“Tell me more about these cool linen robes you all seem to wear around here.” Mark changed the subject and stepped closer to his cousin, lifting the unique fabric between his fingers. “Where can I get some of these?”
“We could take you into the city center and check out some of the vendors there, if you’d like,” Eli said, a clear message of appreciation for getting him out of that uncomfortable conversation with their great-grandfather. “That, or you could just raid my closet.”
Prince Eli was visibly upset that they’d barged into his office while he was having a private moment with his girlfriend and then stood there while the king had insulted him and discounted his importance in the family. Mark felt a need to protect his cousin.
“I’d like to buy some that we could take back with us,” Mark said, then glanced at Alex. “We’d be styling on campus at our university.”
“Heck no! I’m not wearing one of those at college,” Alex said, shaking his head adamantly. Then he seemed to realize to casual way he was discussing clothing choices and straightened to his full height, lifting his chin. “I mean, unless you require that of me, Your Highness.”
“Well,” King Sayid said with a chuckle. “I’m going to rest awhile before the noon meal. I’ll leave you young people to plan an afternoon shopping trip.”
“We’ll see you at lunch, Your Majesty.” Mark said. He and Eli both bowed with respect to their elder, but Alex and Savannah seemed to know instinctively that it was not required of them to bow when the king left the room, like it was for the princes.
After the king left Eli’s office, Alex turned toward the other three college-age kids. “I am so sorry. I don’t know what got into me. I’m still not used to playing this role.”
“You’re fine, Alex, relax.” Mark laid a hand on his shoulder.
Eli strode over and closed the door to his office. “There, now you can be as casual as you want. It’s just us young people, as grandfather called us.”
“Where do you go to school, Your Highness?” Savannah returned to the sofa where she’d been sitting with Eli and lounged casually, slipping her feet from her sandals and pulling her legs up onto the sofa.
“North Carolina State University,” Mark said. He and Alex sat beside one another and Eli sat next to Savannah, tucking her feet up under his legs as if he needed to keep them warm. “You?”
“Ariel University, Department of Molecular Biology, in Jerusalem,” Savannah said flippantly as if that she knew that was impressive.
“Molecular biology? Dang,” Mark said. “You must be super smart.”
“She is,” Eli said, pulling her hand to his lips for a kiss. He certainly didn’t treat her like the daughter of one of his household staff. She was his equal. This was a nice change from the snobbery of the other members of the royal family.
“So, um, Alex, are you related to the Cohen family who used to own a whole bunch of businesses in Jerusalem?” Savannah asked. “The library where I go to college was named by their foundation because they provided the funding.”
“Yeah, Nicholas Cohen is my grandfather,” Alex said, sitting up a little straighter. Considering he’d only known about his grandfather a few days he was taking on the name with pride. He’d never known his mother’s side of his family and this was almost like finding out you were the son of a rock star… or in this case a billionaire.
“And what are you studying in college?” Savannah asked.
“I’m learning how to become the advisor to a cocky prince who thinks the world revolves around him,” Alex said with a straight face. Mark punched him in the arm. “Kidding! Kidding. Geesh. I’m pre-law but considering public administration.”
“Are you in college, Eli?” Mark cringed when he realized he’d just used the prince’s nickname rather than addressing his title.
“No, I’m not… Mark.” Eli’s sarcasm was not lost on him. “You heard the king. My bloodline is of little consequence.”
“Well, aside from not believing that for a second—” Mark coughed playfully— “If marrying outside of royal blood means you get to have a smart and beautiful woman such as the one sitting at your side, I’d be thankful you aren’t required to marry a snobby princess at the ripe old age of sixteen.”
“Speaking of snobby princesses,” Eli said. “How are you doing with avoiding my lovely niece?”
“I have yet to see her since I handed her off to her father last night and fled to my suite with a migraine.”
“She’ll find you eventually,” Eli said. “This palace isn’t as big as it looks. I’m sure she knows where your suite is located. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s waiting in your room right now, lounging on your king-sized bed and hoping you’ll make her your queen.”
Alex pulled the key to their suite from his pocket and held it up on a keyring. “I’m one step ahead of you.”
“Trust me,” Mark said. “She won’t sink her claws into me no matter how hard she tries.” Mark gulped and pulled into his mind the feisty and adorable girl he loved, Hazel Marie Cohen.
The Princess of Tayma was off-limits for more reasons than Mark could count, and he vowed to maintain arm’s length from the sultry temptress no matter the cost.