“A fascinating character study that digs deep into individuals in different eras but tied together by the colors emulating from others.” – Genre Go Round Reviews on The Edge of the World
“Like eating a fresh lime sorbet with saltwater in your (sex-tousled) hair.” – Smallgood Hearth on The Edge of the World
"This novel is a phenomenal read. It is a book that I could never get tired of reading. This wonderful book, with its natural beauty, has got to be one of the best I have read this entire year.” – A Book a Day on The Edge of the World
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.76(h) x 0.89(d)|
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Chapter 1 New York, USA, February
Alex Soberano always awakened five minutes before his alarm went off. He didn't need to look at the clock on his bed stand to know that it was 5:25 a.m. when he'd opened his eyes. This never varied more than a minute in either direction. Alex often considered the possibility of not setting the alarm at all, since he hadn't awakened at any other time in years, even Sundays, but he still toggled the device on every night. No reason to leave something to chance when avoiding an inconvenience was so easy. He switched off the clock so it wouldn't awaken his wife, kissed Angélica's shoulder (knowing that this wouldn't wake her but would elicit the slightest sigh, a sound he adored), and got out of bed.
His home office was on the other side of the apartment, across from the living room. It had once been in the third bedroom in the sleeping wing, but Alex moved it when he discovered that his daughter Allie was such a light sleeper. He couldn't even type an email without hearing her stir. She needed her sleep, so disrupting her in the slightest way wasn't an option. And the forty-fourth-floor view of Central Park from the study was nicer in the morning, anyway.
Alex sat in his office chair, handmade by an artisan from Anhelo, the South American city where his great-grandmother Vidente had lived. It was Alex's souvenir from the trip he'd taken there with Angélica and Allie two years earlier to introduce his daughter to the land of her forebears. When the artisan learned that Alex was a descendant of the great Vidente, he begged Alex to commission a work, saying he would do the job at an enormous discount just knowing that Vidente's great-grandson would be sitting in something he'd made. Alex found the man's passion – not to mention his idolization of a woman who'd died more than ninety years earlier – moving, and he engaged the artisan in a discussion about his work. Once they came to an agreement on the specifications for the chair, Alex insisted on paying full price. People with a genuine commitment to what they were doing deserved remuneration; the world was hard enough for them already, even though the world would be forfeit without what they did.
Alex responded to some email messages from Asian partners. There was nothing terribly challenging in any of this correspondence. Asian markets had been stable for a few years now, and Alex's biggest initiative in that region – a cooperative with a pair of tech savants from Vietnam – was at least a half-year from beta testing, so this morning's catch-up was little more than letting everyone know that, as always, he was around and available if something should come up.
The correspondence with the Europeans was different, though. There was so much wariness about the "loose cannon" that had been elected prime minister in Léon, and this crept into nearly every message, even from those who'd always shunned politics and those who had no business holdings in that Western European country. It was a bit like the overheated exchanges he witnessed immediately after Brexit. If Romeo Ólgar wanted to make his presence felt quickly in the European Union, he had accomplished that mission. Léon – and much of Europe, for that matter – had seen their share of overreaching leaders over the years. Unlike in other parts of the world, though, it had been a long time since any of those despots had proven to be more than a nuisance and an embarrassment. Ólgar sounded boorish, but he probably wouldn't turn out to be any worse than, say, Berlusconi had been in Italy, not that he wished anything like Berlusconi on his friends in Léon. Of course, if he turned out to be like Mussolini – and Alex had to admit there was a certain Mussolini-like message in Ólgar's proclamations – then all of the concerns of his European compatriots would be more than justified.
Alex probably wouldn't have given it another moment's thought if it had been any country other than Léon. He had connections all over the continent, but Léon was special, both professionally and personally. From the fact that Legado, the country of his birth, was once a colony of Léon (and Alex spoke the language like a local), to Alex's business interests there, to his deep affection for the royal family, that nation had a special place in his heart and mind. It was still difficult for him to understand how the good people of Léon had elected someone as mean-spirited and tone-deaf as Ólgar, but one could hardly be surprised by any election anymore.
Alex took a moment to respond to a particularly troubled email from a Spanish associate:
Chin up. Your country survived Franco. Ólgar will turn out to be nothing more than a pimple on Léon's beautiful face.
Then he sent a couple of quick before-you-get-to-the-office notes to some of his New York staff and browsed his favorite news sites. At 7:30, it was time to wake up Allie.
Alex entered his daughter's room and kissed her softly on the forehead. This, of course, was enough to awaken her, and she uncurled slowly before tossing off her covers. Getting Allie ready to go to school every morning meant getting to the office later than he ever had previously, but he cherished this time alone with her. Given the nature of his days – and, increasingly, hers, as academics and extracurriculars took more of her time – these were likely to be the only peaceful moments they'd have together until the next morning. He was not about to miss them.
He made himself an espresso while he waited for Allie to come to the kitchen. As he took his first sip, inspiration struck, and he walked to his daughter's bathroom door.
"Pancakes?" he said.
"Really? Do we have time?"
Alex did a quick calculation. He'd made her pancakes on a school day in the past, but he'd always started the batter before awakening her.
"Sure. As long as you're completely dressed and packed up."
"Yeah, that would be great."
Alex walked back to the kitchen briskly. First true objective of the day.
As he put some butter into the microwave to melt, he remembered that he wanted to drop his dear friend Fernando, the crown prince of Léon, a note about planning a family dinner when he was in town in a couple of weeks. The Ólgar thing must have prompted that reminder. He'd take care of that before going to the office.
For the next half-hour, though, it was all about Allie. And the pancakes.
* * *
Colina, Legado, South America 1992
Alex had been to exactly one inaugural ceremony before. His parents had taken him to see President Marcador take the oath of office back when he was thirteen. That president had turned out to be ineffectual, serving only one term and, even at his young age, Alex had the sense that Marcador was going to be a footnote in Legado history. The man projected so little presence, almost as though he didn't have enough internal energy to put a persona out there. What Alex subsequently learned was that Marcador was a compromise candidate during a period of transition for his country. The story would be decidedly different sixteen years later, when a wildly charismatic candidate – one who happened to be Alex's cousin – would take the nation by storm and win the election in a landslide.
Alex could hardly believe the ceremony he was watching today had the same function as the one he'd witnessed as a boy. This one had so much pomp, so much music, so much color. Javier Benigno was easily the most popular political figure to rise from Legado since the late, ever-beloved Viviana Emisario, and perhaps the first to inspire the passion from the people that seemed to have been extinguished when Viviana's helicopter had crashed during a diplomatic mission. Viviana's death had snuffed the joy from a nation. It had done more than that to Alex, but that was a story he would forever keep to himself.
"Legado was always our most vibrant colony," said a voice to his right. "This ceremony has more hues than a Joya de la Costa garden."
Alex turned to look at the speaker. The man seemed to be about his age and height, though he was a bit heftier all around. Maybe this is what I'd look like if I didn't spend as much time in the gym, Alex thought.
"I assume you're aware that Legado hasn't been a colony since your great-great grandfather was a twinkle in his mother's eye."
The man flashed a heavy-wattage smile. "Oh, well, of course. But one never stops thinking of their children as children, do they?"
"Well, we're all grown up. And we've been a democracy continuously for more than a century. I don't believe our 'father' can say the same thing."
"I don't know what you mean," the man said, laughing boisterously. "The public elected El General to each of his nine terms. By an overwhelming majority, in fact. Usually more than ninety percent."
A huge cheer went up at that moment. Looking down from the grandstand, Alex could see that the new president's motorcade had entered the staging area.
"Yes, ninety percent," Alex said to his companion. "My cousin should find that humbling, as he only received fifty-nine percent of the vote."
"Cousin? I assume that makes you a Benigno."
"Soberano, actually. Javier is a cousin on my mother's side." Alex put out his hand. "Alejandro Soberano. My friends call me Alex."
The man shook. "Fernando Alfonso Trastámara. My friends call me Fernando."
Alex should have recognized the man. He'd certainly seen the heir to the Léon throne in enough tabloids. "They don't call you 'Your Majesty.'"
"God, no. They will hopefully never call me that."
"I assume that means you're wishing for a very long life for your father and not that you're expecting El General to come back from the dead."
The man beamed again. It was easy to see why women found him so irresistible. Between the smile, the future crown, and the massive fortune, what was there to resist? "No, El General is gone forever. Just to make sure, my father sends an envoy every day to dance on his grave."
Alex nodded approvingly. The people of Legado did indeed consider Léon to be close family, and the last thing that Alex would have ever wanted was a return to the days when El General dominated Léon so absolutely. Alex was barely in elementary school when the dictator had suddenly stepped down, allowing Fernando's father, Juan Alfonso Trastámara, to take his rightful place on the throne and to allow for a duly elected prime minister to operate the government, but he could remember his mother spitting invective at the television every time she saw El General speak. And while Alex didn't truly understand the cause of celebration on the streets of his hometown when El General resigned (and the only slightly-less-raucous celebration that happened when the dictator died eight months later), he would never forget the taste of the pastel con tres leches his mother made that night to mark the occasion.
"Very wise of your father," Alex said. "Is he here?"
"He wishes he could be. He thinks highly of your cousin. But there's a gathering of several European heads of state that Léon is hosting, so he of course needed to attend that. He sent me to represent the crown in his stead. He's accurately deduced that my one statecraft talent is waving and smiling broadly, so I'm the perfect man for this assignment."
Fernando did some smiling and waving at that point and excused himself. At the inaugural ball that evening, though, Fernando came up to Alex with two glasses of Champagne and offered him one.
"I noticed you didn't have a drink," he said.
Alex took the glass and tipped it in Fernando's direction before taking a sip. "I was pacing myself."
"I don't have the remotest idea why anyone would do that."
Alex grinned at Fernando's acknowledgment of his excesses. "Lots of family around. And I wouldn't want to do anything that might embarrass my cousin."
"Hmm. Interesting perspective."
"It was nearly time for another drink, though, so I appreciate the Champagne."
"Happy to be of service. So, I hear you've been conscripted to accompany me to Anhelo tomorrow for the hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony."
Just a few hours earlier, Alex had learned that his cousin, the president, had requested that Alex be part of the prince's travel party for the opening of a new hospital that Léon had funded. The request had surprised Alex, because he'd never performed any sort of official government function before, and there were surely dozens of people on the presidential staff who could have filled this role. Had someone seen Alex and the prince speaking at the inauguration and decided that Alex would be a good companion? He did notice his mother looking at them a lot during the inauguration and then he saw her talking to the president later. Maybe she wanted him to become friends with the prince? But he doubted she would have such influence on the new president, even though he was her younger cousin. Did President Benigno think this might help groom Alex for some future place in his administration – something Alex had never considered and wouldn't particularly desire, especially now that his career was kicking into its next gear? Regardless, he wasn't going to turn down the new leader of his native land, and some pomp and circumstance at the side of the prince of Léon could be entertaining.
"Yes," Alex said. "It appears they needed to tap the absolute best available talent for this engagement."
"I'm flattered. I was afraid I was going to get a member of Benigno's rotund retinue. Is it just me or is everyone in the president's inner circle at least forty kilos overweight?"
Alex chose not to respond beyond a polite smile.
"No matter," the prince said. "Tell me: is the Colina after-hours club scene as ribald as its reputation?"
"I wouldn't really know. I'm down from New York, and I grew up in Anhelo. I've never taken much advantage of the clubs when I've been to Colina in the past."
Fernando nodded thoughtfully for several long moments. Then his face brightened. "Care to join me on a bit of a research expedition after this event is over? Purely for cultural reasons, of course."
Alex lifted an eyebrow. "I believe our plane is scheduled to leave at eight tomorrow morning."
Fernando shrugged. "We'll make it an early night, then. In bed no later than four."
Alex had heard that Fernando could be a bit dangerous when out on the prowl, and Alex not only had his own reputation but the reputation of Legado's new president to uphold. Still, it was difficult to avoid getting caught up in Fernando's enthusiasm.
"I've heard of a few places that might be ideal for your 'research.' And I'm sure they would love a visit from the future king of Léon."
"Excellent. One condition, though: you really need to stop calling me the future king of Léon. I already get all of the reminders I need about that from my father."
* * *
Cap D'Antibes, South of France, 1965
Sandra wasn't sure why people took vacations. At least she wasn't sure why people from Legado took vacations. It couldn't be for the sunshine, as Legado's climate was exceedingly temperate and bright. It couldn't be for the beaches, since the shoreline in her homeland was pristine and plentiful. It couldn't be for the food, since Legado boasted some remarkable restaurants, and Sandra was sure that Legado home cooks were as fine as anyone anywhere. The Hotel du Cap in Cap D'Antibes was beautiful, and she appreciated her uncle's generosity in sending her to Europe, but the trip had been a long one and the experience, while entirely pleasant, hadn't been distinctive in any way. Maybe her expectations had simply been unrealistic. She'd been expecting the vacation to transform her somehow, to give her a new perspective on the world, and nothing of the sort had happened.
With only two nights left before she headed back home, Sandra wanted to try something different. Of course, her uncle had insisted on her being chaperoned, and her aunt's cousin Luciana had been by her side everywhere. Since Luciana was a simple woman, that meant early dinners and early bedtimes. Tonight, though, Sandra had pleaded that they go to the hotel lounge afterward to listen to music – several English pop bands were playing under the banner "Britain Invades France" – and have a drink or two. As Sandra anticipated, Luciana was snoring in her chair within twenty minutes, leaving Sandra free to roam through the lounge.
A group of boys in Beatle haircuts were playing Herman's Hermits' "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" on the stage as Sandra moved up from the back of the room. A number of men tried to catch her eye, but she ignored them as a matter of course. From the time she'd entered her teens, Sandra had had reliable instincts about men; she could spot the ones that wanted to take advantage of her easily, and she'd quickly come to understand that the way a man regarded her accurately predicted whether or not he was going to let her down or even be a threat to her at some point. So far, the French men in this room did not impress her, and the other Europeans were underwhelming as well.
She took a quick glance back to see if Luciana was still sleeping. Indeed, she was. Sandra knew from the experience of the last two weeks exactly what Luciana looked like when she was snoring. And how she sounded. Sandra was a little surprised she couldn't hear the sound of her chaperone's foghorn over the band.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Birth Right"
Copyright © 2019 Julian Iragorri and The Fiction Studio, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Studio Digital CT, LLC.
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