“This is an impossible situation,” King Mukhtar of El Deharia announced as he paced the width of his private chambers.
Princess Lina watched her brother, thinking it would be impossible for him to pace the length of his chambers—the room was so big, she would probably lose sight of him. Ah, the trials of being king.
Mukhtar spun back unexpectedly, then stalked toward her. “You smile. Do you find this amusing? I have three sons of marriageable age. Three! And has even one of them shown interest in choosing a bride and producing heirs? No. They are too busy with their work. How did I produce such industrious sons? Why aren’t they out chasing women and getting girls pregnant? At least then we could force a marriage.”
Lina laughed. “You’re complaining that your sons are too hardworking and that they’re not playboys? What else is wrong, my brother? Too much money in the treasury? Do the people love you too much? Is the royal crown too heavy?”
“You mock me,” he complained.
“As your sister, it is not just my privilege, it’s my duty. Someone needs to mock you.”
He glared at her, but she was unimpressed. They had grown up together. It was hard to find awe in the man when one had seen the boy with chicken pox.
“This is serious,” he told her sternly. “What am I to do? I must have heirs. I should have dozens of grandchildren by now and I have not a single one. Qadir spends his time representing our country to the world. As’ad deals with domestic issues so our people have a thriving economy. Kateb lives his life in the desert, celebrating the old ways.” Mukhtar grimaced. “The old ways? What is he thinking?”
“Kateb has always been a bit of a black sheep,” Lina reminded the king.
Her brother glared at her. “No son of mine is a sheep. He is powerful and cunning like a lion of the desert or a jackal.”
“So he is the black jackal of the family.”
“Woman, you will not act this way,” Mukhtar roared in a fair imitation of a lion.
Lina remained unimpressed. “Do you see me cowering, brother? Have you ever seen me cowering?”
“No, and you are poorer for it.”
She covered her mouth as she pretended to yawn.
His gaze narrowed. “You are intent only on your own amusement? You have no advice for me?”
“I do have advice, but I don’t know if you’ll like it.”
He folded his arms across his chest. “I’m listening.”
Not according to his body language, Lina thought humorously. But she was used to her brother being imperious. Having him ask for her advice was a big step for him. She should go with it.
“I have been in communication with King Hassan of Bahania,” she said.
She sighed. “This will go much faster if you don’t interrupt me every thirty seconds.”
Mukhtar raised his eyebrows but didn’t speak.
She recognized the slightly stubborn expression. He thought he was being protective and concerned, making sure she was kept safe from the evilness of the world. Right. Because the very handsome king of Bahania was so likely to swoop down and ravish her forty-three-year-old self.
Not that she would say no to a little ravishing, she thought wistfully. Her marriage had ended years before when her beloved husband had died unexpectedly. She’d always meant to remarry and have a family, but somehow that had never happened. She’d been busy being an aunt to Mukhtar’s six boys. There had been much to do in the palace. Somehow she’d never found the time…or a man who interested her.
Until Hassan. The widower king was older, but vital and charming. Not to mention, he was the first man who had caught her attention in years. But was he intrigued by her? She just couldn’t tell.
“Lina,” her brother said impatiently, “how do you know Hassan?”
“What? Oh. He and I spent time together a couple of years ago at a symposium on education.” She’d met the king formally at state events dozens of times, but that had been the first occasion she’d had to speak with him for more than five minutes. “He also has sons and he has been very successful in getting them all married.”
That got her brother’s interest. “What did he do?”
Mukhtar stared at her. “You’re saying…”
“He got involved in their personal lives. He created circumstances that brought his sons together with women he had picked. Sometimes he set up roadblocks, sometimes he facilitated the relationship. It all went well.”
Mukhtar lowered his arms to his sides. “I am the king of El Deharia.”
“I know that.”
“It would be inappropriate for me to behave in such a manner.”
Lina held in a smile—she already knew what was coming. “Of course it would.”
“However, you do not have my restrictions of rank and power.”
“Isn’t that amazing.”
“You could get involved. You know my sons very well.” His gaze narrowed. “You’ve been thinking about this for some time, haven’t you?”
“I’ve made a few notes about a couple of women I think would be really interesting for my nephews to get to know.”
He smiled slowly. “Tell me everything.”
P rince As’ad of El Deharia expected his world to run smoothly. He hired his staff with that expectation, and for the most part, they complied. He enjoyed his work at the palace and his responsibilities. The country was growing, expanding, and he oversaw the development of the infrastructure. It was a compelling vocation that took serious thought and dedication.
Some of his friends from university thought he should use his position as a prince and a sheik to enjoy life, but As’ad did not agree. He didn’t have time for frivolity. If he had one weakness, it was his affection for his aunt Lina. Which explained why he agreed to see her when she burst into his offices without an appointment. A decision, he would think many weeks later, that caused him nothing but trouble.
“As’ad,” Lina said as she hurried into his office, “you must come at once.”
As’ad saved his work on the computer before asking, “What is wrong?”
“Everything.” His normally calm aunt was flushed and trembling. “There is trouble at the orphan school. A chieftain is in from the desert. He’s demanding he be allowed to take three sisters. People are fighting, the girls don’t want to go with him, the teachers are getting involved and one of the nuns is threatening to jump from the roof if you don’t come and help.”