Winter Wedding for the Prince(8)

By: Barbara Wallace

That depended upon your definition of efficient, Rosa thought, counting the silverware. Chances were she would be eating salads for the next week to make up for the excess.

“I am sorry Mona couldn’t be here to join us,” the king said as the waiters wheeled out the first course, a rich, spicy-smelling soup that had Rosa amending her plans to two weeks of salad. “I called and requested that she fly here this morning, but sadly, she told me she wasn’t feeling up to traveling.”

“She’s not well?” Concern marked Armando’s face. Rosa knew what he was thinking. If she was sickly, Mona might not have the stamina to meet the demands that came with being queen.

“The flu,” King Omar replied. “Caught during one of her visits to our local children’s hospital.”

“One of?” Rosa asked.

“She spends a great deal of time there. Children’s charities are among her passions. In fact, she recently completed her degree in children’s psychology.”

“Impressive,” Armando replied.

“Public service is a duty our family takes quite seriously. We understand the responsibility that comes with power. Although of all my children, I have to say that Mona takes her responsibility the most seriously.”

Smart, charitable and, guessing from King Omar’s looks, beautiful. Rosa reached for her water to cool the heartburn stuck behind her breastbone. Call her a cynic, but Rosa thought the woman sounded too good to be true. If the glint in Armando’s eyes was any indication, however, he was impressed.

“That is good to hear,” he said, “as our family is extremely interested in social reform. Sadly, as beautiful as Corinthia is, the country is not without its blemishes. We are as susceptible to the problems of the world as every country. Disease. Drugs. Violence. We’re currently working quite hard to stem the problems of domestic abuse.”

“Interesting,” King Omar replied. “How so?”

“Being an island country can be detrimental,” Armando replied. “If women in trouble cannot afford airfare for themselves and their children, they often feel trapped. It’s hard to start over when you’re looking over your shoulder.”

Omar replied, “Are there not laws in place to protect them?”

“Yes, but laws on the books aren’t always enough,” Rosa said. She could tell from the widening of the king’s eyes he hadn’t expected her to speak up over Armando, but as always happened when the subject came up, she couldn’t contain herself.

“Many of our villages are small and contain generations of connected families,” Armando explained. “Women often fear going to the authorities because of their husbands’ connections.”

“I see,” Omar replied. “You said you are working to change this? How?” Rosa wondered if he was thinking about his own small country with its tribal population.

“We’ve created a number of programs over the past couple years, but the one we’re most proud of is called Christina’s Home, which gives women who don’t have the resources a place where they can escape.”

King Omar frowned. “Are you saying you built a safe house?”

“Yes, although we prefer the term transitional home. We provide education, legal services and such to help them start over. Right now, we have one home, but our hope is to eventually have a network of two or three Christina’s Homes that can address a variety of transitional needs.”

During his explanation, the waiters replaced the soup with a plate of flaky fried pastries and salad of greens and roasted peppers that had Rosa extending her salad fast until after the new year. The sultan picked up one of the pastries and took a healthy bite. “Interesting name, Christina’s Homes,” he said when he finished chewing. “Named after your late wife?”

Some of the light faded from Armando’s eyes. “Yes. One of the qualities that made her so special was the way she cared for the welfare of our people. By naming the shelter program after her, we’re honoring her memory twofold. In name and in deed. It was Rosa’s idea,” he added. “She shares her sister’s passion for helping people.”

She had heard Armando make the same compliment dozens of times without reaction. Today, however, her stomach fluttered. She felt awkward and exposed.

“My sister always believed in taking action,” Rosa said. Whereas she’d needed her sister’s death before she found the courage to do anything. Reaching for her glass, Rosa hid her shame behind a long drink of water.

On the other side of the table, she could feel the sultan studying her. “This sounds exactly like the type of work my daughter would want to be involved with. How many families have you helped?” he asked.

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