Mark didn’t hesitate for a second, not considering his attire, his crown, or his dignity. He jumped in after the blond in the little black dress in a vain attempt to save the damsel in distress.
The young lady’s head popped out of the water, barely sputtering, and definitely not drowning.
“Are you okay, Miss,” Mark asked when he reached her, standing in the middle of a pool that was shallow enough for her to touch the bottom. Just the same he wrapped his arm around her waist to rescue her and she draped her hands around his broad shoulders, lacing her fingers together behind his neck.
“I think I’ll be alright,” she said, a hint of humor and sarcasm tinging her statement. “Just the same, I’m glad to have a strong man jump in to save me.” Was she flirting with him? Definitely.
“Well it was my fault that you fell,” Mark said, smoothing her long hair across her shoulders. “It was only fair that I should be the one to rescue you.”
Their eyes met and neither looked away. Mark had the overwhelming desire to kiss this girl he didn’t even know.
“What’s your name?” Mark whispered.
“Lyla,” she whispered back. “And yours?”
“It’s really nice to meet you, Mark.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Lyla.” He loved the way her name rolled off his tongue.
“Prince Marcos,” a man called from beside the pool. “Are you quite alright, Your Highness?”
“I was doing just fine,” Mark grumbled. “Thank you very much.”
Lyla giggled. “Prince Marcos, huh? I guess that would explain the crown.” She raised her hand as if to touch his crown, but Mark grabbed her wrist gently.
“No one is allowed to touch my crown save my manservant and my wife.”
“You’re married?” Lyla pushed him away with disgust lacing her voice.
“No, no, no, not married.” Mark reached for her again. “Please don’t leave. I just meant, until you’re my wife, you can’t touch my crown.”
“Until I’m your wife?” Her jaw dropped and she raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t that kind of presumptuous of you? You think just because you’re a prince you can snap your fingers and demand a woman marry you?”
“Of course not,” Mark insisted. “I would never presume such a thing. A man could only get so lucky to marry a woman such as yourself.” He moved a step toward her again, pushing against the resistance of the water between them, wishing to have her back in his arms.
“What makes you think you’d be lucky to have me for a wife?” she asked, splashing away from him. “You know nothing about me. And don’t you dare say it’s because I’m beautiful. Believe me, I’ve heard it all before.”
“Have you?” Mark couldn’t hide a grin. “Well then, I’ll try to find some other word to describe you.”
“Oh really.” She was still moving away from him, staying barely out of reach and he continued stalking her, purposely keeping a few inches slower than catching her. “Let’s hear your descriptive words, Your Highness.”
“Let’s see… feisty… wet… clumsy.”
“Clumsy?” She stopped and folded her arms across her chest.
“You did fall into a pool after all,” Mark said, lithely slipping himself close to her and wrapping both arms around her waist. “Would you please stand still long enough for me to rescue you… princess.” He added the last word as a reverent whisper.
“Princess, huh?” Lyla gulped, returning her arms to encircle his neck.
“You like the sound of that?” His husky voice was suggestive.
“How about if we get dried off, change into clean clothes, and I’ll buy you a drink and woo you into the wee hours of the night, sitting beside the pool rather than in it, and by the time you fall into the softness of the pillows in your hotel suite you will have… decided.”
“Hmm… I suppose that is a decent plan.” While she spoke, Mark slid through the water with Lyla in his arms as if truly rescuing her from imminent drowning.
He carried her all the way up the steps leading out of the pool and set her onto her bare feet. Mark raised his eyebrows. “Where are your shoes?”
“Bottom of the pool, I think.” She glanced over toward the deep end and bit her lower lip.
Mark waved for a pool attendant and spoke with authority, “Fetch the lady her shoes, won’t you, kind sir?”
“Of course, Your Highness.” Without hesitation, the young man trudged down the steps into the pool fully clothed and walked toward the deep end, eventually ducking under the water and popping up a moment later holding two black stilettos.
By the time the pool attendant returned to the deck, Mark had waved over his manservant, Collins, and requested a one hundred dirhams note to give to the man for his service.
“Here you are,” Mark said, handing the boy the hundred dirhams note in exchange for the dripping shoes. “Why don’t you take the remainder of the night off, get yourself into some dry clothes and have a drink on me.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.” The young man lowered his head in a brief bow. “It was no trouble at all.”
Mark turned back to Lyla, ceremoniously handing her the shoes. “I believe these belong to you.”
“Why, thank you, Your Highness,” she drawled in a fake Southern American accent. “I think I’ll trade these in for some sandals, or better yet, some fluffy slippers.”
“What do you say we meet back here in twenty minutes clad in robes and fluffy slippers and spend the remainder of the night discussing our many future adventures.”
“I cannot wait to see you in fluffy slippers.” Lyla bit her lip playfully.
“The feeling is mutual.” Mark reached for her hand and touched her knuckles to his lips then backed away slowly, releasing her fingers at the last possible second. “Until we meet again, princess.”
“Likewise, my prince.” Lyla nodded regally as they parted.
Mark could hear her giggling with her friends, and he offered a mock salute to Nicholas’s brothers then strode with purpose away from the pool deck toward the waiting elevator. When they were almost to his suite, Mark grumbled to Collins, “Assist me in removing my crown and fetch me some Tylenol. I have a splitting headache. Oh, and get me the tackiest fluffy slippers you can find.”