“Well, well, well, what a pleasant surprise.” The Princess of Nimrah stalked toward them like the lioness that she was. Her long, flowing jet-black hair contrasted with her light blue, sheer fabric pantsuit with a gold belt and open-shoulder sleeves. She could have stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine.
Alex was frustrated to have been interrupted from kissing Krystina on the bench of the fountain in the middle of the solarium. He scowled at the princess.
“Interesting to see you in the arms of a woman. Where’s your prince? Weren’t the two of you joined at the hip? In more ways than one.” She coughed lightly.
“Your Highness, may I introduce my bride, Krystina,” Alex said. “Krystina, this lovely minx is the Princess of Nimrah, the little girl who was under the mistaken idea that Prince Marcos and I were a couple.”
“Little girl?” Nimrah stomped her foot and balled her fists. Although she was now into her twenties, her immaturity was on full display. She’d been spoiled all her life. “I am an adult. And a married woman. And a princess. I deserve your respect.”
“Yes, congratulations on your recent nuptials,” Alex said, still seated and with his arms around Krystina. He would not esteem the dignity of rising to his feet before this woman who ordered her groom to commit murder on their wedding night. “It’s a shame your father won’t be around to watch you raise your children.”
“If I have any children.” She sniffed arrogantly and lifted her chin.
“What’s the matter? Is your grandfather’s advisor too old to provide a proper consummation of your marriage? There are medications available for that, you know.”
“How dare you.” Nimrah stomped her foot again.
“Ah, I hit the nail on the head. Interesting.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“What are you even doing here?” Alex asked, wondering if she’d followed them.
“I live here.” She raised her nose in the air.
“I mean in the solarium,” Alex said. “Were you spying on us?”
“Please, why would I be spying on you?” Nimrah glanced down at her perfectly manicured fingernails. “I merely wanted to view the greenery. Okay, I saw you come in here and wanted to find out if you knew about the plans my father had with my husband.”
“Of course.” Alex stood to face her, his tone fierce. “I know everything.”
“You do?” Her almond shaped deep brown eyes searched his with a brief moment of vulnerability before she hardened her face again. “You don’t know anything. I can tell.”
“Where I come from”—Alex leaned close for effect— “They call what you did ‘murder.’ What do they call it here in Madain Saleh?”
“I don’t answer to you. I came in here to find out what you knew, and I can tell you know nothing. I’m leaving.” With that, Nimrah turned on her heel and strode away, taking her haughty attitude with her.
“Pleasure to see you again, Your Highness,” Alex called after her. She didn’t turn to acknowledge his farewell.
“She’s a piece of work,” Krystina said, rising from the seat at the edge of the fountain.
“She’s going to destroy our kingdom.” A foreboding darkness clouded his thoughts, but he shook them off. “I’m sorry. This was supposed to be a celebration, not a murder investigation.”
“Hey, that’s one of the reasons we came, right?” Krystina lifted her hand to his cheek and gently turned his face to hers. “To figure out what happened?”
“Yes, but not this afternoon.” Alex pulled her into his arms. “Today is about you and I finding happiness and joining our lives together.” He kissed her again, but the moment had been ruined. When he leaned away to look down into her eyes, he could tell she recognized the need to lighten the mood.
“How about you show me the rest of this beautiful solarium before I take advantage of you hours before I’m legally allowed to do so. You won’t require medication for that, will you?” She blinked her eyes and managed to keep a straight face.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay.” Alex grabbed her around the waist for one more quick hug and kiss, then released her and lifted her right hand into his.
As they started down the stone pathway, Krystina held out her left hand to gaze at the beautiful ring resting there.
“I have zero experience in botany,” Alex said. “We’re just going to have to enjoy the beauty around us rather than have me attempt to identify any of these plants.” He raised his hand as if he were a tour guide showing off a museum.
“They’re green, and moist, and they smell nice,” Krystina said. “Which is more than I can say for the dry heat of the desert outside of this solarium.”
“Comparable to Arizona?” Alex asked, swinging their arms between them.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been to Arizona.”
“Me neither.” Alex enjoyed peeling back the little onion layers one at a time getting to know his new girlfriend, who was about to become his wife. “What about out of the country. Have you ever left the United States? You know, before now.”
“I’ve been to Canada, but that hardly counts since we share a common border.”
“I’ve never been to Canada,” Alex said. “But I’ve been to Mexico, several times.”
“And you’re fluent in Spanish?” Krystina asked, and Alex nodded. “And Arabic? Can you say something to me in Arabic?”
“Sawf yatazawajuni habi?”
“What did you say?” Krystina bounced on her toes with excitement.
“I asked you to marry me.”
“And how do I say ‘yes’ in Arabic?”
“Nem,” Alex said.
“Nam?” Krystina’s face fell. “Like Vietnam?”
Alex leaned his head back in laughter. “How about a more romantic way to answer my question? Say ‘Ajl ya habia’.”
“Ah ha yeah ha bee?” She tried to copy with her own spin on the pronunciation. “What did I say?”
“You said, ‘Yes, my love.’”
“None of that makes any sense.” She shook her head.
“Which is why we’ll stick to English,” Alex said. “Until later tonight, anyway.”
“What language are you going to speak to me later tonight?”
“Body language,” he whispered close to her ear, and she giggled. “But first we have to go to dinner with the royal family.”
“Is that rude princess going to be there?” Krystina pouted.
“Most likely there will be several princesses there, but I don’t think I know all their names.” He started ticking them off on his fingers. “Prince Eli’s wife, Princess Savannah, then there will be the Princess of Tayma, who is second wife to the king, then there’s Prince Omar’s wife… I have no idea what her name is. Also, the late Prince Jared’s wife, the Princess of Lihna. I think that’s it. Oh, and of course, you already know Princess Hazel, Prince Marcos’ wife.”
“I’ll never be able to keep all that straight.” She shook her head.
“Just call them all ‘Your Highness,’ and you’re good,” Alex said. “Except the king and queen. You would call them ‘Your Majesty’ and ‘Your Grace’.”
“Okay.” She blew out a long breath.
“I have faith in you,” he said, squeezing her hand. “Come on, let’s go get dressed for dinner. Then I can marry you afterward and head back upstairs to undress.”
“I think I can endure an evening with snooty royals if that’s how the evening will end.” She touched her lips to his as he held open the door to leave the moist heat of the solarium.