The Sheik's Arranged Marriage(2)

By: Susan Mallery

“Minx,” the king said at last with a sigh. Then he touched her cheek. “All right. You may work on your precious texts.”

“You won’t be sorry,” she said quickly. “There are so many to translate. We have to capture the information quickly before the papers are all destroyed. Time and the elements have weakened many of the fibers. I want to get everything photographed, then stored in a computer data bank. If we—”

He held up a hand to stop her. “Spare me the technical details. It is an ambitious project. One I’m sure you’ll do well. In the meantime, I have something else I wish to discuss with you.”

He moved to a sofa opposite the French doors and sat down. When he patted a cushion next to him, she did as he suggested and settled next to him.

He took her hand in his. “How old are you now?” he asked, staring into her face.

What an odd question. Still, it didn’t occur to her not to answer. He was the king after all. “Twenty-five.”

“That old.” He nodded. “You’ve never married.”

Heidi laughed, then shook her head. “Not me, Your Highness. I’m not the type. I’m far too independent to be happy as someone’s wife. I have no interest in cooking or cleaning. Worse, I refuse to let decisions be made for me by someone simply because he’s male. It’s ridiculous.”

She paused, carefully withdrew her hand from his, then cleared her throat. Oops. The king was a man and he would not approve of her thoughts on his gender. King Givon might have successfully steered his country into the new millennium, but he was in many ways the essence of El Bahar, which meant some of his world was still anchored in the past.

“I mean no disrespect,” she added hastily. “Your Highness isn’t like other men, and he would—”

The king held up a hand to stop her again. “I understand. You were raised in the West, which means you have different ideas about many things. Your grandfather allowed you to make your own decisions much of the time. Your thoughts about marriage are not unexpected.” He glanced at her, then looked out the French doors.

Heidi followed his gaze and found herself caught up in the magical view. She could see clear to the horizon. The deep blue of the Arabian Sea stretched out before her. It was the most beautiful vista imaginable, she thought dreamily. So perfect, so heavenly, so—

“What about children?” the king asked.

Heidi blinked. “Children?”

“How will you have them without a husband?”

There were probably dozens of ways to do that, Heidi thought, but she knew that wasn’t what the king meant. Would she be comfortable being a single mother? Heidi rubbed her bottom lip as she thought. Maybe…probably not. That required a strength of character she wasn’t sure she possessed. And she did really want children. They were the only upside to marriage that she could see.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I haven’t thought that much about it. Why do you ask?”

“I have a problem,” Givon told her. “One only you can help me with.”

He paused just long enough to let her know this was a most delicate issue. Which was also long enough for her to remember how much she owed the king. He had always been a wonderful friend to her and her grandfather. As a child, she’d spent part of every summer in El Bahar. When her grandfather had died six years ago, King Givon had been the one to make all the arrangements, to hold her while she cried, then to help her get ready for college. He’d had a kingdom to run, yet he’d taken her to New York so she could shop for clothes. Then he’d personally seen her settled into her dormitory. He was the one—the only one—who now remembered her birthday and made sure she knew she was always welcome in El Bahar.

“I will do anything,” she told him and meant it.

King Givon smiled. “Very good. I was hoping you would say that. You see, I would like you to marry my son, Jamal.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Jamal Khan asked as he leaned back in his leather office chair.

His older brother, Malik, stretched out on the sofa at the far end of the room. He propped his feet on the armrest and stared gloomily at the ceiling. “You don’t want to know.”

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