The Sheik's Arranged Marriage

By: Susan Mallery

Chapter 1

She was back, and she was never going to leave!

After four years of college and two years of finishing school—in Switzerland of all places—Heidi McKinley had finally been allowed to return to the one place on earth where she felt at home. El Bahar. Land of mystery and beauty, where past and present blended in perfect harmony. She wanted to dance down the main street of the souk and buy pomegranates and dates and clothes and all the wonders available at the marketplace. She wanted to put her feet in the sea and feel the heat of the sand. She wanted to breathe in the scents of the beautiful gardens within the palace grounds.

With a burst of laughter, Heidi raced to the window and pushed open the French doors. Her three-room suite in the guest wing of the palace opened onto a wide balcony. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon sucked the air from her lungs. It was June, the hottest time of the year. It would take her a few weeks to acclimate to the temperature, but even the sensation of freeze-drying like a mummy couldn’t dull her bright spirits. She was back. She was really and truly back.

“I had hoped you would become sensible as you grew up, but I can see my wish was a futile one.”

Heidi turned at the sound of the familiar voice, then smiled broadly as Givon Khan, King of El Bahar, stepped onto the balcony.

The old king, as much a grandfather as her father’s father had been, held open his arms. “Come. Let me welcome you.”

Heidi flung herself in his arms. She pressed against the suit jacket he wore and inhaled the familiar scents of her childhood. Sandalwood, oranges and something indefinable…something that belonged only to El Bahar.

“I’m back,” she murmured happily. “I have my degree, and I even completed two years at that silly finishing school, just as I promised. Now may I work here?”

King Givon drew her into her suite, then closed the French doors. “I refuse to discuss anything of importance out in that heat. We have air-conditioning for a reason.”

“I know, but I love the heat.”

Givon was nearly six feet tall, with the weathered features of a man who has spent much of his life in the sun. His wise brown eyes seemed to see all the way down to her soul, much as her grandfather’s gaze had done. She’d spent her whole life trying to please both men. Now, with her grandfather gone, there was only Givon, and she would have moved the world for him.

He was still a ruler known for both his wisdom and his patience. She’d heard stories that also reminded her that he could be cruel when it was necessary, but she’d never seen that side of the king.

“Why do you speak of work?” he asked, cupping her face in his right hand. “You’ve only just arrived.”

“Oh, but I want to work. That’s been my dream since I was little. You promised,” she reminded him.

“So I did.” He drew his eyebrows together. “Whatever was I thinking?”

Heidi sighed but didn’t try to cajole the king. She knew better. Besides, female tricks of the trade weren’t her specialty. She could translate ancient El Baharian text with a degree of accuracy that impressed scholars, but flirting…not her, not ever. She didn’t get either the process or the point. Except for the king and her grandfather, males of the species were little more than an annoyance.

“You are a lovely young woman,” the king told her. “Too lovely to be locked up in dark rooms all your life. Are you sure about this?”

She closed her eyes briefly. “Please don’t start the ‘wouldn’t you rather be married’ speech, Your Highness. I don’t want to be married. You told me that if I worked hard in school and learned all I needed, including attending that hideous finishing school, then I could have a job inside the palace, translating the old texts. You can’t go back on your word now.”

King Givon seemed to grow even taller. He stared down at her with a ferocity that made her instantly regret her words, even if she didn’t actually retract them. Bushy eyebrows drew together. She thought he might start yelling at her, and while the prospect wasn’t thrilling, she wasn’t going to cower from him, either. Her grandfather had raised her to be a McKinley and that meant being proud.

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