Rescued by the Sheikh(5)

By: Jennifer Lewis

Zadir ran a hand through his already tousled hair. “I think we’ve found the real reason our father decided to split the throne between the three of us. He wasn’t sure which—if any—of us he could count on to come back and stay.”

Osman frowned. He’d secretly dreaded his father’s death, not out of filial devotion but because of the responsibilities that came with his passing. As the oldest son he’d long been expected to ascend the ancient throne of Ubar in the tradition of his ancestors. It had been a slap in the face when he discovered that his father had rewritten the Monarchic Accord to divide their nation into three equal-sized principalities, promising one to each of his brothers as well.

He had half a mind to wash his hands of Ubar and its problems and head back to New York. Then something more primitive—stupidity, probably—tugged at his heart and made him determined to ascend the basalt throne of his ancestors.

“Our father may have had a heart of stone, but he was a very intelligent man. I think he knew that if he got the three of us here together we’d figure out a way to see this thing through.”

Amahd frowned. “Perhaps he intended for us to prevent each other from making rash mistakes like marrying a foreigner.”

Osman glared at his brother. “Don’t be such a stick in the mud. Besides, Ubarite tradition tells us that we will feel the call of destiny when we see our intended mate.”

Amahd shook his head. “You’ve barely met her.”

Zadir smiled. “It sounds like our brother has fallen victim to love at first sight. What’s her name again?”

“Samantha.” He tested the word on his tongue. He liked it. Substantial and a little hard to handle, just like its owner. Seducing her promised to be a fun challenge. “She’s making a documentary about the festival, so she must be interested in our culture.”

“That sounds promising enough to me.” Zadir raised his coffee cup.

“You’ve both lost your minds.” Amahd inhaled deeply. “Choosing a bride is a great responsibility, especially when we need to set an example for everyone in the country. There are many beautiful Ubarite women who’d love to be queen.”

“Tell me about it.” Osman raised a brow. “I’m tired of gold diggers throwing themselves at me. If anything, Samantha has done the opposite so far. In fact she’s been rather rude.”

“Maybe she’s rude because she knows you’re a king. Americans hate monarchs.”

“Yes.” He’d enjoyed the stunned look in her eyes when he’d suggested that she might join the ruling family.

She hadn’t bothered to reply. No doubt she assumed he was joking. Maybe he was teasing her at that moment, but already the prospect of pursuing her had seeded itself in his heart.

Since the news about his father’s death four months ago had made the rounds, women were practically climbing up to the palace windows on ladders trying to get an audience with him. It was not likely these crown-seeking ladies were the kind of partner and soul mate he craved yet seemed unable to find.

“I think she’s cute.” Zadir, a connoisseur of women himself, grinned. “I saw her arrive.”

“What about that guy she’s with?” Amahd was always more cautious. Trying to figure out the angles before jumping in.

“What about him?” Osman stretched his arms and shoulders. “She works with him. If anything, his presence here will give her the confidence to relax in our midst.”

“He’s her boyfriend.” Amahd poured himself a tiny cup of coffee from the tall brass urn.

“No, he isn’t.” Osman frowned. “A woman like Samantha would never be interested in such a… wimp.”

Zadir chuckled. “Whether she is or not, they’re together. I saw her kiss him when they went into their rooms.”

“What?” Indignation flashed through him. If he didn’t know better, he’d almost think it was jealousy. But since he’d barely even met her, that was impossible. “If they’re a couple, why didn’t they ask to stay together?”

“Perhaps they’re aware that unmarried couples shouldn’t cohabitate in our culture,” said Amahd. “And she just doesn’t want any trouble.”

Osman stood and paced across the dimly lit space. Samantha and that feeble excuse for a man? On the other hand, American women did have some strange criteria for choosing their mates. Someone had told him that they considered a sense of humor to be the most important characteristic in a man.

A sense of humor? That wouldn’t get you too far in the heat of battle.

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