“Does this soup smell funny to you?” Lyla held out her bowl and Mark sniffed. He wrinkled his nose. Although the spacious dining room off the main kitchen was large enough for the whole family to gather around the imported Mahogany table, her question was barely acknowledged by anyone other than Mark and Collins.
“Don’t eat it if it smells funny,” Mark said, leaning down to sniff his own food. It definitely smelled different. He was instantly on alert and glanced at Collins, then picked up Lyla’s bowl. “Would you take this and see if you can find Her Highness a new bowl of soup?”
Translation: have this tested for anything meant to make Lyla sick. Mark didn’t ask the kitchen staff to bring more food; he asked Collins, the only person he knew he could trust.
Too many little coincidences had happened over the past two months since Benjamin had been born, like the poisonous snake curled up under his crib, or the bar of soap in their bathroom that had some sort of irritant on the surface that made them break out in hives.
“Maybe Lyla’s pregnant again,” Tayma said, batting her eyelashes. “That would definitely make her think her food smells funny.”
That garnered the attention of Queen Salaina. “Oh, how exciting. I’ve always hoped for lots of grandchildren.” Her usually proper demeaner relaxed for just a moment, and she slouched forward to reach for Lyla’s hand, squeezing affectionately
“It smelled funny to me as well, Tayma,” Mark said, ignoring his mother. “Maybe you’d like to switch bowls with her?”
“I’ve already finished mine.” She held up her nearly empty bowl. “But thank you for the offer.”
Mark narrowed his eyes at her, and she smirked. He was on to her game, and she knew he was aware that she was behind these little pranks. They wouldn’t be so funny if Lyla or Benjamin got seriously ill, or worse.
“Your Highness,” Collins said softly, standing near Lyla’s side. “I’ve personally prepared you a new bowl of soup.” Collins raised his eyebrows at Mark subtly telling him in their non-verbal communication that he’d take the other bowl to be tested.
“Thank you, Collins.” Lyla leaned over the steaming soup and sniffed. “Much better.” She lifted her spoon and made a show of approving the first bite.
Mark continued to glare at his sister-in-law throughout the rest of the meal.
“To answer your question, Tayma—” Lyla set her spoon on the saucer where her soup bowl rested. “I don’t think I’m pregnant, although we have talked about wanting a little girl someday.”
Mark lifted Lyla’s hand and kissed the back. “A little princess.”
“You’ll have to let us know as soon as you find out,” the queen said. “I’m so excited for you. You’re our only hope for more grandchildren, you know.”
“Can’t my mommy have any more babies?” Omar asked. Now six years old, he was still innocent enough to not realize the underlying implications of his question.
“Your father died, remember?” Tayma said in the condescending voice she faked when talking to her son. “Having babies requires a mommy and a daddy.”
“You can find a new daddy,” Omar said.
Tayma laughed and patted Omar’s head. “Someday you’ll understand.”
“Maybe you should go home to your own kingdom and find some unsuspecting second cousin or something,” Mark said. “You’re still considered royalty over there in Tayma, right princess? You could marry a different prince.”
“I’m not going back to my former kingdom, thank you very much.” She lifted her chin. “Madain Saleh is my kingdom now. And my son, Omar is the only prince who matters.”
“What about my cousin, Benjamin?” Omar asked, looking up at his mom. “He’s a prince too.”
“But he’s not the first-born prince,” Tayma said, wrapping her arm around his shoulder. “You are.”
“On that note,” Lyla said, pushing back her chair. All the men at the table, including the king, stood when she did. “I think it’s time for me to nurse my little prince. If you’ll excuse me.”
Mark stepped aside and tucked his own chair up to the table, as did Collins. Neither had finished their meals. “We’ll come with you, darling. I wouldn’t want you to walk alone.”
“Thank you.” Lyla tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and as they stepped away from the table, King Sayid sat back down and resumed eating.
Mark decided it was time he had a talk with his father. Tonight.