The Sheik's Arranged Marriage(3)

By: Susan Mallery

Jamal glanced at the clock. The U.S. stock exchange was about to come on-line, and he wanted to check his stock portfolio. The market had been a little volatile in the past couple of days.

The middle of the king’s three sons, Jamal was in charge of the personal fortune of the Khan family. In the past five years, he’d tripled their net worth. Some of their increase in wealth was due to a growing world economy, but it was also due to his own philosophy of investing.

“I have work to do,” Jamal reminded his brother.

Malik glared. He was the oldest and crown prince of El Bahar. If anyone had more to do than Jamal, it was Malik. Still, he couldn’t resist tweaking the tiger’s tail from time to time.

“She’s back,” Malik said, returning his attention to the ceiling.

“Who is back?”

“Heidi the Horrible. Grandmother told me the bad news. This means she’ll be with us for dinner. Dear God, what if I have to sit next to her again? She has that way of looking at a man. As if he’s slightly less appealing than a worm with sores.”

Jamal laughed. “A worm with sores? She said that?”

“She doesn’t have to. She gets this kind of pinched expression in her eyes, and her nose gets all scrunchy. And then she’s oh so polite.” He shuddered.

Jamal stared in disbelief. Malik was acting out of character. “You’re afraid of a woman?”

Malik sat up and glared again. “I’m not afraid. I don’t like her. There’s a difference.”

“She makes you feel inadequate?”

“Don’t go there, little brother,” Malik warned him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jamal could not believe a mere woman had his imperious brother running scared. He didn’t remember much about Heidi McKinley. She’d been around on and off most of his life. Something about her grandfather and the king being friends. “She’s a child. Father only pays attention to her because he never had any daughters.”

“Easy for you to say. You’ve been gone during her most recent visits. She’s not a child anymore. She’s in her twenties. Grandmother always sits her next to me. As if I’m going to suddenly fall in love with her and want to marry her.” Malik stilled. “Do you think that’s it? Are they trying to arrange a match?”

“I hope not for your sake,” Jamal said honestly. “Especially not if she’s as horrible as you say.”

“She’s worse. A prim and proper virgin who knows too much about everything. She’s studied El Baharian history and likes to talk about it endlessly. Her goal in life is to translate texts, if you can believe it.”

He could not. “Is she unattractive?”

Malik hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“You have to know. You’ve seen her.”

“Yes, but it’s not that simple. She wears these clothes.”

Jamal didn’t remember ever seeing his brother this disconcerted—and by a woman, no less. “Most females wear clothes. It’s tragic but true.”

“I don’t mean that,” Malik told him. “Her clothes are different. I’d say she dresses like a nun, but I don’t want to insult the fashion sense of the holy sisters. She’s fussy and wears high collars and glasses. She has her hair in a bun.” He threw up his hands. “Heidi McKinley is a dried-up, old spinster whom I will never sit next to again.”

Jamal leaned back in his chair and chuckled. “I must see this frightening female who has the crown prince running scared.”

Malik rose to his feet and reached into his trouser pocket. “You, my brother, are the most successful with the ladies, but even you won’t be able to seduce this one. Fifty dollars says you can’t make the Prune Princess crack a smile at dinner.”

Jamal rose to his feet as well. He leaned forward and pressed his hands against the desk. “I have a better bet. Your new Ferrari for a week.”

“In your dreams,” Malik scoffed.

“Your new Ferrari for a week,” he repeated, ignoring Malik. “If I kiss her tonight.”

Malik’s eyebrows drew together. “If you don’t, I get your new stallion to cover six of my mares.” He grinned. “One for each day of the week with Sunday to rest, of course.”

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