Mark wasn’t ready to be awake, but he’d been told to shower and get to the breakfast table as soon as possible. The rest of the guys were already there and nearly finished with their eggs and chorizo with tortillas. Mark was looking forward to getting home so he could have a bowl of cereal.
A plate of food was placed in front of him and he dug in without complaint, his twenty-year-old body protesting the idea of sugary cereal in favor of substance. He was halfway through his meal when Hazel came stumbling downstairs and wandered into the dining room, flopping into the same chair she’d sat in the day before when they’d experienced the reading of the will.
None of the guys knew Hazel and Mark had been out late, lying under the stars, kissing and talking in the dew-covered grass. They probably didn’t notice either of them yawning. They didn’t know she was sending the diamond home with him.
Mark winked across the table at Hazel and the corners of her mouth pulled into the tiniest grin as she tore off a piece of a tortilla to scoop up a bite of eggs and chorizo.
When Hazel was almost done eating and all of them were sitting around talking, Mark’s dad strode into the room. “Mark, Hazel, and Alex, could I borrow the three of you for a little while?”
Noah and Drew had grown accustomed to being left to their own devices and had made good use of the pool, and game room, and surround sound theater style multi-media room.
As everyone pushed chairs back from the table, kitchen staff swooped in to remove dirty dishes and restore the dining room to its pristine state before it had been invaded by four hungry college boys and one sleepy teenage girl.
When his father escorted the three of them to his formal bedroom suite and Mark realized what they were about to do he wished he wasn’t wearing his shorts and t-shirt.
Pedro Hernandez stood near his father’s dressing table, upon which sat the leather bag that Mark knew held his crowns.
Mark stopped short and almost took a step back in panic, but Alex pushed him gently forward.
“I believe you’ve all met my advisor, Pedro,” Benjamin said, walking over to stand beside the man Mark had thought was his father’s butler. This made more sense because Pedro always seemed to be nearby. “He will be instructing Alexander in the proper way to place, remove, and store your crown.”
“Me?” Now it was Alex’s turn to take a step back in shock, but Hazel was conveniently behind him and similarly pushed him gently forward. “Why?”
“At the coronation this evening there will be a moment of symbolic transferring the crown from my advisor to Mark’s,” Benjamin explained. “As you and Mark have unknowingly chosen, before you even arrived in Puerto Aventuras, you will officially be given that right and privilege at the coronation.”
“What if I don’t want that job?” Alex asked.
“What if I don’t want him to be my advisor?” Mark asked.
“Can you think of anyone else in the world who you would like to be your advisor?” Benjamin patiently asked.
“No,” Mark whispered, his shoulders slumping. “Of course not.”
“Alexander?” Benjamin turned to Mark’s best friend. “Are you willing to take on this role and responsibility?”
Mark and Alex turned their heads toward each other and met one another’s gazes. Something shifted in Alex’s countenance. A confidence entered his expression and his eyes firmed with decision. “I would follow wherever he leads.”
“That doesn’t explain why I’m here,” Hazel said in a tiny, almost frightened voice.
“If the two of you marry, you will also need to be trained on the proper way to care for the crown, as well as to receive your own crown.”
“Mark?” Hazel almost sounded like she wanted to cry. “We talked about this.”
“I know—” Mark stepped over and pulled her into his arms, whispering down to her. “None of them know about our discussion last night.”
“But they all knew you were mad at me.” Her answer was barely a whisper, which was good because the conversation really needed to be just between Hazel and Mark. “And now they suddenly think I’m going to want that crown.”
“I think they’re all just hoping,” Mark whispered. “But we have all the time in the world to make those decisions. Just enjoy the pageantry today and we’ll worry about the crowns when we’re older. Okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed. This was their future and they needed to be the decision makers.
He pulled back and looked down at Hazel then lifted her chin gently with his finger and leaned down to place one tiny kiss on her lips, which she seemed to meet with a hint of desire for more.
Mark wondered if he’d messed up by allowing himself to get caught in that passionate make-out session the previous night. They’d awakened a desire for each other that might skew their decisions later on. He winked at her playfully and pulled away.
They were met with raised eyebrows and knowing smirks. Mark rolled his eyes, shook his head, and said, “Are we doing this? Or what?”