A month had passed since accepting the role of the king in my home country of Qatar, but my hands still moved automatically to adjust the phantom tie at my neck. For years working in England at my family’s oil business, it was rare that I went to work without a tie. It was rare that I didn’t go to work in general.
With any thoughts of England came the influx of memories of the one woman who I would have stayed there for. I would have given up all of my father’s hopes for me to become king if only she had felt the same for me as I did for her.
I shook away all thoughts of Sophia as I tried to do every single morning. Even after some time had passed, she was still lodged firmly in my mind. I wanted to know what she was up to, if she finally wrote the story that she’d come to England and Qatar to write, and most of all, if she was happy.
When she left me the first time, I had flipped around and become the stalker that she had been to me when she was hungry for the story. But this time, I couldn’t bear to see what she wrote about me for the Dallas Post. Whether her thoughts were negative or positive, either would draw me back into that part of me that I’d been trying to hide. I hoped with time, the twisted feeling in my gut at the thought of her would go away completely.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I still didn’t see a king.
The only king I knew was my adoptive father. Ever since I had met him, I always pictured him when I heard the word “king.” I felt like an impostor, struggling to fill his enormous shoes. The other council members had accepted me due to my insistence that Father wanted me to take the role, but I knew they would have preferred my sixteen-year-old brother Abir instead. He had a gentle demeanor that could be bent to their will.
With Abir not wanting to be king and Mother and Father’s insistence that I take the throne, I had no other choice. At least, I didn’t see one. The only way I could have kept Sophia in my life was for her to stay with me, but I wouldn’t force anyone else into the position like I had been.
I let out a grunt, annoyed that Sophia had crept into my thoughts again.
I left my bathroom and headed into the main area of my bedroom. Mother had wanted me to move into Father’s suite—the king’s suite—which was much bigger than my childhood room, but I couldn’t. Not yet. She had already moved to a different bedroom at the other end of the palace, so she should have understood my reasoning for not wanting to disturb any of Father’s memories in his room.
I wasn’t sure if I would ever move.
Mother was on the warpath again when it came to finding me a bride—something I wanted nothing to do with—but it was another responsibility that I had to take without my full consent. It was part of the job and the only thing that kept her distracted during her period of mourning.
A sharp knocking on my door broke me from my thoughts.
“Come in,” I said through gritted teeth. I hoped Mother wouldn’t start with me this early. I steeled myself to drive her away, at least until dinner, but I was surprised that Abir entered my room instead.
So much had changed with him since Father’s passing. While his personality hadn’t changed much, he woke every morning—much earlier than he had in years—and paid more attention to his studies and important goings-on around the kingdom. I doubted he wanted to be king, but he was finally stepping up in his role as a prince. Too bad Father’s death had turned him into an adult so quickly. His innocence was something I had tried to preserve when I could. And if Mother could keep Abir close to her breast as her biological little boy, then I was sure she would have.
Abir walked into the room and stood next to my bed. His hair was much shorter today, not the tousled floof that I always ruffled when I teased him.
It wasn’t the time or place, but I wanted to tell him that he looked like a younger version of Father.
Abir was the sensitive one, and I wouldn’t break that smile of his just yet. He was taking Father’s death harder than all of us.
“Good morning, King Luke,” Abir said with a smile.
I rolled my eyes. “I thought after the first time that would get old.”
“Yes,” I said. “What do you need? I’m headed off to meet with the council.”
Abir shrugged. “I wanted to check in with you and see how you like being the king.”
I wasn’t sure why, but in the month since I returned to Qatar for good, Abir had taken more of an interest in my job than he had when Father was king. When Father was alive, Abir took his life for granted since he’d been born into wealth and prestige. Maybe he was making up for lost time, or he wanted to be more connected with Father. I had no idea, but I didn’t want to dampen his mood by discussing the more challenging parts of being king.
If something ever happened to me, Abir was the next in line. Bogging him down with details would only scare him away from ever accepting the role, even though I planned on living a long life.
“It’s not much different than managing a company,” I said, equating the only other life experience I had. “There’s a lot of politics and sometimes arguments, but overall, it’s not that challenging.”
Abir nodded as if he understood. “Seems you fit right in.”
“I like to think so,” I said.
And I had, more than I wanted to. Father had been right to push me to make this decision. While I would have preferred to live a life as a prince, this was the place that Father had groomed me for my entire life.
I wished that I felt as fulfilled as he had. By my age, he was already married to Mother. For me, there would be a Sophia-sized hole in my heart until I could patch it up with someone else. The transition would have been easier with her by my side, but she had made her choice. I had to live with that, even at the expense of my own happiness.
Walking into the meeting room was still a new experience for me, even though I’d done it almost every day for the past month. As a child, the room had always been forbidden unless Father requested our presence. Those occasions were few and far between and would usually involve other officials within the kingdom.
I was used to meeting with people who didn’t see me on their level. I got used to it years ago when Father first gave me full access to our family company. I would butt heads with many of the older investors, but it never took long for me to prove my worth.
The council had been generous the first week of my reign, due to Father’s death, but they stopped holding my hand soon after.
I jumped into the job with the enthusiasm I had when I first moved to England and had to claw my way through the trenches until I earned those investors’ respect.
All five council members were in attendance when I entered the room. I wasn’t late, but they had made it a point to arrive earlier than me on a daily basis. I wasn’t sure if it was their solidarity or they’d given me the wrong time on purpose.
I didn’t show any signs of ruffled feathers. One of the things I didn’t tell Abir was that one man on the council didn’t fully respect my decision to become king. Since it was Father’s wish that I replace him, the four others fell into line, but the oldest, Jaabir, made his position known with his gruff expressions and demeanor.
I wasn’t sure if he would be happy to have anyone in the king’s seat other than himself, but there was quite a long line of succession to get him there. I blamed his attitude on him being ancient and resistant to change.
While the issues from the previous meeting were read aloud, I couldn’t shake Jaabir’s glare in my direction. I forced myself to ignore him as best I could when I really wanted to confront him about it. If he respected my Father as king, he should fall in line with the others and respect my decision to follow in Father’s path.
When it was time for current issues to be resolved, I took the opportunity for distraction by delving into my work. My word was law, and I took care with everything that I said, feeling the weight of Father on my shoulders.
It was similar to running a company, something that I could hold on to since it was what I excelled at in my previous life, but the opposition from Jaabir every single step of the way grated on me.
Even for the simplest of issues regarding the infrastructure of the country, he pushed against any decision I made. Most of his opposition made no sense. It was like if I told him the sky was blue, he would declare that it was orange.
The others in the room seemed to feel the uncomfortable cloud settling in over the room. The head of the council, Qadeem, listened to each council member appropriately but tended to side with me in most arguments. He’d been a good friend to Father, yet we rarely spoke outside of the meeting room. I understood his position since he couldn’t appear to favor me. I had to earn that spot. Over time, I would. If only Jaabir would work for the betterment of the country instead of himself, proving myself to be an effective king would be easier.
Jaabir’s opposition came to a head during the second hour of the meeting, and finally, Qadeem closed the discussion for the day.
For the first time in two hours, I was able to take a full breath. I wasn’t cursed with flaming red cheeks when I was annoyed, but sweat clung to my skin as my body temperature rose way past normal.
A month was long enough to deal with Jaabir’s insolence. If I was going to be respected, all of the council members needed to fall in line.
I charged over to Jaabir before he could shuffle out of the room as he always did.
“Jaabir,” I said, catching his attention.
Sometimes, he played the elder man card and pretended not to hear me, but today he was up for a fight.
Little did he know, so was I.
“Your Majesty,” he said with a curled lip.
I glanced across the room where the other four members were huddled together. I rarely saw Jaabir with any of them, and I suspected the other council members had had their confrontations with Jaabir in the past, earning him no friends. Now it was my turn. I outranked him, and he wasn’t going to take over my meetings with his selfish agenda.
“What is your issue with me?” I asked, getting straight to the heart of the matter. I saw no reason to beat around the bush with him.
Jaabir smirked, and I had the urge to slap the expression off his face. Instead, I put all that energy into clenching my fists at my sides.
“I don’t respect you,” he said bluntly.
“You respected my Father,” I said.
Jaabir blinked but said nothing.
“My father was your king and wanted nothing more than for me to follow in his path.”
“That is where Erol and I differed. It was one thing to adopt a child but another thing entirely to make that child a king. You have no royal blood flowing through you. You usurped your adoptive-brother, the true king. I have no respect for you, and I will stop at nothing to get you out of the seat as king.”
“You will do no such thing,” I said.
“Won’t I?” he asked, smirking. He shuffled away, ending the conversation.
I gritted my jaw. I had enough angst about taking the throne instead of Abir. But Abir never wanted to be king. Even Father knew he wasn’t cut out for it. I had taken the throne to make everyone happy.
Everyone except for me.
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