Hidden in the Sheikh’s Harem

Posted on Apr 14, 2015 in Books, Coming Soon

hidden in the sheikhs harem

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 Chapter One:

Prince Zachim Bakr Al-Darkhan tried not to slam the door as he left the palace apartment his half-brother was using for his brief visit but it wasn’t easy. Nadir was being a cranky, stubborn hard-ass, refusing to take his rightful place as the next King of Bakaan, which left Zach in line for the job.

‘Everything, all right, Highness?’

Damn; he was so preoccupied with what had just gone down he hadn’t even sensed the elderly servant he’d known all his life waiting in the shadowed recess of the arched windows.

But, no, everything was not all right. Every day that passed without a leader made their people more and more uneasy. His father had only been dead for two weeks but already there were whispers of some of the more insurgent tribes gathering for ‘talks’.

Yeah, like the Al-Hajjar tribe. Once their families had been rival dynasties but two centuries ago the Darkhans had defeated the Hajjars in a brutal war, creating resentments that still remained. But Zach knew that the current leader of the tribe—Mohamed Hajjar—hated his father, not only because of their history, but because he held his father responsible for the death of his pregnant wife ten years ago. And probably his father had been partly responsible because, Allah knew, he had been responsible for the death of Nadir’s mother for entirely different reasons.

The fact was their father had been a miserly tyrant who’d ruled through fear and had been ruthless when he didn’t get his own way. As a result Bakaan was stuck in the dark ages, both in its laws and infrastructure, and it was going to be an enormous challenge to pull it into the twenty-first century.

A challenge that his brother was better suited to take on than Zach. And not just because Nadir was politically savvy with the boardroom instincts of a Great White, but because it was his rightful place as the eldest son. With Nadir taking charge it would also free Zach up to do what he did best – creating and managing change on a street level where he could do the most good.

Something he’d already started doing after his delicate mother had begged him to come home five years ago because Bakaan had been on the brink of civil war. The cause of the unrest had stemmed from a rogue publication started by someone in one of the mountain tribes detailing his father’s failings and calling for change. There wasn’t much in the publication Zach could argue with, but he’d done his duty and settled the unrest in his father’s favour. Then, appalled at the state his country was in, he’d set aside his Western lifestyle – which included a very successful speedboat-racing hobby – and stayed, working behind the scenes to do what he could until his increasingly narcissistic and paranoid father had either seen sense or died. Death had come first and the only thing Zach felt was hollow inside. Hollow for the man who had only ever seen him as the spare to the throne, and not a very worthy one at that.

‘Highness?’

‘Sorry, Staph.’ Zach shook off the memories he didn’t want to delve into and started striding towards his own private wing of the palace, Staph quick-stepping to keep pace with him. ‘But, no, everything is not all right. My brother is proving to be stubborn.’

‘Ah, he does not wish to return to Bakaan?’

No, he did not. Zach knew Nadir had good reason for not wanting to but he also knew that his brother was born to be king and that if he could get passed the bitterness he felt for their father he would want to rule their small kingdom. Realising that Staph was having trouble keeping pace with him, Zach slowed. ‘He has some other considerations to think of right now,’ he hedged.

Like an infant daughter he hadn’t known about and the mother he was set on marrying. Now, there had been a revelation to shock the hell out of Zach. Out of the two of them it was he who believed in love and marriage, while Nadir thought the concept had been created by the masses to counter boredom and a lack of productivity. Zach didn’t believe that. He knew that one day he’d have a family who he’d treat a lot better than their old man had treated his.

In fact, he’d nearly proposed to a woman once; right before he’d been called home. Amy Anderson had ticked all his boxes – sophisticated, polished and blonde. Their courtship had gone as smoothly as a well-oiled piece of German machinery and he still didn’t know what had made him pull back. Nadir had been no help at the time, claiming that Zach had a tendency to choose women who were all wrong for him so that he didn’t have to make a commitment at all.

Zach bid Staph goodnight and strode into his apartment. As if he’d ever take relationship advice from a confirmed bachelor. Or confirmed ex-bachelor, so it seemed.

Shedding his clothes on the way to the shower, he doused himself in steaming hot water before lying on his bed and willing himself to sleep. He’d agreed to meet his brother the following lunchtime so that Nadir could abdicate in front of the council but Zach was hoping he would see sense way before then.

When a message pinged into his phone, he immediately reached for the distraction and saw it was from a good friend he used to race super-boats with, Damian Masters:

 

Check email for party invite. Ibiza. Also, just relented and gave Princess Barbie your private email address. Hope that’s okay. D’Man

 

Well, well, well. Zach wasn’t one for all that ‘signs and destiny’ rubbish but he’d just been thinking about Amy Anderson – or Princess Barbie as his friends had unhelpfully nicknamed her – and now here she was.

Clicking onto his email list, he found hers and opened it.

 

Hiya Zach, Amy here.

Long time, no chat. I hear you’re going to Damian’s party in Ibiza. I really hope to see you there. Catch up on old times perhaps???

Love Amy xxx

 

A wry smile crossed his face. If all those question marks and kisses were any indication she wanted to do more than “catch up” on old times. But did he?

He laced his hands behind his head. He might not have thought of her much over the last five years, but what did that matter? It would be interesting to see her again and see how he felt. See if he still thought she should be the mother of his future children.

Almost distractedly he sent a short reply indicating that if he went to the party they would talk but instead of feeling better he felt worse.

Sick of the thoughts batting back and forth inside his head, and the restlessness that had invaded his usually upbeat take on life since his father’s death, he gave up on sleep,, flung on jeans and a shirt, and headed out to the palace garage. Once there he jumped into an SUV and waved his security detail off as he turned the car towards the vast, silent desert beyond the city. Before he even knew he was thinking about it, he turned the car off-road and sped down one enormous sand dune after another, lit up in peaks and shadows by the light of the full moon.

Feeling his agitated mood ebb away, he let out a primal roar and pressed the accelerator flat to the floor.

Two hours later he disgustedly tossed the empty jerry can into the back of the car and swore profoundly. He hadn’t realised how long he’d been out or how far he’d come and now he was stranded in the desert without any juice and no mobile phone reception.

No doubt his father would have put his impulsivity down to arrogance and his cavalier attitude to life. Zach just put it down to stupidity. He knew better than to head into the desert without a back-up plan.

Hell.

Just then the soft whisper of movement had him turning as a dozen or so horsemen appeared on the horizon. Dressed all in black, with their faces covered by traditional keffiyehs to keep the sand out of their mouths and noses, he couldn’t tell if they were friend or foe.

When all twenty of them lined up in front of him and sat motionless without saying a word, he thought probably foe.

Slowly, he walked his gaze over the line up. Probably he could take ten of them, given that he had a sword and a pistol with him. Probably he should try diplomacy first.

‘I don’t suppose one of you gentlemen has a jerry can full of petrol strapped to one of those fine beasts, do you?’

The creak of a leather saddle brought his attention back to the thickset stranger positioned at the centre of the group and who he had already picked as the leader. ‘You are Prince Zachim Al Darkhan, pride of the desert and heir to the throne, are you not?’

Well, his father would probably argue with the antiquated ‘pride of the desert’ title, and he wasn’t the direct heir, but he didn’t think now was the time to quibble over semantics. And he already knew from his tone that the onyx-eyed stranger had figured out who he was. ‘I am.’

‘Well, this is fortuitous,’ the old man declared and Zach could hear the smile in his voice even if he couldn’t see it behind the dark cloth.

The wind picked up slightly but the night remained beautifully clear, full of stars and that big old moon that had beckoned him to leave the palace and burn up some of his frustrated energy on one of his favourite pastimes.

The old stranger leaned towards one of the other men who dismounted slowly from his horse. Of medium height and build, the younger man squared off in front of Zach, his legs braced wide. Zach kept his expression as impassive as he’d held it the whole time. If they were going to try and take him one at a time, this was going to be a cake walk.

Then the other eighteen dismounted.

Okay, now that was more like it. Pity his weapons were in the car.

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