After leaving Prince Omar’s office, Mark and Alex continued down a long hallway, hurrying to catch up to King Sayid.
“Omar is a good boy,” Sayid said. “Now, his son, Jared. He has a dark heart.”
“He was kind enough to rescue me from the Princess of Nimrah last night,” Mark said. “For that I’m thankful.”
King Sayid bent over laughing and Mark glanced at Alex. They both chuckled nervously while waiting for the king to compose himself. He straightened to his full height and cleared his throat. “I must say, that was a cleverly-played escape strategy.”
“Thank you?” Mark had just wanted to get medicine for his headache and didn’t want her following him to his suite.
“That girl will bring this kingdom to its knees if we’re not careful,” Sayid said, continuing down the hall. “You will do well to avoid her.”
“I’ll do my best,” Mark promised.
As he’d done when entering Omar’s office, the king didn’t bother knocking when they reached the door to Jared’s office.
“Prince Marcos!” Prince Jared called out as if they were old friends. He ignored his great-grandfather, snubbing the king, and quickly made his way toward the door. Jared wrapped his arm around Mark’s shoulder, sliding between Mark and Alex, effectively separating him from his advisor. “So good of you to come visit.”
A thrill of warning crept up Mark’s spine, but he allowed himself to be led into Jared’s office, which was far less business-like than that of his father and even more lavish and extravagant than that of his great-grandfather, the king.
Mark sensed Alex had followed close behind, not allowing anyone to come between himself and his prince. For that Mark was thankful.
“How long are you visiting?” Jared asked. “The Princess of Linah, and our daughter the Princess of Nimrah were hoping to have you join us for our evening meal.”
“I look forward to becoming better acquainted with your princesses,” Mark said, diverting the conversation away from the topic of the length of his stay, and not committing himself to joining them for a meal. “I dare say, I have not yet decided how to spend my evening. Let’s not commit to anything for now.”
“Could I offer you a drink?” the prince asked, stepping over to a countertop that was nearly concealed withing the ornate walls of his office. From the smell of Jared’s breath, Mark suspected he’d already partaken of whatever amber-colored liquid filled the crystal decanter. Mark noted the time that it was not yet eleven o’clock in the morning.
“Thank you, but I don’t usually drink alcohol.” Mark slipped usually into the sentence refraining from offering the full truth, which is that he had never tasted alcohol in his life.
Prince Jared proceeded to pour himself a glass, and then a second, holding that one out in the direction of the king. “Your Majesty?”
“My dear grandson, when have you known me to drink scotch before the noon meal?”
“Well, there’s a first time for everything.” Jared tilted back the first glass then set it on the counter and took the second glass with him as he sauntered over to a small grouping of sofas similar to those in the king’s office. “Join me, gentlemen.”
“We’ll only stay a few moments,” King Sayid said, walking over to sit on the chair closest to his great-grandson, leaving the sofa across from Jared empty for Mark and Alex. “We wouldn’t want to interrupt whatever work you were engaged in.”
“Eh, I was mostly catching up on some reading,” Jared said. There wasn’t a book or newspaper or magazine anywhere to be seen, although a tablet rested on the prince’s desk. “You know you’re welcome anytime.”
“Seeing as how this is my home, and I am still the king, I would expect nothing less than an open door,” Sayid said through clenched teeth.
“Prince Marcos—” Jared ignored his great-grandfather’s warning and directed his attention toward Mark. “Were you aware that my daughter, the Princess of Nimrah, will be of a marrying age within the year? I noticed you were quite taken with her at dinner and held her in your arms on the dancefloor before you disappeared.”
“I had quite a throbbing headache,” Mark said, avoiding the specific direction Jared was steering the conversation. “Sleeping on the jet, and then all the pageantry of the reception and meeting the royal family took a toll on my body.”
“I trust that you slept well last night?”
“I did, thank you. My grandfather’s suite has been well-maintained in his absence.”
“I never knew him.” Jared sighed with a creased brow. “It’s unfortunate that the Princess of Tayma had unkind words with my uncle and he chose to abandon our kingdom.”
Mark cocked his head at Jared’s apparent disapproval of his own grandmother, then realized Jared had glanced sidelong at the king as if his true enemy was his great-grandfather, who had taken his grandfather’s widow as his second wife.
The king merely drew a long sigh and shook his head at Mark as if to encourage him not to fall into Jared’s trap.
“Forgive my boldness, Your Majesty,” Mark said, realizing he was missing a bit of information he’d never thought to ask. “You have an interesting family dynamic here in our kingdom. It is not a common practice for a man to have more than one wife in the country where I was raised. Is that something I should expect as the norm here?”
“I am the king,” Sayid said, sitting up straight and lifting his chin. “If I desire to increase my… family, I can so choose.”
“Rightfully,” Mark said with a nod, choosing to stoke the king’s ego rather than question him further. “And were you and the princess able to have more children?”
“Unfortunately, we were never able to conceive.”
“Not for lack of trying,” Jared mumbled under his breath. “If legends are correct.”
“Which is none of your business, grandson.” Although Sayid chastised Jared, there was a subtle gleam in his eye as if there was some truth to his accusation. “But, yes, we had a… passionate relationship.”
“I have yet to marry,” Mark said, glancing at Jared. “Sounds like I have something to look forward to.” Mark felt his cheeks warm remembering the feeling of having Hazel in his arms and the desire to carry her to their marriage bed. He was again thankful he’d chosen to wait and share that experience with his one and only wife once they took that next step.
“Your Highness,” Alex stage whispered to Mark. “It is my duty to remind you that you’re scheduled to have a teleconference with the senator in D.C. this afternoon. Perhaps it is time for us to retire to your suite for an hour or two.” Alex made it a point to glance at his watch.
“Ah yes, thank you for the reminder.” Mark rose from the sofa and Alex quickly joined him. The king also stood but Jared remained in a lounged position, taking another sip of his scotch.
“Good of you to come,” Jared said. “Drop by anytime. I’ll be sure to have the princess available this afternoon should you choose to dine with us.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Mark said. “I’ll take that into consideration.”
Mark didn’t wait for the king to lead him from the room, merely strode with confidence into the hallway, Alex at his side. His advisor was nearly shoulder to shoulder, a complete taboo in this kingdom. But Mark was tired of the backward traditions of Madain Saleh and vowed to leave shortly after the funeral the following day. When he was in charge, there would be some new rules around here.