Saving the Sheikh
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Looking quickly down the hallway in both directions, Zhang pulled Ghalil into Jeremy’s room. Jeremy peered up from his laptop and said, “If you’re looking for someone to knock him out, my boxing lessons start next week.”
Zhang said, “He’s here to help us.”
Jeremy asked sarcastically, “Is that wise?”
Zhang dragged Ghalil over to where Jeremy was seated. “Did you find anything?”
Jeremy shook his head. “Nothing worth texting you about.”
Ghalil broke away from Zhang and looked over Jeremy’s shoulder. His face went red with rage. “That’s the palace server.” He scanned the document Jeremy was reading. “You’ve translated our e-mails.”
Zhang said, “We had to, Ghalil. There may be something in them that will reveal who the traitor is.”
“From where I’m standing, it looks like you, Zhang. You’ll rot in jail for this betrayal.”
Jeremy stood and moved to block the door. His mouth twisted with irony. “I haven’t hit anyone since middle school, but maybe it comes back like riding a bike.” He cracked his knuckles. He stood a good head above the young prince.
Zhang quickly moved between the two men. “You won’t have to touch him, Jeremy, because he’s going to wake up and realize that we are the good guys here.”
Ghalil asked harshly, “How do I know that?”
Zhang said, “Would I have involved you if we weren’t? Why would I show you what we were doing?”
Ghalil first studied the tall man who blocked his path and then Zhang who, as she waited, was poised to tackle him if he tried to leave. “You really think you can find the traitor online?”
Zhang let out a shaky breath. “Yes, if he’s not working alone. The problem is that we don’t know what to look for. If you read over the e-mails, maybe you could find something.”
A heavy silence dragged on. Finally Ghalil said, “Show me.”
Jeremy led the way back to the small work area and motioned toward the chair. “I have them all listed here. Dig in.”
With one last look at Zhang and Jeremy, Ghalil sat down in front of the laptop and started reading. He leaned forward as he became more absorbed in the process.
Jeremy whispered, “You shouldn’t have involved him, Zhang.”
Zhang muttered, “I didn’t have a choice.”
Jeremy said, “He’s just a kid.”
Zhang looked at the young prince and said, “He’s twenty. If people stop treating him like a child, he’ll stop acting like one.”
Ghalil said something in Arabic, then switched to English. “It looks like you’re right. One of the guards, Kalim, has been communicating with the general of the National Guard. It sounds like the border raids were coordinated. This is not good. They’ve been watching Rachid and looking for ways to discredit him. I’m sure they took the photo of you and Rachid on Dominic’s island. It looks like Kalim has been keeping the general apprised of my father’s whereabouts. Here, he even details how to attack my father’s dummy motorcade. Why would he boldly write about this in e-mails?”
Jeremy said, “Those messages were encrypted and sent as hidden attachments. Most people wouldn’t know to look for them.”
In shock, Ghalil shook his head. “A member of the Royal Guardsmen and he’s not working alone. Are they trying to wage a coup? Why just target Rachid?”
Zhang said, “Who knows? But we have to tell him.”
Ghalil stood and said, “I’ll do it.”
Zhang corrected, “We’ll do it.”
Jeremy jumped in and said, “I’m going, too. It’s always better to be a hero than one of the expendable extras.”
Zhang said, “This isn’t a movie, Jeremy. Stay here.”
Jeremy took out a small device and said, “You need me.” When neither she nor Ghalil agreed, he added, “Is anyone else tracking Rachid via his cell phone? I didn’t think so. Come on.”
When Rachid saw Zhang in the doorway behind the gunman, his breath caught in his throat. Couldn’t that woman listen to him just this once? Royal Guardsmen were the most highly trained soldiers in the royal military. There was a good chance that Zhang was going to witness her new husband die, something he would have given anything to spare her from. He briefly hoped that she’d see the gun and be smart enough to run, but when their eyes met across the patio he saw the truth in her eyes.
It would take more than a gun for her to leave him.
His heart twisted in his chest.
Ghalil appeared immediately behind her. Confusion swirled within Rachid. He refused to believe that his brother was involved in this, but why would he bring Zhang?
Unless he needs both of us dead.
His younger brother wasn’t as restrained as his wife had been. He said, “Rachid!” as soon as he saw him.
Hearing the younger prince’s voice, the guard turned his head for just a moment. Rachid tried to knock the gun out of his would-be assassin’s hand but failed. The guard’s fist connected with Rachid’s jaw and sent him flying back.
Ghalil rushed forward, but the guard turned and pointed the gun at his chest.
Rachid was on his feet in a heartbeat and approached the guard from the side. There wasn’t time to be relieved that his brother wasn’t involved. He addressed the guard. “I’m the one you want. You can justify killing me to yourself, but his blood will stain your very soul and you know it.”
Ghalil said, “Put your weapon down, Kalim.”
The guard said, “Your Highness, you’ve said yourself that if your brother takes the crown it will be the end of Najriad. The title should be yours.”
Ghalil inched closer. His face was tight with guilt. “I did say that, but this isn’t what I wanted.” He looked across to Rachid and said, “I never meant for this to happen.”
I know, little brother. “Ghalil, back away. It’s me he wants.”
Ghalil didn’t. He stood his ground and said, “But it is us that he will have to beat.”
The guard rotated the gun back and forth between the two brothers as Rachid continued his slow creep forward.
I can’t let you die for me, Ghalil.
Rachid stepped closer, drawing the attention of the gunman, and said, “No one has to die here today.”
The guard focused the gun at Rachid’s chest and said, “You’re wrong. Even if I die, it won’t be in vain because you’ll come with me. I do this for you, for Prince Ghalil and for Najariad.”
Rachid held his breath.
Ghalil jumped forward and reached for the gun. The gunman turned toward the young prince, giving Rachid the chance to grab for the weapon. In the scuffle that ensued, the gun fired and Ghalil fell to the stone patio floor.
Rachid let out a roar of rage and landed a punch that sent the guard flying in one direction and the gun in another. He grabbed the man by the collar of his robe, lifted him off the floor and sent him reeling back with another punch.
A bullet is too good for you. I’m going to kill you with my bare hands.
Before he could reach him again, Rachid saw Jeremy standing over the man, gun in hand. He said, “I’ve got him, Rachid. Go to your brother.”
Rachid rushed to his brother’s side and dropped to his knees. Ghalil was trying to sit up.
“Don’t move,” Rachid said in Arabic. “You’ve been shot.”
Ghalil grabbed at his brother’s hand even as his face began to lose color. He said, “This is my fault. I’m so sorry, Rachid.”
Ghalil lost consciousness and Rachid hugged his brother’s limp body to him. “Don’t die, little brother. Don’t you dare die.”
In a heartbeat, the courtyard and patio was filled with Royal Guardsmen. The gunman was quickly removed. An emergency medical team appeared so swiftly it was as if they had been called before the shooting. Rachid reluctantly released his brother so they could treat him.
It was only after Ghalil was lifted and strapped to a gurney that Rachid realized Zhang was by his side. He wrapped an arm around her and held her tight. Her eyes filled with tears. She pulled his head down and for a moment he lost himself in her kiss. He wanted to kiss her until she swore to listen to him in the future, or until the fear he’d felt when he thought he could lose her loosened its grip on his chest. As their kiss deepened he forgot everything except how much he loved this woman. Reality came crashing back in and he put her back from him.
The torment in her eyes tore at him, and he swore that he would never be the reason she felt like that again. He would keep her safe, even if that meant losing her.
“I have to go.” He motioned to his brother being rolled away. “I may not be back tonight.”
Zhang wiped the tears and said, “I’ll wait up.”
He touched her damp cheek tenderly. “No, sleep in the women’s quarters tonight. I’ll come for you tomorrow.”
She smiled vaguely but didn’t argue with him.
Had he finally issued an order she’d follow?
The thought amused him as he rushed off to join his brother in the ambulance. How ironic if she finally became obedient just before he asked her to leave.
Zhang was visibly shaking when her American friends pushed past the guards. Dominic was the first to reach her side. Jake was fast on his heels. A detail of their own security surrounded them, buffering Zhang and clashing somewhat with the royal guards. Weapons were drawn on both sides.
When a man’s voice boomed from one of the open patio doors, all of the Royal Guardsmen pointed their rifles down and stood at attention. The man who approached was familiar to Zhang. He was the same guard who had rescued her from her first altercation with Ghalil.
He bowed his head to her and said, “Your Highness, are you hurt?”
“No,” Zhang said in a shaky voice.
“Do you require assistance?”
Zhang fought the tears that were a by-product of fading adrenaline and said, “No, these men are my friends.”
The head of the Royal Guardsmen issued an order, and his men fell back to positions around the patio. As the guards withdrew, one man remained that caught Dominic’s attention. He tensed and motioned to his security to secure the one he didn’t recognize.
Zhang quickly interceded and said, “He’s with me.”
Jeremy stepped into the circle of Dominic’s security. “The palace guards have the gunman. I don’t think we’ll ever see him again. They were speaking Arabic, but I’m pretty sure they were telling him that he wasn’t going to live long.”
Dominic said, “You should have waited for us, Zhang.”
Jeremy intervened. “Rachid would be dead if she had. We cut it close as it was.”
The reality of how close she’d come to losing Rachid swept over her, and emotion clogged her throat as tears spilled freely down her face.
Dominic turned on Jeremy. “Now look what you did.”
Jeremy went toe-to-toe with Dominic. “Those are tears of gratitude because I saved her prince.”
Dominic was about to say something more, but Zhang stopped him with a light touch to his forearm and said, “He did save Rachid. Without him, I would be crying for an entirely different reason tonight.” She tried but couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. “When we walked onto the patio and I saw that man holding a gun to Rachid’s head, I thought we were too late. Everything I spent the last week worrying about didn’t matter. I couldn’t lose Rachid so soon after realizing I love him. But I didn’t see a way to save him.”