Saving the Sheikh
Page 9

 Ruth Cardello

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A traditionally dressed older man Rachid had yet to learn the name of said quickly, “My apologies, Your Highness, but your father and brother are in the library and wish to speak to you.”
With that, fantasy time shattered like a glass dropped on a tile floor.
“Tell them I will be with them in five minutes.”
The man bowed slightly and closed the door after saying, “As you wish, Your Highness.”
Rachid turned to see Zhang standing in the middle of the room wrapped in one of the tapestries. “Rachid?”
“Get dressed, Zhang.” No use trying to sneak her out – his father knew she was here. There was no other explanation for why he would come to the oasis when they’d already made plans to meet at his palace later that day.
The castle staff must have called him last night.
And why not? They have no allegiance to me.
Zhang stepped forward. “What is it? What happened?”
In frustration, Rachid snapped, “Do as I say! Get dressed. I’ll return as soon as I can.”
Zhang searched his expression and apparently didn’t like what she saw. She said, “There’s no way that I’m going to wait here quietly unless you tell me what’s going on.”
Rachid was too busy tucking his shirt into his pants and hunting down his shoes to answer. If Ghalil was with his father, things were going to get worse before they got better. A quick check in the mirror made him groan.
I look like I spent the night doing . . . exactly what I was doing.
Damn.
He tried to tame his wild hair but gave up. It was more important not to keep his father waiting.
I should have anticipated this possibility.
His father would never understand a woman like Zhang. With any luck, her identity wasn’t known. The faster he got her out of the country, the safer it would be for her. Instinctively, he took a key off a small table near the door.
She hadn’t moved.
He groaned. “You need to get dressed and be ready to leave by the time I return.” She opened her mouth to say something, but he cut her off and said, “My father is here.” With that, he closed the door behind him and locked it.
The door rattled as Zhang tested it.
Rattled louder as she retested it.
A thud that might have come from an angry open hand smacking against the door revealed her feelings about being detained. As did the Chinese curses that followed him down the hallway: “Open this door, Rachid.”
A small smile pursed his lips. Each castle door had been built as a last line of defense for a family to hide behind if the castle were ever invaded and should be able to contain one petite, furious Zhang.
The door rattled again.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the luxury of time to watch her test his theory. He navigated the long hallways with purposeful haste. When he entered the library he walked directly to his father, gave a slight bow of deference and said, “Father.” Despite the look of anger he saw on his younger brother’s face, he greeted him warmly: “Ghalil.”
Dressed in a simple, traditional white thobe, white keffiyeh and black agal, the older man was an intimidating figure. His voice was soft, but a man like Amir didn’t require volume to make his displeasure known. With his hands clasped behind his back, he said, “I received a rather disturbing phone call this morning.”
Rachid bowed his head in acknowledgement. “You shouldn’t have been contacted, Father. It’s a personal matter.”
“I would say kidnapping is a family concern,” his father countered calmly.
“Kidnapping?” Rachid thought back to the role-playing he and Zhang had enacted in front of the pilot the night before. We were that convincing? He didn’t hide the small smile the memory elicited. Seriously? That’s why the staff involved my father? “Let me assure you . . .”
Ghalil interrupted, “It’s as I said, Father. He doesn’t care how this may endanger all of us. He thinks only of himself and satisfying his immoral lifestyle.”
How do you really feel, Ghalil? Rachid thought sarcastically. His younger brother’s opinion wasn’t a surprise or a concern at the moment, but the displeasure on his father’s face was. “None of this will endanger anyone. She came with me willingly and she leaves this morning.”
Ghalil continued his verbal assault and went nose to nose with his brother. “You think we care if she was willing? Victim or woman of no virtue, it matters not. She’s here and evidence that you’re not fit to rule.”
A hot fury seared through Rachid. His hands clenched at his sides. “Speak of me as you wish, Brother, but you will not mention her again.”
“I will do as I –” Ghalil started, pulling a fist back aggressively.
Rachid didn’t raise a hand to defend himself. He stood, holding his brother’s eyes, neither engaging nor backing down.
“Enough!” Amir roared before contact was made. “Control yourself, Ghalil.”
Ghalil’s hands fell to his sides. The young man spun on his heel and addressed his father angrily. “Me? He makes a mockery of his title and you correct me?”
The stern lines on Amir’s face deepened. His words were spoken softly but held a warning. “You forget your place, Son – and Rachid’s.”
Neither son needed to have that reprimand translated. Amir was reminding Ghalil that Rachid would soon become king. Angry red stained the younger brother’s cheeks. Rachid felt sympathy for him and a sadness as the chasm between them widened.
Amir ordered quietly, “Sit down, Ghalil. This conversation is between Rachid and me.”
Visibly shaking with anger, Ghalil did as his father asked. He took a seat nearby, across from his brother, with the bottom of his feet facing Rachid in an age-old insult: You are beneath my feet.
The move only saddened Rachid more. A brother was a gift. Would his always be an angry stranger? While he was amassing his fortune, Rachid hadn’t had time to get to know Ghalil. Only now did he admit to himself that he’d hoped his return would change that.
When Rachid met his father’s eyes again, he was surprised to see real concern there. “You take my title in a few months. There is no time for this foolishness. You must win the favor of the people, or you’ll have to earn it with your fist. If word spreads of your actions last night, it will be easy to say that you don’t care about the real dangers facing us from our neighbors. You need to be seen addressing these attacks, not partying with your American friends and using our castles like brothels. The welfare of the family must come first. What were you thinking, Rachid?”
A man like his father would never understand how last night had been about so much more than sex. He considered it irresponsible and selfish. Worse, he was right. I gave my needs priority over the safety of those I love. Real shame settled heavily on his heart. “I wasn’t thinking, Father. I’m sorry.”
His father approached him and laid a hand on his arm. “You’ve always done what I have asked of you. And you’ve done it well, son. You’ll succeed here, but it will not be easy.” He dropped his hand and said, “Get this woman out of the country immediately and speak to no one of this.”
He wasn’t the weak link in the room. Rachid looked over his shoulder at his brother, who stood in response to the unspoken question. Ghalil sneered, “Unlike you, Rachid, I would never do anything to endanger Najriad. My silence will be because it’s best for our people and our family, not for you.”
Am I not family? Rachid thought sadly, but said nothing.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. The old servant entered, bowed slightly and directed his announcement to the man who held his loyalty. “A thousand apologies, Your Excellence, but the royal advisor has landed on the airfield. I thought you should know.”
King Amir’s eyebrows met in question, but he merely said, “Bring him here.”
“As you wish, Your Excellence.”
Basir? Here? And Father didn’t know he was coming?
That can’t be good.
Dressed in a gold-embroidered blue thobe and keffiyeh, the royal advisor swept into the room. His white hair and weathered skin were a testament to the number of years he had loyally served the Hantan family. If Rachid succeeded in ascending to king, his would be the third generation to trust this man’s sage advice.
He bowed before his king briefly and said, “I have come with a matter of great importance.”
Amir greeted the man with a familiar a hug. “What has happened, Basir?”
The older man held out an international English newspaper and said, “I have been fielding phone calls since this photo hit the news this morning.” His father studied the paper for a moment, then handed it to Rachid.
There, in all of its front-page glory, was a photo of him carrying a flailing Zhang up the steps of his private plane. The headline read, najriad prince kidnaps chinese billionairess from corisi wedding. china demands her immediate return.
Rachid skimmed the article, which was full of lies from “sources.” The validity of the picture, however, could not be denied. Shit.
Ghalil peered over Rachid’s arm and jeered, “Do you still think your actions harm no one?”
Rachid looked at him quickly. No, he couldn’t have. He wouldn’t have. Yes, they had their differences, but his brother wouldn’t lower himself to this.
Amir directed his question to his advisor. “You’ve spoken with the Chinese minister of foreign affairs?”
Basir nodded. “And the Chinese ambassador – twice this morning. They’re furious, but they don’t exactly want her back.”
Amir nodded with understanding.
Rachid demanded, “Then what do they want?”
The older man turned to Rachid and said, “They’d like to see you publicly, severely punished or . . .”
Or had to be better.
“. . . or they want the two of you to marry immediately.”
Rachid swayed back on to his heels. Not the “or” I was hoping for.
Amir straightened and roared. “My son will not marry some tramp to appease China. If anyone should be punished, it should be her. Obviously she orchestrated this. How else would the news have such a perfect photo of the folly? Tell the papers she was willing and that there will be no punishment for my son. Let her deal with the consequences of her choices.”
Basir said, “The minister won’t be happy.”
The king replied, “No one is happy about this, but it’s done. I will not speak further of this foolishness.” He walked to the window and looked out, dismissing all behind him without a word.
Rachid stepped forward and said, “Father, I can’t let you do that.”
His father turned slowly. His features stern. “It is done, Rachid.”
Rachid went to his father’s side. “No, Father, it is not.”
Amir studied Rachid for a moment. “This woman is important enough that you challenge me, son?”
Rachid didn’t look away. “Father, it is with the greatest respect that I tell you that I cannot go along with your plan. She doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.” As he spoke, his resolve grew. “I promised her that nothing would come from our time together.”