“I’ll take that,” Alex said, reaching for his suitcase when the valet lifted it off the dolly and set it on the floor of Mark and Hazel’s suite.
“And this one’s mine.” Krystina found hers among the collection of bags.
“Shall we go check out our sleeping quarters?” Alex raised his eyebrows at his future bride.
“You two behave yourselves in there,” Mark called from the bedroom, where he was assembling the Pack and Play where Aaron would be sleeping while they were here.
“Very funny, Your Highness,” Alex said. “Actually, I think I’d like to take a walk and show Krystina the solarium at the back of the palace.”
“Oh, Alex,” Hazel interrupted them. She stage-whispered to Alex, “Go get settled in your suite and then come see me—by yourself—before you head down to the solarium.”
“O—kay.” Alex reached for Krystina’s hand and they left through the elegant double doors of the prince’s suite to the next room where the prince’s advisor’s suite sat ready for them.
The elegance of their suite was nearly as grand as that of the prince, though not quite as large. The sitting room had two lounging chairs with a table lamp in between and a small bookcase. A second door led to a luxurious bathroom opening into a walk-in closet and an adjoining bedroom with a king-sized bed.
Alex lifted his eyebrows suggestively at Krystina as he set both of their suitcases in the bedroom. As much as he wanted to lock both doors and pull her onto that bed, he reminded himself there would be time for that in a few hours.
“How about if you take a few moments to get settled in here and I’ll go next door and see what Hazel wanted to tell me,” Alex said.
“That sounds like a great idea.” Krystina lifted her overnight bag from where it was nested on top of her suitcase and she carried it into the bathroom where she set it on the counter, opened it and started removing toiletries.
Alex left her there and knocked on the door frame of Mark and Hazel’s open doorway.
“In here,” Hazel called from inside the bedroom where Mark was now lying on their bed with one boy on either side of him. All three of them looked like they weren’t far away from a much-needed nap. Hazel waved Alex all the way into the room. “I think I kept my husband up half the night.”
“What makes you think that?” Mark asked from his position of honor between his two sons. He yawned and pulled them just a little closer.
“Don’t you think we should remove your crown before you nap, Your Highness?” Alex asked, stepping over to where Hazel was unpacking clothes into the chest of drawers.
“Probably,” Mark mumbled but closed his eyes.
“I can help him with that,” Hazel said. “You need to go for your walk.”
Hazel reached into her suitcase for a small case that unrolled into a travel jewelry holder. Several sets of earrings were displayed along with a formal necklace that would probably match the dress she would wear to dinner later. Another compartment held a bracelet and a watch along with an elegant hair clip. The last compartment contained several rings.
“I could never ask that of you,” Alex whispered, knowing instinctively what Hazel was about to offer.
“Nonsense,” she said with a dismissive wave. “You’re not asking. I’m offering. Consider this our wedding present.”
“That’s a pretty extravagant wedding present.” Alex couldn’t resist stepping closer and looking down at the selection.
“I inherited a lot of jewelry from our grandmother and I’m married to a billionaire prince. I think we can spare a ring or two.”
“I only need one.” Alex reached out to select a multicolored opal ring that was probably a hundred years old and worth more than his Porsche. He lifted his gaze to Hazel. “Are you sure about this?”
“She’s sure,” Mark grumbled, not opening his eyes. “Now go propose to your bride so I can take my nap.”
“Fine, I’m going, I’m going.” Alex reached for a hug from his cousin, Hazel, and demanded in a playful whisper. “Go get that crown off his head before he falls asleep.”
“Right away, boss.” Hazel released Alex from their hug and immediately traipsed over to her closet where she lifted the leather bag and placed it on the bedside table where Mark was nearly asleep.
Alex pulled the door to their room closed as he let himself out, then shut the outside door to their suite, closing out the rest of the palace from disturbing his prince.
“Are you ready?” Alex entered his sitting room and then poked his head into the adjoining bathroom.
Krystina had brushed out her hair letting it fall casually to her shoulders and she had added a sheen of lip gloss to her natural beauty. “I’m ready.”
Alex took her hand without a word and pulled their door shut behind them as they snuck down the quiet hallways of the palace to the main entryway that opened as an atrium all the way to the back of the house. The trek to the solarium seemed to take forever and yet was too short. His nerves were turning butterflies in his stomach.
Opening the door to the solarium, the dry heat of the desert was replaced by the moist heat of the greenhouse.
“Oh, Alex, it’s beautiful.” Krystina breathed in the fresh scent of soil and greenery with a sigh.
“I thought you’d like this.” Large flowering plants that had no business living in a desert climate filled the room with greens and reds and yellows. Alex led Krystina along the curving stone path to where he knew there was a small fountain nested at the middle of the solarium.
They sat together at the edge of the fountain and Alex took both her hands in his, more nervous than he’d ever been in his life. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“First of all, thank you for coming with me to Madain Saleh.” Alex gazed into her eyes. “This place is special and I’m glad you’re here.”
“Thank you for bringing me,” Krystina whispered.
“I know we haven’t known each other long, and this is all happening so fast,” Alex said, trying to garnish courage.
“Faster for you than for me since I’ve had a crush on you for months.”
“You must be a very patient woman.” Alex shifted on the cool stone bench, able to face her more fully.
“You’re worth waiting for,” Krystina said in a low voice, raising her eyebrows.
“I love you,” Alex whispered firmly.
“I love you, too.” Her words wrapped around Alex’s heart, not echoing in the expansive room, more drawn within the large leaves, closing in on them like a quiet hug.
Alex paused. “Do you realize that’s the first time you’ve told me you loved me?”
Krystina pursed her lips in deep thought. “Really?”
“Um hmm.” Alex nodded. “What a fitting time for you to first say those words to me.”
Alex rose from the bench of the fountain and lowered himself onto one knee. His heart pounded in his chest as he reached into the pocket of his sport coat and lifted the tiny ring with the rare and valuable opal and held the ring up for Krystina to view.
Krystina didn’t even glance at the ring, just held his gaze, a tribute to how she loved him just because he was him and not because he could afford to give her expensive jewelry and lavish vacations.
“Will you do me the honor of joining me in marriage and become my wife?” Alex asked with confidence, no longer nervous.
“Oh, Alex, yes, I will marry you. A million times, yes.”
“Well you’ve said ‘yes’ twice already.” Alex laughed.
“And if you ask me again tomorrow and every day for the rest of eternity, the answer will still be yes.”
“Do you want to see this incredible ring, or not?” Alex asked, wanting to impress her.
“Oh my gosh, Alex, where did you find that?” Krystina placed her hand over her heart.
“This belonged to my grandmother and was gifted to my cousin, Hazel, upon her departure,” Alex said. “His Highness, Prince Marcos, and Her Highness, Princess Hazel would like us to have this as a wedding present.”
“It’s beautiful. Can I try it on?”
“I hope it fits, because I want you to wear this forever.” Alex slipped the ring on Krystina’s left hand, where it slid perfectly into place as if it had been made just for her.
“This is the most unique opal I’ve ever seen.” Krystina held the ring closer for a better look.
“A unique ring for the most unique woman I’ve ever met.” Alex rose from his knee, sat beside Krystina, and pulled her into his arms. He leaned forward to press his lips to hers, sealing their commitment to the decision they’d made.
Later that night, she would be his wife.