The Sheik's Arranged Marriage(6)

By: Susan Mallery

There was the sensation of more heat, which she ignored. She cleared her throat. “Yes, well, I can explain.”

Jamal Khan moved toward her, stopping only when he was within touching distance. She hated that she had to look up to see him. She hated even more that he was so appealing. The princes were walking, breathing, life-sized clichés. All tall, dark, handsome and rich. Jamal was the worst of the three in her opinion.

He stood at least two inches over six feet. He wore his jet-black hair brushed straight back in a conservative style that suited his strong bone structure perfectly. His suit was tailored, his tie probably cost as much as a month’s dining pass at her college. Don’t even get her started on his shoes. Handmade. Leather.

Heidi felt a slight shiver at the base of her spine. It was a dumb place for a shiver to begin so she ignored that, too.

“It’s been a long time, Heidi,” he said, holding out his hand. “What a pleasure to see you again.”

She briefly shook hands with him then laced her fingers together behind her back where they were out of danger. She hadn’t really felt any tingling when they’d touched. No jolt of any kind. Really. If she had, well, she would ignore that along with the odd sort of weakness in her knees.

“Yes, it’s been a while.” She glanced over her shoulder and stared down the empty hallway. “They’ll be here any moment. We have to talk.”

“They?” He drew out the word just long enough to make her realize he thought she was crazy.

“Your father and grandmother. King Givon came to see me this afternoon. He made these noises about us getting married. You and me. I don’t know why. We barely know each other. We’re not suited at all. We have to stop him.”

“The king made noises? Like grunts? Or was it a coughing sound.”

Heidi glared at him. “You’re not taking me seriously.”

Jamal had the audacity to smile. “No, I’m not. If you’re not interested in an arranged marriage then simply tell him so.”

“I did. He didn’t listen.”

“Then say no to me.”

This was by far the strangest conversation she’d had in her life…bar none. “Aren’t you upset? Doesn’t this bug you? He’s arranging your life. And mine. I don’t want this.”

Jamal touched her cheek. It was a casual gesture, nearly paternal. Even so, she felt her heart make a little thunk in her chest.

“I’m Prince Jamal Khan of El Bahar,” he said.

She resisted the urge to say “Duh.”

“It is my duty to marry and produce heirs,” he continued. “I haven’t met anyone I wish to be with so when the time comes, I’ll accept an arranged match. It has been this way for hundreds of years.”

“I know the custom,” Heidi said through gritted teeth. “I’ve studied the culture. That’s not my point. My point is I don’t want to be a part of history. Don’t you get it? Your father thinks we would be a good match. You have to stop him before he goes too far.”

Dark brown eyes regarded her thoughtfully. “Why don’t you stop him? Simply tell him you’ll refuse me.”

“It would be better if you didn’t ask me in the first place,” she muttered. “I sort of owe the king. He’s been really good to me since my grandfather died. Even before that. I would feel horrible turning him down.” She looked up at him. “But I really, really don’t want to marry you.”

“How flattering,” Jamal murmured.

Jamal had been prepared to meet Heidi the Horrible. Instead he found himself being almost charmed by a young woman who was much more schoolgirl than termagant.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” she told him. “Don’t go getting all male and insulted.”

“Male and insulted? What does that mean?”

She glared at him, then pushed up her glasses. “You know. Guys hate it when women are honest. You all need your egos catered to. It’s really time-consuming.”

“Ah. You have personal experience with this ego-catering?”

“Not exactly, but I’ve seen a lot of it.”

“Secondhand knowledge?”

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