When the head of state from one country visits another country, it’s customary to have a formal meeting between the two heads of state. Mark’s father, King Sayid of Madain Saleh arranged to fulfil that requirement before travelling to New York City.
Mark had no desire to detour through Washington D.C. or meet the president of the United States. He was ready to meet his future in-laws. He commanded the limo driver to take him straight to Lyla’s parents’ historic residence on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, not far from where the royal family would be staying at the Baccarat Hotel.
Because his parents had yet to arrive in New York City, Mark was able to stay under the radar and arrived at the Donovan’s front door without incident.
Lyla and Mark had been texting and video chatting and calling multiple times a day trying to get their story straight so that her parents would believe they met and fell in love over the course of the whole two weeks Lyla had been in Dubai rather than her agreeing to marry him after spending five minutes together in a pool.
There was nothing fabricated about their chemistry. From the moment Mark stepped in the foyer their bodies were like magnets. Their fingers intertwined and barely let go long enough for Mark to shake Lyla’s dad’s hand.
Mark tried to reign in his speech and cadence to not sound haughty. He wanted Wesley and Rebecca Donovan to feel at ease and agree that their daughter was making a good choice.
The big question remained unanswered and Mark knew they’d have to address the inevitable over dinner: what’s the rush? Why were they in such a big hurry to get married? He and Lyla had decided honesty would be best in this instance, so Mark didn’t wait for someone else to broach the subject.
After eating the obligatory first several bites of his filet, he dabbed his mouth with a cloth napkin and rested it in his lap before reaching for his glass of red wine. He hoped he’d waited long enough into the meal, then took a deep breath.
“I need to explain something to you, Mr. and Mrs. Donovan,” Mark started.
“Please, you’re welcome to call us Wesley and Rebecca,” Lyla’s mom said with a warming smile.
“Thank you, Rebecca.” Mark nodded regally to the woman who would soon be his mother-in-law. “I want you to know that I fell hard for your daughter. Infatuation at first sight, you might say. We realize love grows over time.” Mark chuckled and cleared his throat.
Lyla reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze, encouraging him to continue.
“But we don’t have a lot of time,” Mark continued.
“What do you mean by that?” Wesley sat forward and leaned his elbows on the table, clasping his hands over his plate. His furrowed brow showed suspicion.
“My brother died suddenly a few weeks ago,” Mark said. “In a motorcycle accident actually.”
“Oh, my goodness,” Rebecca said, leaning forward and placing her hand over the top of Mark’s in a comforting, motherly gesture. “I’m so sorry.”
Mark wondered what it would have been like to have a mother growing up rather than a prim and proper queen and several nannies. “Thank you.”
“What does that have to do with you marrying our daughter?” Wesley asked, pursing his lips.
“Well, because my brother, Jared was the crown prince, his son would be next in line for the throne, but my five-year-old nephew is too young to be named Crown. My father would like me to have an heir before naming me Crown.”
“I’m confused…” Wesley cocked his head to the side. “You just need my daughter so you can have a baby?”
“Not just a baby, Sir. An heir. I would never defile a woman by giving myself to her before a proper marriage.”
“And you think my daughter is the proper woman for the job?”
“Daddy…” Lyla glared across the table at her father.
“I would like to hope that marriage will not be a job.” Mark turned himself toward Lyla and rested his hand against her cheek lightly, ever so slightly rubbing his thumb on her cheek, wishing he could kiss her. His voice lowered in reverence, speaking directly to Lyla’s heart even as the words were initially intended for her father. “I will treat your daughter like the princess she is, and the princess she will become.”
Lyla sighed and her eyes glazed over. She turned her face toward his hand and kissed his palm. Mark almost lost control and pulled her into his arms right there at the dining room table.
“All right. You’ve convinced me,” Wesley said. “You have my blessing.”
“Thank you, Sir. I wouldn’t have wanted to go forward without your blessing,” Mark said, sincerely, then turned to Rebecca. “I’m sorry that we’re not giving you much time to shop for dresses, and I apologize that you may have to choose a dress off-the-rack, rather than custom-made, but you have my fortune at your disposal. Please, spend as much as necessary to provide Lyla with a gown fitting a princess.”
“That’s very kind of you, Mark,” Rebecca said. “We wouldn’t expect you to pay for our daughter’s wedding dress. Nor expect something custom-made.” She coughed lightly.
“Under normal circumstances you would have plenty of time to prepare for these things. I just want you to know that you have my support.” Mark turned to Lyla. “Would you like to accompany me tomorrow to pick out wedding rings? Or would you prefer to have a jeweler bring a selection here so we can avoid drawing attention to ourselves?”
“We will need to get used to being seen in public,” Lyla said. “No time like the present to start. There are lots of famous people in this town. We might just be like any other shoppers.”
“Not discounting that viral video that plastered your names and faces all over the free world,” Rebecca said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, we may have gotten carried away with that kiss.” Lyla shook her head and giggled.
“My fault,” Mark said. “I got caught up in the moment.”
“Okay, can we talk about something else besides kissing my little girl, and”—Wesley visibly shuddered— “Having babies with her.”
“My apologies, Sir.” Mark cleared his throat. “How about those Giants? Yankees? What sport team am I supposed to know about?” Mark asked Lyla through the side of his mouth. She giggled again.
“I’m more of an academic myself,” Wesley said.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Mark said with sigh. “I know nothing about sports.”
“Do you play chess?” Wesley raised his eyebrows.
“Perfect,” Wesley said. “Let’s finish this lovely dinner my wife prepared and head into the lounge.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Mark said, holding up his glass of wine. They all raised their glasses in a subtle toast and Mark winked at Lyla. They’d gotten through the hard part. The rest was just wedding planning, and Mark suspected Lyla and her mother had already begun picking out flower arrangements.