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This sheikh must marry the mother of his child!
Twenty-four hours before he's to formally announce his engagement to the bride his father has chosen, Sheikh Kadin Gabriel ben Kadir gives in to a rare moment of temptation. But when one night with Sarah Duval leads to pregnancy, he vows he'll be part of mother and child's life. His plan: replace one political marriage for another. He'll wed the captivating history teacher who arouses such powerful desire and keep his heart out of the bargain.
But Sarah wants a soul mate. How can she promise forever to a man who has sworn never to be ruled by love?
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Fiona Brand lives in the sunny Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Now that both of her sons are grown, she continues to love writing books and gardening. After a life-changing time in which she met Christ, she has undertaken study for a bachelor of theology and has become a member of The Order of St. Luke, Christ's healing ministry.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Twenty-four hours away from the deadline to sign a marriage contract...
The stark thought shoved Sheikh Kadin Gabriel ben Kadir out of a restless sleep. Tossing crisp linen sheets aside, Gabe flowed to his feet and pulled on a pair of narrow dark jeans. The cool light of a New Zealand dawn flooded his suite, a floor above the Zahiri consulate in Wellington, as he broodingly considered the concept of once more entering into the intimacy of marriage.
Marrying a wealthy heiress would solve his country's financial problems. The problem was, after the disaster of his last marriage, he had no desire to ever immerse himself in that particular hell again.
The morning air cool against his torso, he padded barefoot to the French doors and dragged aside heavy linen curtains. Dark gaze somber, he surveyed the gray rain drenching his last day of bachelor freedom. At that moment, like a fiery omen, the sun pierced the thick veil of storm clouds that hung over Wellington Harbour, illuminating a large painting of his twelfth-century ancestors, which dominated one wall of his suite.
Gabe studied the painting of the original Sheikh Kadin on whose birthday he'd had the bad luck to be born. A battle-hardened Templar Knight, Kadin's main claim to fame was that he had taken someone else's bride along with her diamondencrusted dowry. The captured bride, Camille de Vallois, a slim redhead with dark exotic eyes, had then proceeded to entrance his ancestor to the point of obsession. Gabe's stomach tightened at the remembrance of the obsession that had haunted his own youthful marriage, although in his case the possessive intensity hadn't emanated from him.
Once they were married, Jasmine, his childhood sweetheart, had become increasingly clingy and demanding, dissolving into tears or throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way. She had resented his busy work schedule, and had become convinced he was having affairs. When he had refused to start a family until their relationship was on a more even keel she had taken that as a sign that he regretted the marriage. The guilt she had inspired in him had taken on a haunting rawness when, after a tense exchange during a boat trip, Jasmine had stormed off in the yacht's tender, overturned on rocks and drowned.
The memory of the icy salt water dashing off rocks as he had attempted to save Jasmine started a dull ache in the scar that marred one cheekbone, a permanent reminder of that day.
Legend said Gabe's ancestor had a positive outcome to his passionate involvement with the woman he had married. Gabe's experience had been such that he would not allow a woman to have that kind of power over him again. As far as he was concerned, passion had its place, but only in short, controllable liaisons. Love was another thing entirely; he would not be drawn into that maelstrom again.
A rap at the door of his suite was a welcome distraction. Shrugging into a T-shirt, he opened the door to his longtime friend and Zahir's chief of security.
Xavier, who had just flown in from Zahir, strolled into the spacious lounge that adjoined Gabe's bedroom and handed him an envelope. "Special delivery."
Slitting the envelope, Gabe extracted the marriage contract he had discussed with his lawyers before leaving Zahir.
Xavier stared at the contract as if it were a bomb about to explode. "I don't believe it. You're actually going to go through with it."
Gabe headed for the state-of-the-art kitchenette that opened off the lounge. "There aren't a whole lot of options."
With the cold winds of bankruptcy at their backs and the remains of Camille's extraordinary wealth lost during the confusion of the Second World War, it was up to Gabe to restore the country's fortunes with another arranged marriage to an extremely wealthy woman.
Xavier shook his head to the offer of a glass of orange juice. "I would have thought that after Jasmine—"
"That it was time I moved on?"
Xavier's expression became impatient. "When you married Jasmine you were both too young. It's time you had a real marriage."
"The marriage to Jasmine was real enough." Gabe drained his glass of juice and set the glass down on the counter with a sharp click. As far as he was concerned, their marriage had been all too real. He could still feel the familiar coldness in his gut, the tightness in his chest every time he thought about the past and how completely he had failed his wife when she had needed him most. "This marriage won't be." It was prescribed and controlled, preventing any possibility of destructive, manipulative emotion. "Remember, it's a business arrangement."
Xavier, who was happily married, didn't bother to hide his incredulity. "You can't seriously think you can keep it that way. What woman will ever allow that?"
Gabe lifted a brow as he flipped to the back pages of the contract. It contained a short list of candidates and photographs of the pretty young women from wealthy families who had expressed an interest in the prestige and business opportunities inherent in a marriage to the future Sheikh of Zahir.
Xavier frowned at the list. "I still think you're making a big mistake, but I guess it's your funeral."
Gabe saw the moment Xavier realized the import of his final comment about a funeral. He cut off Xavier's apology with a curt word. They had grown up together. Xavier had been his best man when he'd gotten married, and when Jasmine had died, he had kept the press and hordes of well-meaning friends and relatives at bay, gifting Gabe the privacy he had needed. Through it all, their friendship had endured. "I have to marry at some point. Don't forget, aside from the money, Zahir needs an heir."
After Xavier left, Gabe grabbed fresh clothing and headed for the shower. He considered Xavier's comment that he and Jasmine had been too young to marry. He had been twenty, Jasmine eighteen. The marriage had lasted two years.
Flicking on the shower, he waited until steam rose off the tiles before stripping and stepping beneath the water. Now he was thirty, and as his father's only son he needed to marry and continue the family line. The prospect of a second marriage made his jaw clench. He could think of other ways to raise the money Zahir needed, Westernized ways that weren't presently a part of Zahir's constitution. But with his father recovering from cancer and wary about new investments, Gabe had accepted his father's old-fashioned solution.
Minutes later, dressed in a white shirt, red tie and dark suit, he stood drinking the dark, aromatic coffee he preferred as he stared out at the heavy rain sweeping the harbor. As cold and alien as the view was, thousands of miles from sunny Zahir, it was nevertheless familiar. Not only had his mother been born in New Zealand, but Wellington had been a home away from home for him because he had gone to school here.
Checking his watch, he placed his empty mug on the coffee table next to the marriage contract. Right now he had a breakfast meeting with both the Zahiri and New Zealand ministers for tourism. That would be followed by a string of business meetings, then a cocktail party and presentation on Zahir's attractions as a tourist destination at the consulate tonight.
Despite Gabe's resolve, he could think of better ways to spend his last day of freedom.
One more day—and night—as a bachelor, before he committed to the marriage of convenience that was his destiny.
* * *
She was destined to be loved, truly loved...
The chime of her alarm almost pulled Sarah Duval out of her dream, but the irresistible passion that held her in its grip was too singular and addictive to relinquish just yet. Eyes firmly closed against the notion of another day of unvarying routine in her teaching job, she groped for the alarm and hit the sleep button. Dragging a fluffy feather pillow over her head, she sank back into the dream.
The directness of the warrior's gaze was laden with the focused intent she had waited years to experience, as if he thought she was beautiful, or more—as if he was actually fascinated by her.
Strong fingers cupped her chin. Sarah dragged her gaze from the fascinating scar that sliced a jagged line across one taut cheekbone and clamped down on the automatic caution that gripped her, the disbelief that after years of being let down by men an outrageously attractive man could truly want her. The searing heat blasting off his bronzed torso, the rapid thud of his heart beneath her palms, didn't feel like a lie.
In point of fact, the warrior wasn't saying a lot, but Sarah was okay with that. After years of carefully studying body language, because she had learned she could not always trust what was said, she had learned to place a measure of trust in the vocabulary of the senses.
Throwing her normal no-nonsense practicality to the winds she lifted up on her toes, buried her fingers in the thick night-dark silk of his hair, and pressed herself firmly against the muscular warmth of his body. His mouth closed over hers and emotion, almost painful in its intensity, shuddered through her.
Dimly, she acknowledged that this was it. The long years of waiting were over. She would find out what it felt like to be truly wanted, to finally make love—
The shrill of the alarm once more shoved Sarah out of the dream, although the warrior's voice seemed to hang in the air, as declarative as his dark gaze.
"You are mine to hold."
An electrifying quiver ran the length of her spine, lifting all the fine hairs at her nape as she silenced the alarm. Blinking at the grayness of the morning, she registered the comforting ticking of the oil heater she'd dragged beside the bed to keep out the winter chill. She sucked in a breath in an effort to release the tension that banded her chest and the sharp, hot ache at the back of her throat. As if she really had been the focus of a powerful male's desire...
A soft thud drew her gaze to the leather-bound cover of the family journal she had been reading before she'd gone to sleep. It had slipped off the edge of her bed and fallen to the floor. The journal, which had been partially transcribed from Old French by an erudite cousin, relegated the dream to its true context—fantasy.
None of it had been real. At least no more real to Sarah than the dramatic contents of the personal diary of Camille de Vallois. A spinster and academic who had lived more than eight hundred years ago, Camille had been sold into marriage by her family. However, when her ship had foundered on the rocks of Zahir, she had made herself over as an adventurous femme fatale and gone after the man she discovered she wanted, a sheikh who had also been a battle-hardened Templar Knight. Camille had risked all for love, admittedly with the help of an enormous dowry, and she had succeeded.
Frowning, Sarah reviewed the vivid dream and reluctantly let the last remnants of the powerful emotions that had held her in thrall flicker and die. Camille's story had clearly formed the basis of the dream. Plus, the previous day, caught up in the romance she'd been reading in the journal, she had called at the Zahiri consulate and picked up a pamphlet about a scheduled exhibition of Zahiri artifacts and a lecture on their history and culture. While exiting the building in the middle of a rain shower, head down because she had forgotten her umbrella, she had run into a man so gorgeous that for long seconds her brain had refused to function.
By the time she had recovered the power of speech, he had picked up the pamphlets she'd dropped, handed them to her with a flashing grin and strode into the consulate. The hero of her dream, scar and all, had looked suspiciously like that man.
Her cheeks warmed at the memory of some of the graphic elements of the dream, the searing embrace and a toe-curling kiss that had practically melted her on the spot. It had definitely been the stuff of fantasies and nothing to do with her normal life as a staid history teacher.
In her ancestor's case, the dream had come true, but Sarah could never allow herself to forget that Camille's romance had been smoothed along by a great deal of cold hard cash. Love story or not, Sarah was willing to bet that Sheikh Kadin had known on which side his bread had been buttered.
Pushing upright in the cozy nest of her bed, she reached down and retrieved the journal, which included photocopied sheets of the original, written in Old French, plus the sections of the journal her cousin had so far transcribed.
A heavy gust hit the side of her cottage, rattling the windows and making the old kauri timbers groan. Pushing free of the heavy press of quilt and coverlet, Sarah inched her feet into fluffy slippers, belted a heavy robe around her waist and padded to the window to stare out at the stormy day.
The steep street she lived on was shrouded in gray. The sodium lamps still cast a murky glow on neatly trimmed hedges, white picket fences and the occasional wild tangle of an old rose. The houses, huddled together, cheek-by-jowl—some so close a person could barely walk between them—were neither graceful and old nor conveniently modern. Inhabited by solo homeowners like herself or young families, they were something much more useful: affordable.
Letting the drapes fall back into place, she walked to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea before she showered and got ready for work. Her tiny kitchen, with its appliances fitted neatly to take up minimal space, was about as far away from the exotic isle of Zahir as she could get.
As she sipped hot tea, her reflection in the multipaned window over the counter bounced back at her and she found herself critically examining her appearance. With her hair bundled into a knot, her face bare of makeup, the thick robe making her look ten pounds heavier than she was, she looked washed-out, tired and...boring.
Frowning, chest tight at the thought that at twenty-eight she was no longer in the first flush of youth, she peered more closely at her reflection. Her eyes were blue; her skin was pale; her hair, when it was loose, was heavy, straight and dark. It was the faded robe that drained the color from her skin, and the tight way her hair was scraped back from her face that was so unflattering. She wasn't old.
Although she would be twenty-nine next month. In just over a year she would be thirty.
The pressurized feeling in her chest increased. She sucked in a breath, trying to ease the tension, but the thought of turning thirty made her heart hammer. She was abruptly aware of time passing, leaving her behind, of her failure to find someone special to love and who would love her back in return.
On the heels of those thoughts an old fear loomed out of the shadows. That her disastrous track record with men wasn't about bad luck or bad judgment, it was about her; she was the problem. Perhaps some aspect of her personality, maybe her academic bent and blunt manner, or more probably her old-fashioned insistence on being truly loved for herself before sex entered the equation, was the reason she would never be cherished by any man.
Grimly, she considered her two engagements, which had both fallen through. Her first fiance, Roger, had gotten annoyed when she hadn't felt ready to sleep with him the week of their engagement, and so had called it off. Not a problem.
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