“What is your actual day job?” Krystina’s father, Lincoln leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. His brows were furrowed, and his mouth pursed in suspicion. “You show up in a sports car that probably cost more than our home with a haughty attitude and a slight Southern accent. Who are you really?”
The dining room where they were gathered boasted panelboard walls and a Formica table. The faux wood tile flooring had peeling edges from years of mopping and there was a faint odor emanating from the large dog bed tucked into the corner. A Golden Retriever scratched at the back patio sliding glass door, grating on Alex’s nerves. No one else seemed bothered by the scratching.
“I’m sorry I came across that way, sir,” Alex said, wiping his mouth and resting his paper napkin on his lap. “I really should buy a different car and tuck that one in the garage for days when I’m feeling particularly adventurous.” Alex chuckled.
Lincoln didn’t crack a smile or relax his stance.
“Right, so, I’m a real estate developer and one-quarter owner in a company called Domrey Incorporated that builds solar arrays and solar panels.”
“That is a strange name for a company.” Lincoln continued to glare at Alex.
“It’s a play on words, actually, combining the Spanish words for sun and king. Marcos spent part of his youth living in Mexico with his family, and he and I both speak fluent Spanish.”
“I thought Prince Marcos is from the Middle East?” Krystina interrupted her father’s interrogation. The meal her mother had so graciously prepared in honor of her daughter bringing her new boyfriend over for introductions was growing cold on their plates. Alex could almost see the gravy congealing on the edge of his mashed potatoes.
“His kingdom is Madain Saleh, which is tucked within the deserts of Saudi Arabia, but his grandfather fled their homeland because his brother’s widow threatened his newborn son and wife. They settled just south of Cancun and Mark’s father still rules there as a sort of king, more like a governor.”
“What?” Krystina’s mom, Tammy stopped them. “Kings? Princes? Governors? What does this all have to do with real estate development and solar panels?”
“They’re not related,” Alex said. “I’m sorry to be so confusing. One of our college roommates was fascinated by solar energy and talked us into investing with him. Because Prince Marcos and I are both billionaires, we didn’t hesitate to help our friend.”
“Wait… b—billionaires?” Lincoln shook his head as if to clear the shock. “How does a real estate developer at your age become a billionaire?”
“Inheritance.” Alex raised his eyebrows, getting tired of Krystina’s dad’s antagonism, but trying to be patient.
“And what’s all this talk of princes?” Tammy asked.
“One of my other college roommates—and childhood best friend—is the crown prince of a tiny kingdom called Madain Saleh that is one of only three sovereign nations in the world completely contained within another sovereign nation. I am his advisor.”
“Advisor?” Lincoln asked.
“Yes, sir.” Alex nodded.
“And how did you meet our daughter?” Tammy asked.
Krystina wrapped both of her arms around Alex’s arm and bragged to her parents. “Alex is a city councilman. He came into my office looking for land records.”
Alex chuckled, took a deep, frustrated breath, and patted her hand with his. He bit his tongue, hoping Krystina didn’t bring up the possibility he might go to jail because of those land records. Thankfully, she didn’t.
“Let me get this straight”—Lincoln cleared his throat— “You’re a city councilman, a real estate developer, part owner of a successful manufacturing company, a billionaire, bilingual, and advisor to a Saudi prince? Are you for real? a pathological liar? have delusions of grandeur?”
Alex pressed his lips together, afraid of the rude things he’d say if he opened his mouth.
“Daddy, you’re not being very nice to my friend.” Krystina sounded like she was going to cry. Alex reached over and placed his hand on her knee, trying to reassure her that he could handle her father’s rude behavior.
“First of all, get your hands off my daughter, and second, please answer my question.”
Alex left his hand on her knee and said through clenched teeth, “That was four questions, not one, your daughter is an adult and if she wanted me to remove my hand she would ask me herself, Prince Marcos is not a Saudi prince—he was born in the United States and is heir to the throne of the kingdom called Madain Saleh—and I am fluent in three languages, not two.”
“What other language do you speak?” Krystina asked with awe in her tone.
“Arabic,” Alex answered in a quiet voice, then turned to Krystina. “Are you finished with your meal? I think I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
Alex’s phone vibrated in the breast pocket of his sport coat, but he tried to ignore it, not wanting to be rude to Krystina’s mother and father, even though they had been rude to him.
They all stared at Alex’s chest as if daring him to answer his phone during dinner. He lifted his chin, refusing to give in to the temptation of the intrusive little electronic device.
He reached for his fork and made a show of scooping up a bite of mashed potatoes then almost gagged on the cold food clogging his mouth. He reached for the glass of water next to his plate and downed several swallows, noting the rust tint and slight sulfur smell.
Before he could set down his glass, the phone rang again. He decided to just get up and leave the room. He wiped his mouth with his napkin, hoping the congealed food and unfiltered well water stayed down, then dropped his napkin on his plate and reached inside his jacket pocket.
The caller ID didn’t surprise him. He touched the screen to answer the phone as he walked into the kitchen.
“Your Highness? Is everything okay?”
“No, Alex”—Mark sounded as if he was on the verge of tears— “My cousin has been murdered.”