Desert Sheikh vs American Princess Excerpt
Book 2: Jewels of the Desert
This was supposed to be simple, Sheikh Walid al Kalam reminded himself. Invite the American heiress to stay in his palace for a few days. Encourage her father to pay the massive debt he owed to Askar, which any honorable man would have already paid. Return the man’s precious daughter when the money was safely where it belonged. Use the money for the fast approaching expenses of the Nahr pipeline that would run along the Askar-Zallaq border.
This way, he could avoid contacting the sheikha for her assistance. More importantly, his brother would never have to know how badly Askar’s finances had been mismanaged.
The incident would all be over in less than a month. In twenty-nine days, in fact, as that was the due date of the fifty million dollar payment that he did not currently have.
Of course the idea of holding any person against their will went against all he believed in. To mitigate his guilt, he had removed every discomfort, and ensured that his guest’s stay would be as pleasant as possible.
Despite all his efforts, Miss Noelle—emphasis on the No—Oldrich stood before him in sweaty workout clothing, having thrown herself out a window in a useless effort to get away from him. And something inside him had wished to cheer her on.
A pinprick headache threatened to explode behind his eyes.
“What would possess you to put yourself in such danger?” He strained the limits of his self-control to keep his tone below ear-splitting. “You are under my protection. If you had died, I would have been responsible. I cannot have you running around my palace taking dangerous risks.”
Sea-green eyes narrowed at him. “Oh, why don’t you make this about you, then?”
This was about him, and about his responsibilities, as well as the commitments he had made. If anything happened to her, he would fail everyone.
He would fail Askar.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Very well, let us make this about yourself, as you put it. You could have died. Taking this risk was not worth the price you could have paid.”
She mimicked his arm-crossing. Yet on her, the gesture had the effect of pushing her truly spectacular breasts up, putting them on display. “Kinda fun, though. I haven’t done anything like that since I climbed our backyard trees when I was a kid. Of course my dad caught me and cut them all down. Besides, it was only three stories. I wouldn’t have died.”
“Five,” he corrected.
“Huh. Well, I didn’t look down. Everyone knows you don’t look down.”
“I reiterate that you could have died, which would have created an international incident.”
The infuriating woman smiled. “Hotel Heiress Dies in Mysterious Accident in Askari Palace. The press would have slobbered over that one.”
He allowed himself to raise his voice. “This is a serious matter. I have important guests coming tomorrow.”
“Wouldn’t want a nasty red stain in the courtyard. Embarrassing.”
“I did not say such a thing. I warn you, do not pretend that you speak for me.”
“Fine.” She jutted out a slightly curvy, very intriguing hip. “Serious matter. But a serious matter you created. If you’re going to kidnap me, I’m going over the side.”
“Over the side?”
“Out the window.” She waved a hand as if to dismiss his confusion. “Point is, you made this situation, not me. If you were in my place, you’d do the same. You just expect me to take your crap because you’re a prince. Not going to happen.”
“No, I expect you to do the logical thing because you are an adult. Your father will pay what he owes and you will be free to go in a matter of days.”
“You wouldn’t do anything different if you were me.”
Actually, if he were her, he would have no time to cut up expensive sheets and crawl down them. He would be kept busy running his palms over those breasts… Down her stomach… Under the waistband of her skin-tight pants…
“I would not,” he informed her, snatching back his attention from the dangerous places it wandered.
“Then you’re a sheep.”
She stumbled backward, and for an instant, he did not understand why. Then he realized. Without instructions from his mind, his body had advanced on her, forcing her to retreat. Right up against the wall, until she had it solid at her back and him blocking her in front.
She had felt trapped before? He would show her how he truly could trap her if he desired. He slammed his hands to the sides of her head. She was no model-thin wisp of a woman, not with her rounded hips and breasts that begged to be caressed—breasts now squished against his chest in a most satisfying way. Even so, he loomed over her.
“Do I seem stupid to you?” he hissed at her. “I am trying to resolve an awkward situation without making it into a public relations nightmare. People’s livelihoods are at stake. The reputation of both Askar and your father hang on what happens in this palace.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” She raised her chin in a classic pose of defiance.
An extremely good question. What did he think he was doing? He had never needed to intimidate females before. He had never needed to pursue, cajole, or seduce. Women came to him, for the most part because he was first the heir, then the ruler, of Askar. And perhaps because they found him attractive. The women who had offered themselves did so with full knowledge that he would make his ultimate choice of wife based on the woman’s suitability to the role.
And yet, seeing Noelle dangling in a treacherous position in the air high above his courtyard… Seeing her courageous and defiant… Some part of him had desired her success, even as he feared for her and cursed her stupidity. Had she thought his guards would not see her and rouse him? Even if she had made it to the ground, which he had to admit she had done, she never would have found her way out from the palace’s high walls. His security would not have permitted such a thing. But she had made the attempt. Against all odds and common sense, she had fought her captivity and taken him by surprise.
Broken and cut off from support, she gathered her bravery and risked everything she had.
Now, like Noelle, Askar must gather its courage and risk everything to survive.
“Walid,” came a breathy voice from in front of him.
Noelle’s face was very close to his own. Her eyes had widened to enormous green pools. Her mouth, moistened and parted, aligned with his own. Her breath touched his lips. Probably because he had bent his head to her. Exactly as if he meant to kiss her.
He blinked in confusion to find himself in this position. How had this occurred?
She darted out from his arms, ducking to effect her escape.
When he turned, she stood in the middle of the room, a rage blush pinking her face.
“I am—” What? How did he complete that sentence? I am sorry? He was not the least bit sorry for nearly kissing her. Only sorry that he had not. Why was he so drawn to this reckless female?
If he was another man, he might lie to smooth his way with her, but he could not stomach deception. An order. He had to give an order, regain control of the situation.
“Do not do anything else so insane, Noelle,” he warned. “Wait for your father to pay—”
She dared interrupt him. “My ransom?”
“His debt,” he corrected. “I assure you it shall not be long. Not as long as if you broke your leg and had to remain here for six weeks to recover. Or are accidentally shot as an intruder.”
Her pert lips drew into a flat line. It would be interesting to kiss that flat line. To kiss her to sweetness, or perhaps her tartness would do just as well. He shook away the unwelcome thought.
“‘Accidentally shot?’ Are you threatening me?”
With great effort, he remained calm. On the surface, anyway. “I am informing you of the risks you take. My staff believe you are my guest. They are not primed to shoot you.”
She snorted. “They probably think we’re having an affair.”
At this moment, he did not imagine an affair between them unlikely. He would certainly welcome that scenario. From the angry lines in her forehead, she did not have the same opinion.
“An excellent explanation for your presence here without your parents. I will have your things moved to the chamber that connects with my own.”
The words came out of his mouth as if he had no control over them. Yet he found the thought… pleasant. Pleasant, but strange. It was not his habit to jump into bed with women he did not care about. Physical pleasure without emotional content seemed… useless to him.
But if he moved her next to him, under his personal eye, she would temper her behavior. He had no doubt in his mind that she would. On the whole, the pretense of an affair was an ideal solution, allowing him to keep the true reason she remained in his palace secret.
If the lie became the truth… Well, he would not object.
“I don’t suppose I can talk you out of that,” she said. And then she continued muttering, words he barely heard.
“What exactly is a ‘scurvy swab’?” he asked. His tutors had not taught him such insults.
“It means ‘handsome gentleman.'”
He did not trust the sweet smile accompanying her answer. “If you insist on attempting to escape when you are to be released in a few days, then I am required to keep a close eye on you,” he informed her.
She gave a lengthy, full-body sigh. Some of her will to fight her captivity appeared to escape with the drawn-out breath. “I’m beginning to see your point. I guess I don’t want to get shot or spend six weeks here. You’re right. Daddy won’t leave me here long.”
Odd. She had never called her father ‘Daddy’ before. Not even when the man had been here with her. At least she began to accept his logic.
“I simply ask you to act in a reasonable way, Miss Oldrich. Treat this place as you would your home.”
She seemed deflated, accepting. Almost tired. “You can call me ‘Noelle,’ Walid.” She shrugged, and then folded her arms around her chest, holding herself tight. “Maybe I overreacted. Being kidnapped does that to a girl. I’ll try to be as patient as I can.”
There. She had come around. Excellent. She would cause no more trouble. Nor do anything interesting, like fire off sharp retorts to his demands, or jump off balconies.
He had won. So why this vague feeling of dissatisfaction?
“My palace is at your disposal. Make use of it. I will give instructions that you are my honored guest, to be obeyed in all things. You do not have to endure the humiliation of being a prisoner so long as you behave in a reasonable fashion, and you will soon leave this place to return to your home.”
“I get it.” She looked at the floor guiltily. “Sorry for making problems.”
Well then. Good. They had settled the matter. “I understood why you took the course of action you did. This incident shall remain in the past where it belongs. Let us forget it and move forward. Perhaps you will join me for dinner tomorrow night.”
“I’d like that,” she said.
After she had been escorted back to her rooms, he settled down to answer his email before retiring to his bedchamber. A sense of rightness filled him as he did so. All would be well. Her father would pay his debt and Askar would be saved.
And he would not be forced to face some of the more difficult decisions that would present themselves if he did not solve this issue within twenty-nine days.
Most things in his life went according to his plans. Why should this situation be any different?
Only later did he remember that he had meant to order her things moved into the room that adjoined his own. How had he forgotten that?