“Help me understand this,” Adele said, setting aside the iced horchata she’d been sipping. “What is your official title, and what am I supposed to call you? Your Grace?”
“Please, just call me Lyla.” The subtle blush on her cheeks reminded Mark how uncomfortable she still was with everything that involved his status.
Mark was nervous to bring Lyla home to Madain Saleh and glad they’d chosen to take a few weeks alone on the other side of the world where they could get to know one another as husband and wife before assuming their positions as a prince and princess.
“Our kingdom is not the same as a monarchy in Europe,” Mark explained to Nick’s wife. “Our hybrid traditions date back a thousand years and have been adapted through the centuries as times have changed. I’m pretty sure my ancestors didn’t conduct diplomatic meetings by video conference on their smart phones.”
“No, I suppose not.” Adele’s brow creased. “I still don’t get it though.”
“Lyla will be referred to mostly as Her Highness,” Mark explained.
“Then why do you keep calling me Your Grace?” Lyla asked with skeptical teasing.
“When you are my queen, that will be your title.” Mark lifted Lyla’s hand to his lips and winked at her playfully.
“I have a question,” Nick said, leaning forward. “You’re not having some weird Freudian obsession about your mother when you call your wife Your Grace… are you?”
“Thank you for placing that disgusting thought in my head, Nicholas.” Mark shoved his best friend’s shoulder. “I’m merely looking forward to becoming king someday.”
“That’s why he married me after all,” Lyla said, feigning haughtiness. “So he could obtain the title of Crown Prince.”
“I don’t get it,” Adele said. “I thought Jared was the crown prince.”
Mark’s heart plummeted when he realized they hadn’t heard. Laughter faded from his smile and Lyla took his hand for comfort. He swallowed hard. “You haven’t heard the news?”
“What news, my friend?” Nick’s brows creased.
“Jared lost control on his motorcycle and barely lived another 24 hours.” Mark’s voice caught. “The accident happened the night of your wedding, actually.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, Marcos,” Adele said, scooting her chair closer to her husband. “His wife and their little boy must be devastated.”
“The Princess of Tayma is not capable of raising our future king.” Mark raised his chin and set his jaw. “Jared told me himself. He asked me to raise their son in his stead and I have refused to recognize my five-year-old nephew as my future king.”
“If not him… than who?” Nick asked, cocking his head to the side. “You?”
“As my father has rightfully acknowledged, we are in unchartered waters with this regard,” Mark said. “Never before in the history of our kingdom has the crown prince died prior to the king. As the only prince who is of age, I have claim to the crown, and Tayma has challenged my claim. She insists her son is the rightful Crown.”
“But he was next in line… right?” Nick asked.
“Next in line is not the same as Crown.” Mark shook his head definitively. “The named Crown must be of age and sound mind capable of taking on the role of King in his absence should the inevitable occur.”
“And that would be you?” Nick asked.
“Correct.” Mark nodded.
“What’s that got to do with Lyla?” Adele asked.
“His daddy wants him to have a baby before naming him Crown,” Lyla teased.
“I believe the words he used were a wife and an heir,” Mark clarified. “We have taken on that challenge and will work hard to complete the task. It’s a difficult job but someone has to do it.”
“Frequently.” Lyla faked a cough and they all laughed.
“Neither of us are complaining,” Mark said with a grin.
“Well, we wish you luck in your endeavor,” Nick said, raising his glass of hibiscus aqua fresca in a toast. “May the best man win in his race to produce an heir.”
“Excuse me,” Adele cut in. “I believe the women are they who will produce the heirs. Am I right, Lyla?”
“Absolutely,” Lyla said. “Although you’ve had a three-week head start. I’m not sure it’s a fair race.” Lyla pouted and batted her eyelashes at Mark.
“We’re just going to have to work overtime to catch up,” Mark stage-whispered to his wife.
“On that note, I think it’s time to call it a night, don’t you?” Nick suggested. They all laughed again but didn’t linger too many more minutes at the restaurant.
The night was young, and Mark intended to take full advantage of the moonlit romance of Puerto Aventuras before returning to the real world and flying back to his kingdom, his new princess in tow.