The Sheik's Arranged Marriage(4)

By: Susan Mallery

Jamal considered. The mysterious Heidi McKinley must be formidable indeed if his brother was willing to consider putting his new car on the line. But Jamal wasn’t concerned. He hadn’t met a woman yet who was able to resist his considerable charm. Both he and his stallion would be safe.

“Done,” he agreed and held out his hand.

“On the mouth,” Malik added, pressing his hand into his brother’s.

Jamal tightened his grip and grinned. “Leave it to a professional.”

“M-marry?” Heidi repeated, convinced she’d heard the king incorrectly. “You want me to marry…?” Her voice trailed off.

This wasn’t happening, she told herself as she shakily got to her feet. The room that had been so wonderful just a few short minutes before seemed to spin and bend. Marriage! She’d never thought of marrying. She wasn’t the type. She didn’t find men all that interesting, and to be completely honest, they didn’t seem to find her appealing either.

“Are you so very surprised?” Givon asked. “You’re well into your twenties, and you’re certainly sensible.”

Old and sensible. Two fine reasons to marry, she thought, trying to find humor in the situation. Trying to find something—anything—to keep herself from losing her mind.

“I am surprised,” she managed to say at last. “I never thought…”

“Then you should think about it now. You and Jamal have much in common. Granted, he’s a few years older, but that’s a good thing in a husband. You both love El Bahar. Jamal is a great one for history. You both like to ride.”

“I haven’t been on a horse since I was twelve,” she murmured, as if that would make all the difference in the world. Of course we would have married, she would say years from now. But I didn’t ride.

“So you’ll learn again,” he said. “It’s not so difficult.”

Heidi paced to the far wall, the one with the mural of the Garden of Eden. The tiny pieces of tile formed a perfect picture of Eve being tempted by the serpent. The red tiles of the fruit seemed to gleam with an inner brightness. Was she being tested as well? Was Givon the serpent, or was he the answer to her prayers?

“Jamal needs you,” the older man continued, his tone low and persuasive. “His life is empty. It’s been nearly six years since his wife died, and in all that time he’s been alone.”

Heidi didn’t know which comment to address first. Jamal might need something, but she doubted it was her. As for him being alone, talk about a joke.

“Your Highness, Jamal has dated every attractive woman between here and the North Pole. He’s a womanizer.”

Jamal preferred his women busty, beautiful and blond. Actually the hair color wasn’t specific. He liked them all. The more glamorous, the more famous, sexy and available, the better. Gossip columns batted his name around like balls at a tennis match. He was rumored to be a spectacular lover. Not that she cared about that sort of thing. And she didn’t really look at the gossip magazines either. But when she was getting her hair trimmed, there wasn’t much else to read.

“As I said,” Givon told her, ignoring her previous comment. “His life is empty. He gets involved with these bubbleheads. Yes, he finds them appealing, but does he marry them? Does he bring them to El Bahar?”

He answered his own question with a shake of his head. “No. They are nothing to him. He uses them and tosses them aside.”

“There’s a character reference for a future husband,” she muttered.

“He needs a wife,” the king continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Someone he can care about. Someone he can love and who can love him in return.”

“That’s all very interesting, but it has nothing to do with me.” Heidi turned to face him. “I don’t want to marry Jamal or anyone. I have my work. I’m back here in El Bahar. That’s all I need.”

“You need more. You need to be married so you can have babies.”

She refused to think about children. She would not be seduced by the promise of a family.

“You can’t tell me you don’t like him,” Givon said. “I think he’s your favorite.”

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