Innocent's Desert Wedding Contract

By: Heidi Rice


‘WHY DON’T YOU just find yourself a wife, bro? That’ll stop the old goat trying to force you into an arranged marriage.’

‘No, thanks, bro,’ said Karim Jamal Amari Khan, Crown Prince of Zafar, sarcastically as he knocked his brother Dane’s booted feet off the coffee table, which his interior designer had probably paid a fortune for. ‘Our father can’t force me to do a damn thing.’

‘Father’s a rather loose term, don’t you think?’ Dane flashed a smile so sharp it could cut concrete. ‘Seeing as his only participation in our upbringing was to get both our mothers pregnant?’

‘True but irrelevant,’ Karim lied smoothly. As the older son and nominal Crown Prince, he had been subjected to rather more attention from their father—including the horrendous summers he’d been forced to spend in Zafar after his mother’s suicide. Summers Dane knew nothing about. ‘The point is I have no desire to acquire a wife for our father’s benefit. If he wants to disinherit me, he can.’ In fact, Karim would be overjoyed at the prospect. The kingdom of Zafar held nothing but bad memories for him, which was precisely why he had carved his own path, building a billion-dollar business empire from the ground up by the age of thirty-two, and had not been back to the kingdom since the summer he turned sixteen.

‘Which would leave me in the firing line,’ Dane replied, the sharp smile taking on a rueful tilt. ‘Gee thanks, bro.’

‘Tough.’ Karim chuckled. It would serve his father right to end up having to declare Dane his heir. His younger brother was reckless and undisciplined and had even less interest in their family heritage than he did. While Karim’s mother, Cassandra Wainwright, had been a young British aristocrat, who had returned to the UK with him after the divorce and sent him to a series of tediously disciplinarian boarding schools, Dane’s mother, Kitty Jones, had pursued a jet-set life as New York’s premiere wild child after her divorce. And her son had reaped the whirlwind, living a life with no boundaries whatsoever. There were only four years between them but Dane had refused Karim’s offer to join Amari Corp as an executive and set up his own hospitality brand five years ago, which had been surprisingly successful. If there was one thing Dane knew how to do, it was throw a party.

‘I know something which might change your mind about acquiring a wife, pronto,’ Dane said, the wicked glint in his eyes making Karim uneasy. There was nothing Dane enjoyed more than messing with him—which had to explain why he had turned up unannounced at Karim’s mansion in Belgravia at eight this morning, after a red-eye flight from New York.

‘Which is?’ Karim asked impatiently, deciding to cut to the chase. He needed to start work, so he didn’t have time for his brother’s little joke.

‘The old goat knows you’re after the Calhoun stud,’ Dane said as if he’d just scored a home run.

‘How do you know that?’ Karim demanded. His pursuit of the Calhoun stud was top secret.

Michael Calhoun had died nearly a year ago leaving the family’s horse-racing bloodstock and training facility in Ireland with crippling debts. They’d sold a lot of their stock to stay afloat but he’d discovered a few days ago the business was finally being forced to go in to voluntary liquidation. And Karim had been preparing to go in for the kill as soon as it went up for auction.

‘Overheard it at an event last night in Tribeca from one of Dad’s many mistresses. Which was why I caught the last flight out. She told me he was…’ Dane lifted his hands to do air quotes ‘…real thrilled about getting involved in racing by buying Calhouns. Which we both know is code for he plans to screw you over on the deal to force your hand on the marriage front.’

Karim swore under his breath.

‘A phone call would have sufficed,’ he murmured, knowing his brother’s primary reason for catching the red-eye was probably to see him sweat in person. He refused to give him, or his father, the satisfaction. ‘But thanks for the heads-up,’ he added grudgingly.

He would have to lose the deal.

Which would hurt like hell. The Calhoun facility, even depleted and without Calhoun himself at the helm, represented a chance to enter the world of horse racing and build his own legacy—something he’d been planning for a while. The only thing he had enjoyed in Zafar was riding and training his father’s Arabian stallions.

But he refused to engage with his father’s games, on any level. The old bastard had pulled similar tricks in the past, forcing Karim to go head to head with him. Karim hadn’t cared, in fact he’d enjoyed finding ways to best the bastard at first. To show him that he wasn’t scared of him, that he had no power over him any more. And as he’d built his business, it had become easier to win. But as his father’s attempts to blackmail him became more desperate, more deranged, he had become aware that every battle was taking a toll on Zafar’s economy as well as his father’s finances. Once one of the richest kingdoms in the region, Zafar was losing prominence because his father had been syphoning off money to spend on this war of attrition. Karim might not feel any connection with his heritage, but he didn’t want to see the country’s citizens punished. So, several years ago, he’d stopped engaging with his father—by keeping the deals he was involved in secret, or bowing out if his father showed an interest. It had taken a few strips off his pride, but he knew the non-engagement technique was working—his father hadn’t been involved in any of his business in over a year. Ultimately, frustrating the bastard was more important than beating him, as it wasn’t his father who would pay the price.