Winter Wedding for the Prince(7)

By: Barbara Wallace

At least he’d agreed to change the subject. Hopefully telling him she was working on herself satisfied enough of his curiosity. After all, it wasn’t as though she was lying. She was rediscovering herself. Learning, little by little, that there was a capable woman inside her chubby shell. As her therapist one reminded, her value went beyond being her husband’s verbal whipping post. And, while she was still a work in progress, she had begun to like herself again.

There were days, of course, when Fredo’s insults haunted her, but his voice, once so prominent in her ear, was growing softer. If she learned anything from Christina’s death, it was that life was too short to settle for anything, or anyone. She’d stupidly let herself believe she had no choice when Fredo proposed. Never again. She realized now that she deserved nothing less than unconditional love. Next time, if there was a next time, she wouldn’t settle for anything less. There would be no settling the next time around. She wanted someone who loved her body and soul. Who made her heart flutter whenever she heard his voice, and whose heart fluttered in return.

She wanted what Armando had with Christina.

What he would eventually have with his bride-to-be. Sure, Armando’s marriage might begin for political reasons, but time had a way of warming a person’s heart, especially if the person deserved to be loved. Rosa had done some internet searching last night, and discovered Mona El Halwani was a caramel-skinned beauty whose statuesque body weighed at least forty pounds less than Rosa’s. She was exquisite. A walking, talking advertisement for perfection.

How could Armando’s heart not warm to perfection?

They left the city behind. The landscape around them began to change revealing more and more of Corinthia’s old-world. Stone farmhouses lined the streets, their window boxes stuffed with fresh greens.

Seeing the candles in the windows, Rosa couldn’t help but think of what Armando had said about being responsible for every light in every window. Such a heavy weight to grow up bearing—the future of your country on your shoulders. She suddenly wanted to pull over, wrap him in a hug and let him know he didn’t have to bear the burden alone.

As if those words coming from her would mean anything. Providing solace was his future wife’s job. Not hers. She might as well get used to the new hierarchy right now and just do her job.

* * *

An hour later, they arrived at the Cerulean Towers, the luxury high-rise that housed Yelgiers’s development concern. It was as unheralded an arrival as King Omar’s, with only the doorman to greet them.

The sultan was waiting for them in his penthouse suite. Tall and exceptionally handsome, he greeted Armando with the very type of embrace Rosa had considered earlier. “I have been awaiting this moment since yesterday’s phone conversation,” he said, clapping Armando on the back. “That our families will be forever joined warms my heart.”

Rosa stifled a giggle as she watched Armando, clearly caught off guard by the effusiveness, awkwardly pat the man in return. His cheeks were crimson. “You honor me, Omar.”

“On the contrary, it is you who honor my family by taking Mona as your bride. Your union   marks the beginning of a long and fruitful alliance between our countries.”

“Your enthusiasm humbles me,” Armando replied as he disentangled himself. “My father sends his regards, by the way, and his welcome.”

“Please send my regards in return. Tell him I look forward to the day he and I toast the birth of our grandson.”

Rosa choked on the cough rising in her throat. All the effusiveness was making her insides cringe.

Armando arched his brow at the sound. “You remember my assistant, Rosa Lamberti,” he said, motioning to her.

She started to bow only to have her hands swept up in the sultan’s large bronze grasp. Apparently, his enthusiasm didn’t only apply to Armando. “Of course. A man would never forget a beautiful woman. Especially one whose face makes the flowers weep.” As the sultan pressed a kiss to her knuckles, Rosa heard Armando give a cough of his own. She waited until King Omar turned and flashed him a smirk.

He led them inside and to the penthouse dining room. The table, Rosa noticed, had been set with a combination of Yelgierian and Corinthian colors, including a large centerpiece of greens, jasmine and dianthus, the official Yelgierian and Corinthian flowers. Meant to be a tribute to their merging families, the red and gold looked unexpectedly festive as well. There was wine chilling and a trio of uniformed waiters standing at the ready next to the sideboard.

“A working lunch,” King Omar explained. “I thought it would be more efficient.”

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