More Precious than a Crown(7)

By: Carol Marinelli


Layla rolled her eyes. ‘Ah, but I bet you take looks into consideration when you are choosing your lovers.’

‘Layla!’ Zahid warned, but she would not quiet.

‘Why don’t women get to go overseas? Why were you allowed to leave Ishla for your education?’

‘You know why, Layla.’

‘Well, it’s not fair. At least you have had some fun before you choose your bride. Father is speaking about the Fayeds again. I don’t want Hassain to be my first love.’ She pulled a face and Zahid suppressed a smile. He wanted to tell his sister that when he was king he would change things, but that conversation was too dangerous to have just yet.

‘I want to know what it is to fall in love.’ Layla pouted.

Zahid could think of nothing worse than a mind dizzied by emotion. He truly could not stand the thought of a life lived in love.

Yes, there was a year of her life that Layla didn’t know about.

The first year.

He looked at his sister who lived with her head in the clouds, yet he cared for her so. He could still remember her screaming in the crib, could still recall their father’s repeated rejection of his second born, who he had blamed for his wife’s death.

No, Layla must never know.

‘Layla, the palace will be busy preparing for my wedding. You do not have to worry for a while.’

‘But I do worry,’ Layla said. ‘Zahid, can I come to England with you? I would love to see the sights, and to go to a real English wedding...’

‘Layla, you know that you cannot travel until you are married.’

‘No,’ Layla corrected him, ‘the rule is that I cannot travel unless I am escorted by a family member. If you took me...’

‘I am not taking you to England with me,’ Zahid said. He would already have his work cut out with the Fosters and their debauched ways, let alone adding Layla to the mix. Zahid rolled his eyes. There was no doubt in his mind that his best-man duties would involve policing Trinity.

Once he had agreed to attend the wedding, Zahid had looked her up and his face had hardened as he had read on and flicked through images. Having completed school, or rather, as Zahid knew from Donald, a stint in rehab, Trinity had, it would seem, jumped straight off the wagon. There were several pieces about how she loved to party, combined with several images of her falling out of nightclubs. Things had gone quiet in recent years, though. She was now living in California and only came home on occasion, such as for the wedding of her brother.

His curiosity about Trinity surprised even Zahid. He could barely remember most of the women he had dated, yet the one kiss that he and Trinity had shared still remained clear in his mind, so much so that it took a moment to drag his mind back to the conversation.

‘Can I come on your honeymoon, then?’ Layla persisted.

‘I will hopefully be busy on my honeymoon,’ Zahid said.

‘Not the desert part.’ Layla laughed. ‘After. When you travel overseas, can I at least come with you then?’

It was not such a strange request—sisters often travelled as companionship for the new bride.

‘You might not like the bride I choose,’ Zahid pointed out.

‘You might not like the bride you choose.’ Layla smiled. ‘So I will entertain her so that you do not have to worry about such things as shopping and lunch.’

‘We shall see.’

‘Promise me that you will take me, Zahid,’ Layla said. ‘I need something to look forward to.’

‘You are up to something?’

‘No,’ Layla said. ‘I am just bored and I want something to dream about, something to look forward to.’ She glanced at the clock. ‘I need to go and meet my students.’

‘Then go,’ Zahid said, but Layla would not move till she got her way.

‘How can I teach my students about the world when I have never even left Ishla?’

Zahid accepted that she made a good point. ‘Very well, you can travel overseas with us when I take my bride on honeymoon.’

It was no big deal to Zahid.

Romance was not part of the equation in any marriage that he had in mind and that was the reason he said yes.





CHAPTER TWO


AN ASH CLOUD, perchance? Trinity’s heart lurched in hope when she saw that her flight was delayed.

A really, really big ash cloud that would ground aviation for days.

Or maybe the baggage handlers could go on strike.

LAX had been busy, busy and JFK was much the same. Trinity knew she had been cutting it almost impossibly fine to get back in time for her brother’s wedding and now that her flight had been delayed there was a very real prospect that the bridesmaid wouldn’t make it to the church on time.