren’t?” Alex asked, sitting on Mark’s right.
“Only those named in the will should be in the room at the time it’s read.”
“We’re named in the will?” Hazel asked in a panicked voice that was almost a squeak. “Why?”
“You’ll see.” Benjamin smiled across the table at Hazel, then glanced at Mark.
Mark still wasn’t speaking to Hazel since she’d deceived him about her age. He was appalled at himself for inviting her into his bed. He was just glad he’d restrained his desire to take advantage of her close proximity and how tantalizing she smelled, and that adorable little nightgown. He ground his fingernails into his hands and chastised himself for even thinking those things.
“Let’s get started,” Mr. Alverez said, tapping the pages in his hands against the table. The family’s long-time attorney read through an endless list of incidentals, little trinkets grandfather had given to staff in his household and local community members, most of whom were not in the room. He’d even given a sacred bowl to some spiritual healer in a remote village in Guatemala. Mark fought the urge to yawn and eventually lost the battle. He tried to hide his yawn behind a cough.
Finally, they got down to more interesting items of business. Grandfather had deeded all his real and fixed property and businesses to Mark’s dad, Benjamin, along with two million dollars. Mark gulped, remembering that he’d been promised a large sum of money also. He wondered if he was about to become a millionaire, like his father just had. A twenty-year-old millionaire with a crown. He still couldn’t fathom any of it.
“Prince Marcos made some changes two days ago.” The words Mr. Alverez spoke caught everyone’s attention. He pulled from his briefcase two items and slid them carefully across the table. One was an envelope addressed to Alexander Stephenson, and the other was a small jewelry box for Hazel. “Don’t open those yet. I’ve been asked to read you the letter first.”
Alex lifted the envelope in his hand and turned it over twice. Hazel gathered the little box into her hands holding it like how she’d clutched her mug of tea when she’d sat on his bed. Mr. Alverez continued by pulling a folded letter out and reading aloud.
“My dearest Alexander, I’m grateful you and Marcos have found one another and become such good friends. Your grandfather and I have been best friends since early prep school and have treasured our relationship over our many years. Because you will be called upon to assist my grandson extensively, I want you to have a little seed money as a salary so that you won’t feel the need to seek outside employment. Having his most trusted advisor by his side will be a great support to Marcos and I wanted to thank you in advance for your service.” Mr. Alverez lifted his gaze from the letter and glanced at Alex. “At this time, His Highness requested that you open your envelope.”
“Okay…” Alex opened the envelope and slipped from within a check. “Two hundred thousand dollars? I can’t accept this.” He placed the check in front of him and pushed it away as if it were going to bite him. Without missing a beat or giving credit to Alex’s declaration that he wouldn’t take grandfather’s money, Mr. Alverez turned to Hazel and continued reading.
“My sweet Hazel. What joy it brings me to have you in my grandson’s life. The minute I saw the two of you standing a few feet apart, I knew you were destined to be together. Even if I am wrong in my prediction, I want you to keep this small token as a way of honoring my best friend’s granddaughter. If I’m right, you’ll understand the significance of the gift immediately. Regardless, please keep this stone safe. It is sacred in more ways then you’ll ever know. Most sincerely, Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh.” Mr. Alverez lifted his gaze and nodded toward the box.
Mark stretched his neck to better see the contents as Hazel slowly opened the jewelry box to reveal a single, sparkling diamond. It had to be at least two carats. Hazel’s jaw dropped, as did Mark’s and they gazed across the table at one another. He was shaking and sensed that she was also.
“Now for the important items,” Mr. Alverez said as he lifted a heavy leather bag and placed it on the table in front of him. “Are you ready for this?”
Mark gulped and shook his head then took a deep breath. “Maybe?”
“Benjamin,” Mr. Alverez addressed Mark’s dad. “You are currently the only person in this room allowed to open this satchel until after it has been transferred.” He slid the heavy leather bag closer to Benjamin and he opened it reverently.
Benjamin glanced at Mark. “My son, this will be conferred upon you tomorrow during the funeral, but I wanted you to see what it looks like and understand its majesty.”
With that, Benjamin reached inside and pulled out two velvet boxes, the smaller of which nested on top of the larger as if they were a matching set. Benjamin ceremoniously opened the larger velvet box to reveal an elegant crown of pure gold with dozens of inlaid jewels.
Mark marveled at its beauty and could almost feel the weight resting on his head. For the first time since being told he would be named Crown, the magnitude hit him firmly in the chest and a peace came over him.
The smaller velvet box was opened to reveal a smaller, more feminine version of the first. A gold band with inlaid jewels. A crown befitting a princess. Mark met Hazel’s gaze across the table and knew she must have been thinking the same thing he was. The second crown was for her.
“Prepare yourself,” Benjamin mumbled as he turned the smaller crown, so the back was visible. “This was removed by your grandfather the evening before he passed.”
Hazel must have noticed the missing stone at the same time as Mark because they both gasped. There, tucked within a nest of other jewels was one empty spot where a two-carat diamond would fit perfectly.
Benjamin turned the crown another quarter turn to reveal a second missing stone and Mark creased his brow. “Your mother has that one.”
Everyone at the table glanced over to where Princess Nisha Sayid, Mark’s beautiful mother, sat with her hands resting primly in front of her on the table, her left hand over her right, displaying an elegant double-banded wedding ring complete with a two-carat diamond sparkling in the light of the chandelier. Again, Mark and Hazel gasped.
Mark was reminded that Nicholas Cohen had stated he didn’t believe in arranged marriages, yet here they sat with a clear message. Hazel and Mark had very little say in the matter. Their families had already decided. They were to be married whether they liked each other or not, whether they distrusted one another, whether they were too far apart in age.
Hazel glanced down at the still-opened jewelry box on the table in front of her, and Mark watched a single tear fall down her cheek.