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USA TODAY bestselling author Olivia Gates introduces the first marriage-of-convenience novel in her Married by Royal Decree series.
Only one thing stands between Aram Nazaryan and the high-powered position he craves: the proper wife. Although this billionaire would do anything to return to Zohayd, the desert kingdom he considers home, marrying Princess Kanza Aal Ajmaan is too high a price to pay. Or so he thinks—until he meets Kanza...and she turns his world upside down.
After claiming Kanza as his princess, everything falls into place. But then she learns the truth. She may have married for love, but his vows are tainted by ambition. Will doubt, betrayal and mistrust end this too-convenient union?
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USA TODAY Bestselling author Olivia Gates has published over thirty books in contemporary, action/adventure and paranormal romance. She currently writes exotic, passionate modern-day fairytales for Harlequin Desire and dark, erotic paranormals for Harlequin Nocturne. She loves to hear from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with them on Facebook facebook.com/oliviagatesauthor, Twitter @Oliviagates. For her latest news visit oliviagates.com and oliviagates.blogspot.com/Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"You want me to marry Kanza the Monster?"
Aram Nazaryan winced at the loudness of his own voice.
Not that anyone could blame him for going off like that. Shaheen Aal Shalaan had made some unacceptable requests in his time, but this one warranted a description not yet coined by any language he knew. And he knew four.
But the transformation of his best and only friend into a meddling mother hen had been steadily progressing from ignorable to untenable for the past three years. It seemed that the happier Shaheen became with Aram's kid sister Jo-hara after they had miraculously reunited and gotten married, the more sorry for Aram he became and the more he intensified his efforts to get his brother-in-law to change what he called his "unlife."
And to think he'd still been gullible enough to believe that Shaheen had dropped by his office for a simple visit. Ten minutes into the chitchat, he'd carpet bombed him with emotional blackmail.
He'd started by abandoning all subtlety about enticing him to go back to Zohayd, asking him point-blank to come home.
Annoyed into equal bluntness, he'd finally retorted that Zohayd was Shaheen's home, not his, and he wouldn't go back there to be the family's seventh wheel, when Shaheen and Johara's second baby arrived.
Shaheen had only upped the ante of his persistence. To prove that he'd have a vital role and a full life in Zohayd, he'd offered him his job. He'd actually asked him to become Zohayd's freaking minister of economy!
Thinking that Shaheen was pulling his leg, he'd at first laughed. What else could it be but a joke when only a royal Zohaydan could assume that role, and the last time Aram checked, he was a French-Armenian American?
Shaheen, regretfully, hadn't sprouted a sense of humor. What he had was a harebrained plan of how Aram could become a royal Zohaydan. By marrying a Zohaydan princess.
Before he could bite Shaheen's head off for that suggestion, his brother-in-law had hit him with the identity of the candidate he thought perfect for him. And that had been the last straw.
Aram shot his friend an incredulous look when Shaheen rose to face him. "Has conjugal bliss finally fried your brain, Shaheen? There's no way I'm marrying that monster."
In response, Shaheen reeled back his flabbergasted expression, adjusting it to a neutral one. "I don't know where you got that name. The Kanza I know is certainly no monster."
"Then there are two different Kanzas. The one I know, Kanza Aal Ajmaan, the princess from a maternal branch of your royal family, has earned that name and then some."
Shaheen's gaze became cautious, as if he were dealing with a madman. "There's only one Kanza...and she is delightful."
"Delightful? " A spectacular snort accompanied that exclamation. "But let's say I go along with your delusion and agree that she is Miss Congeniality herself. Are you out of your mind even suggesting her to me? She's a kid!"
It was Shaheen's turn to snort. "She's almost thirty."
"Wha...? No way. The last time I saw her she was somewhere around eighteen."
"Yes. And that was over ten years ago."
Had it really been that long? A quick calculation said it had been, since he'd last seen her at that fateful ball, days before he'd left Zohayd.
He waved the realization away. "Whatever. The eleven or twelve years between us sure hasn't shrunk by time."
"I'm eight years older than Johara. Three or four years' more age difference might have been a big deal back then, but it's no longer a concern at your respective ages now."
"That may be your opinion, but I..." He stopped, huffed a laugh, shaking his finger at Shaheen. "Oh, no, you don't. You're not dragging me into discussing her as if she's actually a possibility. She's a monster, I'm telling you."
"And I'm telling you she's no such thing."
"Okay, let's go into details, shall we? The Kanza I knew was a dour, sullen creature who sent people scurrying in the opposite direction just by glaring at them. In fact, every time she looked my way, I thought I'd find two holes drilled into me wherever her gaze landed, fuming black, billowing smoke."
Shaheen whistled. "Quite the image. I see she made quite an impression on you, if after over ten years you still recall her with such vividness and her very memory still incites such intense reactions."
"Intense unfavorable reactions." He grunted in disgust. "It's appalling enough that you're suggesting this marriage of convenience at all but to recommend the one...creature who ever creeped the hell out of me?"
"Creeped?" Shaheen tutted. "Don't you think you're going overboard here?"
He scowled, his pesky sense of fairness rearing its head. "Okay, so perhaps creeped is not the right word. She just...disturbed me. She is disturbed. Do you know that horror once went around with purple hair, green full-body paint and pink contact lenses? Another time she went total albino rabbit with white hair and red eyes. The last time I saw her she had blue hair and zombie makeup. That was downright creepy."
Shaheen's smile became that of an adult coddling an unreasonable child. "What, apart from weird hair and eye color and makeup experimentation, do you have against her?"
"The way she used to mutter my name, as if she was casting a curse. I always had the impression she had some...goblin living inside her wisp of a body."
Shaheen shoved his hands inside his pockets, the image of complacency. "Sounds like she's exactly what you need. You could certainly use someone that potent to thaw you out of the deep freeze you've been stuck in for around two decades now."
"Why don't I just go stick myself in an incinerator? It would handle that deep freeze much more effectively and far less painfully."
Shaheen only gave him the forbearing, compassionate look of a man who knew such deep contentment and fulfillment and was willing to take anything from his poor, unfortunate friend with the barren life.
"Quit it with the pitying look, Shaheen. My temperature is fine. It's how I am now.... It's called growing up."
"If only. Johara feels your coldness. I feel it. Your parents are frantic, believing they'd done that to you when you were forced to remain with your father in Zohayd at the expense of your own life."
"Nobody forced me to do anything. I chose to stay with Father because he wouldn't have survived alone after his breakup with Mother."
"And when they eventually found their way back to each other, you'd already sacrificed your own desires and ambitions and swerved from your own planned path to support your family, and you've never been able to correct your course. Now you're still trapped on the outside, watching the rest of us live our lives from that solitude of yours."
Aram glowered at Shaheen. He was happy, incredibly so, for his mother and father. For his sister and best friend. But when they kept shoving his so-called solitude in his face, he felt nothing endearing toward any of them. Their solicitude only chafed when he knew he couldn't do anything about it.
"I made my own choices, so there's nothing for anyone to feel guilty about. The solitude you lament suits me just fine. So put your minds the hell at ease and leave me be."
"I'll be happy to, right after you give my proposition serious consideration and not dismiss it out of hand."
"Said proposition deserves nothing else."
"Give me one good reason it does. Citing things about Kanza that are ten years outdated doesn't count."
"How about an updated one? If she's twenty-eight—"
"She'll be twenty-nine in a few months."
"And she hasn't married yet—I assume no poor man has taken her off the shelf only to drop her back there like a burning coal and run into the horizon screaming?"
Shaheen's pursed lips were the essence of disapproval. "No, she hasn't been married or even engaged."
He smirked in self-satisfaction at the accuracy of his projections. "At her age, by Zohaydan standards, she's already long fossilized."
"How gallant of you, Aram. I thought you were a progressive man who's against all backward ideas, including ageism. I never dreamed you'd hold a woman's age against her in anything, let alone in her suitability for marriage."
"You know I don't subscribe to any of that crap. What I'm saying is if she is a Zohaydan woman, and a princess, who didn't get approached by a man for that long, it is proof that she is generally viewed as incompatible with human life."
"The exact same thing could be said about you."
Throwing his hands up in exasperation, he landed them on his friend's shoulders. "Listen carefully, Shaheen, because I'll say this once, and we will not speak of this again. I will not get married. Not to become Zohaydan and become your minister of economy, not for any other reason. If you really need my help, I'll gladly offer you and Zohayd my services."
Shaheen, who had clearly anticipated this as one of Aram's answers, was ready with his rebuttal. "The level of involvement needed has to be full-time, with you taking the top job and living in Zohayd."
"I have my own business."
"Which you've set up so ingeniously and have trained your deputies so thoroughly you only need to supervise operations from afar for it to continue on its current trajectory of phenomenal success. This level of efficiency, this uncanny ability to employ the right people and to get the best out of them is exactly what I need you to do for Zohayd."
"You haven't been working the job full-time," he pointed out.
"Only because my father has been helping me since he abdicated. But now he's retreating from public life completely. Even with his help, I've been torn between my family, my business and the ministry. Now we have another baby on the way and family time will only increase. And Johara is becoming more involved in humanitarian projects that require my attention, as well. I simply can't find a way to juggle it all if I remain minister."
He narrowed his eyes at Shaheen. "So I should sacrifice my own life to smooth out yours?"
"You'd be sacrificing nothing. Your business will continue as always, you'd be the best minister of economy humanly possible, a position you'd revel in, and you'll get a family...something I know you have always longed for."
Yeah. He was the only male he knew who'd planned at sixteen that he'd get married by eighteen, have half a dozen kids, pick one place and one job and grow deep, deep roots.
And here he was, forty, alone and rootless.
How had that happened?
Which was the rhetorical question to end all rhetorical questions. He knew just how.
"What I longed for and what I am equipped for are poles apart, Shaheen. I've long come to terms with the fact that I'm never getting married, never having a family. This might be unimaginable to you in your state of familial nirvana, but not everyone is made for wedded bliss. Given the number of broken homes worldwide, I'd say those who are equipped for it are a minority. I happen to be one of the majority, but I happen to be at peace with it."
It was Shaheen who took him by the shoulders now. "I believed the exact same thing about myself before Johara found me again. Now look at me...ecstatically united with the one right person."
Aram bit back a comment that would take this argument into an unending loop. That it was Shaheen and Johara's marriage that had shattered any delusions he'd entertained that he could ever get married himself.
What they had together—this total commitment, trust, friendship and passion—was what he'd always dreamed of. Their example had made him certain that if he couldn't have that—and he didn't entertain the least hope he'd ever have it—then he couldn't settle for anything less.
Evidently worried that Aram had stopped arguing, Sha-heen rushed to add, "I'm not asking you to get married tomorrow, Aram. I'm just asking you to consider the possibility."
"I don't need to. I have been and will always remain perfectly fine on my own."
Eager to put an abrupt end to this latest bout of emotional wrestling—the worst he'd had so far with Shaheen—he started to turn around, but his friend held him back.
He leveled fed-up eyes on Shaheen. "Now what?" "You look like hell."
He felt like it, too. As for how he looked, during necessary self-maintenance he'd indeed been seeing a frayed edition of the self he remembered.
Seemed hitting forty did hit a man hard.
A huff of deprecation escaped him. "Why, thanks, Sha-heen. You were always such a sweet talker."
"I'm telling it as it is, Aram. You're working yourself into the ground...and if you think I'm blunt, it's nothing compared to what Amjad said when he last saw you."
Amjad, the king of Zohayd, Shaheen's oldest brother. The Mad Prince turned the Crazy King. And one of the biggest jerks in human history.
Aram exhaled in disgust. "I was right there when he relished the fact that I looked 'like something the cat dragged in, chewed up and barfed.' But thanks for bringing up that royal pain. I didn't even factor him in my refusal. But even if I considered the job offer/marriage package the opportunity of a lifetime, I'd still turn it down flat because it would bring me in contact with him. I can't believe you're actually asking me to become a minister in that inhuman affliction's cabinet."
Shaheen grinned at his diatribe. "You'll work with me, not him."
"No, I won't. Give it up, already."
Shaheen looked unsatisfied and tried again. "About Kanza..."
A memory burst in his head. He couldn't believe it hadn't come to him before. "Yes, about her and about abominations for older siblings. You didn't only pick Kanza the Monster for my best match but the half sister of the Fury herself, Maysoon."
"I hoped you'd forgotten about her. But I guess that was asking too much." Wryness twisted Shaheen's lips. "May-soon was a tad...temperamental."
"A tad?" he scoffed. "She was a raging basket case. I barely escaped her in one piece."
And she'd been the reason that he'd had to leave Zohayd and his father behind. The reason he'd had to abandon his dream of ever making a home there.
"Kanza is her extreme opposite, anyway."
"You got that right. While Maysoon was a stunning if unstable harpy, Kanza was an off-putting miscreant."
"I diametrically differ with your evaluation of Kanza. While I know she may not be...sophisticated like her womenfolk, Kanza's very unpretentiousness makes me like her far more. Even if you don't consider those virtues exciting, they would actually make her a more suitable wife for you."
Aram lifted a sarcastic brow. "You figure?"
"I do. It would make her safe and steady, not like the fickle, demanding women you're used to."
"You're only making your argument even more inadmissible, Shaheen. Even if I wanted this, and I consider almost anything admissible in achieving my objectives, I would draw the line at exploiting the mousy, unworldly spinster you're painting her to be."
"Who says there'd be any exploitation? You might be a pain in the neck that rivals even Amjad sometimes but you're one of the most coveted eligible bachelors in the world. Kanza would probably jump at the opportunity to be your wife."
Maybe. Probably. Still.
"No, Shaheen. And that's final."
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Book Description Harlequin, 2013. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373732686
Book Description Harlequin. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0373732686 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.1047867