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The Sheikh's Bought Wife
Author: Sharon Kendrick

PROLOGUE

    ‘SO WHAT’S THE CATCH?’

    Zayed detected the faint ripple of unease which ran through his advisors as he shot out his silky question. They were nervous, he could tell. More nervous than was usual in the presence of a sheikh of his power and influence. Not that he cared about their nerves. On the contrary, he found them useful. Deference and fear kept people at a distance and that was exactly where he liked them.

    Turning away from the window which overlooked his magnificent palace gardens, he studied the men who stood in front of him—the guileless expression on the face of his closest aide, Hassan, not fooling him for a moment.

    ‘Catch, Your Most Supreme Highness?’ questioned Hassan.

    ‘Yes, catch,’ Zayed echoed, his voice growing impatient now. ‘My maternal grandfather has died and I discover he has gifted me one of the most valuable pieces of land in the entire desert region. Inheriting Dahabi Makaan was something which never even entered my mind.’ He frowned. ‘Which leaves me wondering what has prompted this gesture of unexpected generosity.’

    Hassan gave a slight bow. ‘Because you are one of his few remaining blood relatives, sire, and thus surely such a bequest is perfectly natural.’

    ‘That much may be true,’ Zayed conceded. ‘But until recently he had not spoken to me since I was a boy of seven summers.’

    ‘Your grandfather was undoubtedly touched by your visit as he lay on his deathbed—a visit he must surely not have been anticipating,’ said Hassan diplomatically. ‘Perhaps that is the reason.’

    Zayed’s jaw tightened. Perhaps it was. But the visit had not been inspired by love, since love had long departed from his heart. He had gone because duty had demanded it and Zayed never shirked from duty. He had gone despite the fierce pain it had caused him to do so. And yes, it had been a strange sensation to look upon the ravaged face of the old king, who had cut off his only daughter after her marriage to Zayed’s father. But death was the great equaliser, he remembered thinking bitterly as the gnarled old fingers had clutched at his. The stealthy foe from which no man or woman could ever escape. He had made his peace with his dying grandfather because he suspected it would have pleased his mother for him to do so, not because he’d been seeking some kind of financial reward.

    ‘Nobody gives something for nothing in this world, but perhaps this is an exception.’ Zayed’s eyes bored questioningly into those of his aide. ‘Are you telling me that the land is to be mine, without condition?’

    Hassan hesitated and the pause which followed sounded heavy. Ominous. ‘Not quite.’

    Zayed nodded. So his unerring instinct had not failed him after all! ‘You mean there is a catch,’ he said triumphantly.

    Hassan nodded. ‘I suspect that you will see it as one, sire—for in order to inherit Dahabi Makaan, you need to be...’ nervously, he licked his lips ‘...married.’

    ‘Married?’ echoed Zayed, his voice deepening with a dangerous note, which made the aides shoot glances of increasing anxiety at each other.

    ‘Yes, sire.’

    ‘You know my feelings about marriage.’

    ‘Indeed, sire.’

    ‘But just so there can be no misunderstanding, I will reiterate them for you. I have no desire to marry—at least, not for many years. Why tie yourself to one woman when you can enjoy twenty?’ Zayed gave a fleeting smile as he remembered visiting his mistress in New York last week and the sight of her lying on rumpled satin sheets clad in nothing but a tight black basque, her milky thighs open and welcoming. He cleared his throat and willed the hardening in his groin to subside. ‘I accept that one day I will need to provide my kingdom with an heir and that is the moment when I shall take a bride—a pure young virgin from my own kingdom. A moment which will not come for many decades, for a man can procreate until he is sixty, seventy—in some cases, even eighty. And since I believe it is the modern way for young women to enjoy all the expertise of an older lover, it will be a highly satisfactory arrangement for both participants.’

    Hassan nodded. ‘I understand your reasoning entirely, sire, and usually I would completely concur with your judgment. But this land is priceless. It is oil rich and of huge strategic significance. Think how much it could benefit your people if it were to be yours.’

    Zayed felt indignation heat his blood. Didn’t he spend almost all his waking hours thinking about his people and how to do his best by them? Was he not the most successful of all the desert Sheikhs because of his dedication to his land and his determination to be a peacekeeper? And yet Hassan’s words were true. Dahabi Makaan would undoubtedly be a glittering jewel in the crown of his kingdom. Could he really turn his back on such a proposition? His mouth flattened. He remembered his dying grandfather croaking out a plea for him not to leave it too long to produce an heir, so that their bloodline could continue. And when Zayed had coolly remarked that he had no intention of marrying for many years, the old man’s face had crumpled. Had the wily old king decided that the only way to achieve his heart’s desire was to force the issue, by making marriage a condition of the inheritance?

    Yet the thought of marriage made Zayed want to recoil. To turn away from its insidious tentacles, which could bind a man in so many ways. He loathed marriage for more reasons than a high libido which demanded variety. He loathed the institution of marriage with all its flaws and baseless promises and the very idea of finding a bride in order to inherit was something which repulsed every fibre of his being.

    Unless...

    His mind began to pick over the possibilities—because wouldn’t only a fool turn down the chance to be master of a region renowned for the black gold known as oil, as well as its prized position straddling four desert countries?

    ‘Perhaps there is a way in which the conditions of the will could be met,’ he said slowly, ‘and yet not tie me into all the tedium and inconvenience of a long-term marriage.’

    ‘You know of such a way, sire?’ questioned Hassan. ‘Pray, enlighten us, oh, knowledgeable one.’

    ‘If the marriage were not to be consummated,’ Zayed continued thoughtfully, ‘then it would not be legal and, as such, could quickly be dissolved. Is that not so?’

    ‘But, sire—’

    ‘No buts,’ said Zayed impatiently. ‘For the idea grows on me with every second which passes.’ Yet he could see the look of doubt on his aide’s face and knew very well what had caused it. Because Zayed was a man known for his virility. A man who needed the regular release of sex in order to sustain him—in the same way that a horse needed oats and exercise in order to live. He doubted there was a woman alive who could resist him in her bed and the idea that he could tolerate a sexless marriage was almost laughable. Yes, there were undeniably obstacles to such a chaste union but Zayed was a man who thrived on overcoming obstacles, and as he stared into Hassan’s perplexed face a brilliant idea began to form in his mind.

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