I wish you were here. Eli hit send on his text, then added a follow-up. The palace is pandemonium scrambling to get ready for our stupid American cousin to arrive. Whatever.
Wish I was there too. If I could skip my mid-term, I’d fly home today. Savanna’s text brought a smile to Eli’s countenance. Is this kid even a cousin? Isn’t he your dad’s uncle’s grandson or something?
You have a good memory. You should do well on your mid-term tomorrow.
If only the test was on the history of Madain Saleh, Savannah texted. Seriously, I am really sorry for your family’s loss
Thanks. My dad and the king are both pretty upset. You’d think they would have gotten over Prince Marcos by now. I mean, he ran out on the family forty years ago.
That’s harsh, Eli, Savanna chastised him. Prince Marcos was the king’s son, and your dad’s only uncle. They loved him.
I know, I know, they never gave up hope he’d come home someday. I’ve heard the rhetoric all my life. Sucks that the first time I’ll meet him is in a coffin.
You can ask your cousin all about him.
Speaking of my cousin, your brother just walked in the door and is giving me that look. Guess it’s time to go pick up my cousin from the airport. Wish me luck.
Cut him some slack, Eli. Prince Marcos was his beloved grandfather. Just think, maybe you and this kid will become friends. His name is Prince Marcos also, right? Named after his grandpa. Just like your brother. Runs in the family.
Just so you know, you and I are not naming our first child after my father. Not happening. I’ll let you pick the name as long as it’s not Omar.
I hope this conversation implies you’re finally going to buy me a diamond and get down on one knee.
I told you, I’m not marrying you until you finish your undergrad and come home to stay. I can’t move to Jerusalem while my kingdom is in such turmoil and I’m not forcing you to quit school to come home.
Well, I’m coming home for the funeral in two days and I expect to return to the university with a diamond engagement ring at the very least.
Okay, okay, I’ll go talk to my grandma and see if I can raid her jewelry closet.
In that case, I want her hundred-year-old chocolate pear-shaped diamond with the thick band.
Eli leaned his head back and laughed heartily for the first time in several days. Everything had been somber since the announcement that his father’s uncle had died. Savannah was a welcome reminder that life would go back to normal someday.
I’ll see what I can do. Eli hit send.
“What’s so funny?” Kadin asked, still standing in the doorway to Eli’s sitting room, arms crossed, controlled impatience gracing his rehearsed expression. His dark-hair and copper skin were accented with strangely mysterious eyes. Couple his good looks with the fact that he was advisor to a prince and Kadin could claim any female under the age of thirty if he wanted. Maybe even older than thirty.
“Your sister is picking out engagement rings long distance,” Eli answered, still grinning.
“Who’s the lucky guy?”
“Shut up,” Eli grumbled, pushing himself off the sofa where he’d been lounging and texting his girlfriend. “You know darn well she’s marrying me.”
“Whatever you say, Your Highness.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eli stood to his full height, not quite towering over his advisor and best friend, but tall enough that Kadin had to look up to meet his gaze.
“Maybe you should propose one of these days.” Kadin raised his eyebrows. “What are you waiting for?”
“I don’t want her to quit school for me,” Eli grumbled, his shoulders slouched.
“She won’t. I know my sister well. Nothing’s going to stop her from getting her degree. But I also know it’s time you gave her a firm commitment.”
“I know.” Eli huffed and almost stomped his feet on the way into his dressing room. He sat hard on his dressing stool and looked up at Kadin in the mirror as he approached from behind.
“What’s the real issue?” Kadin asked softly, laying his hands upon Eli’s shoulders and meeting his gaze in the mirror.
Eli didn’t want to admit out loud his real concerns about marrying Savannah, especially to her brother.
Her bloodline had never been a concern while they were growing up. Savannah and Kadin never treated Eli like a prince, and he never treated them like children of the staff.
But the reality was, Eli was expected to marry someone with royal blood. If he were Crown Prince, his spouse would have already been chosen for him, years ago. He worried about the fallout if he chose a bride outside of a royal bloodline.
“She’s not a princess.” Kadin’s statement wasn’t really a question.
“You know I don’t care about her bloodline,” Eli backpedaled.
“Then why let your father and great-grandfather dictate who you marry?” Kadin lifted his hands from Eli’s shoulders and stepped away, entering the walk-in closet and bringing out the leather bag that contained Eli’s crown.
As official advisor to Prince Elmer, Kadin’s job was to be keeper of the crown. There was no higher honor outside of the royal family than the person who watches out for his prince, stands by his side, acts as his eyes and ears, a de facto bodyguard and companion.
In a way, Kadin had been training for this job all his life, following Eli around with a level of hero-worship that came with being one year younger and always in his shadow.
But always beside him, willing to stick up for him, or kick a bully in the shin to protect him. Not that anyone on the playground would have dared bully a prince. The bully would be expelled from the school, banished from the palace, and his parents would likely lose their jobs. The sentiment was the same. Kadin would always be there for his prince.
Kadin rested the leather bag on Eli’s dressing table and lifted the velvet box from within. Opening the lid revealed Eli’s simple crown, not as elaborate as his older brother’s, or father’s, or great-grandfather’s.
And one other crown that had been missing for forty years and was about to reappear resting on the head of Eli’s cousin. The crown. The crown that represented the king’s successor. The crown that had once rested atop Eli’s grandfather, Jared, back when he was Crown Prince. Before his life ended in a tragic motorcycle accident.
That was the event that spiraled their kingdom into turmoil and split their family in two. Two opinions. Who was next in line if the Crown died before the king? Such an event had never occurred in the history of their kingdom.
Eli’s father was only five years old when his grandfather died, not old enough for a coronation, not old enough to be a successor should the king die. In the absence of his older brother, Prince Marcos insisted the title should be his. Eli’s grandmother insisted the title belonged to her son. The rest is legend and rumors. Poisoned food, dangerous snakes that just happened to slither into Prince Benjamin’s nursery, threats, illicit affairs, manipulations, fleeing for safety. Eli didn’t know what to believe.
One thing was certain; this cousin arriving from America claimed the title and wore the crown representing the king’s successor. What did that mean for the remainder of the royal family? How would his father and older brother react? That evening’s reception could be a bloodbath if they weren’t careful.
Eli watched as his advisor lifted his simple crown out of the velvet box and raised the band of gold above Eli’s head, then with reverence lowered the crown. Almost like a comfortable glove, the crown fit into place and Eli felt whole and at peace.
He raised his chin and was transformed into Prince Elmer Sayid of Madain Saleh. Whatever else happened that day, Eli knew his worth inherently lie within his blood. His mind returned to the discussion with Kadin about marrying his sister.
“You know—” Kadin rested his hands upon Eli’s shoulders again— “Regardless of her bloodline, the moment you marry Savannah, she becomes a princess. Think on that, my prince.”
Kadin had a point. Their wedding would be accompanied by a coronation at which time Prince Elmer Sayid would rest a beautiful crown of gold on her head and name her his princess. The thought brought a smile to Eli’s face and he nodded.
“Come on, Your Highness.” Kadin patted Eli on his back. “Let’s go retrieve your cousin from the airport.”