High Fantasy + Emotional Intensity = Harlequin Presents
Tara loved Harlequin Presents since she was a teenager. She used to smuggle them into the house hidden in mathematics tomes, sometimes hiding them in her unsuspecting younger cousin's bag.
Warning: Arrogant Alpha Heroes, Feisty Heroines and Sizzling Passion ahead!
Sheikh's Baby of Revenge
Sheikh's Baby of Revenge
Kindle | Nook | iBooks | HQN | BooksAMillion
He ruthlessly seduced her…
Now he’ll steal her for his heir!
Seeking revenge for his royal family’s rejection, warrior sheikh Adir seduces his brother’s innocent fiancée! But when he returns to steal Amira from the altar, he discovers their illicit encounter left her pregnant. Secluded in the desert, longing soon consumes them. But Adir’s baby must be legitimate—and he’ll claim his with a vow!
Will she pay his price?
“I’m Adir Al-Zabah, Your Highness, the sheikh of the Dawab and Peshani tribes.”
He had no respect for the old King, for a man who subjugated and forced a woman - a weaker being, to his will.
But Adir added a half bow to his greeting. Savage though he might be in comparison to the Royal Princes Zufar and Malak and Princess Galila, he knew customs and traditions.
Adir Al- Zabah stared at King Tariq of Khalia, watching like a hawk that soared the vast expanse of his desert abode, waiting for a flicker of recognition in the sorrow-filled eyes.
It was sorrow he recognized - wretched and absolute, something he had spied in his own reflection since he had heard the news of Queen Namani’s death.
The genuine quality of it shocked him - one glimpse into King Tariq’s eyes was enough to understand that he had loved his wife.
Any sympathy he might have felt died under the resentment festering in his veins. Adir himself had not even been granted the right to mourn her publicly, the right to offer her last rites.
Been denied the right to ever set his eyes on her even once in his life.
His last blood connection gone in the flicker of a sunset. There would be no more letters telling him he was cherished, reminding him of the place he had left unclaimed for so long.
He was finally, completely alone in the world.
And all because of this King.
While King Tariq stared back at him with confusion clouding his eyes, one of the Princes moved forward, blocking the sight of the old king’s bowed form, as if to shield the pitiful sight of his father from Adir’s eyes.
“I’m the Crown Prince Zufar. If you have come to pay your final respects to Queen Namani, to pledge your allegiance to King Tariq,” Zufar’s words were filled with a resentment that mirrored Adir’s own, making him frown, “then consider it acknowledged.”
Adir gritted his teeth. “I am the ruling sheikh of Dahab and Pesha tribes. We’re independent tribes, Your Highness.” He injected every ounce of mockery he felt into that address. “I do not acknowledge yours or your King’s authorities on our tribes. Our way of living knows no liege.”
Something almost like admiration glinted in Prince Zufar’s eyes. Gone in the blink of an eye, leaving Adir to wonder if he was only imagining it. Was he that desperate for a familial connection?
“This is a private time of mourning for the Royal family. If you’re not here to pay respects, why did you request an audience with my father?”
Having to go through this man who had everything Adir had been denied grated like the rub of sand on an open wound. “It is the King’s company I requested. Not yours.”
Satisfaction glinted in Zufar’s eyes - satisfaction that he had the right to deny Adir this. Or anything he could ask for. “My father is… swimming in his grief over his Queen’s death.”
His Queen’s death, not my mother’s death…the Crown Prince’s words were telling.
There was no…grief in the Prince’s eyes for his mother’s death, unlike his father’s. No tenderness when he spoke of her. “He has not been in his right mind for several…months now.”
Adir tilted his head in the direction of Prince Malak and Princess Galila. He didn’t want to feel pity, he didn’t want to consider the fragility of their feelings so soon after their mother’s death. And yet he found himself doing just that. “You would have me open a cupboard full of skeletons in front of your younger siblings?” he added silkily.
Zufar paled under his olive dark skin. Not that his arrogance dimmed even a bit. “Threats will get you nowhere, Sheikh Adir.”
“So be it. I’m your…I’m Queen Namani’s son.”
The statement he had repeated so many times to himself, in his own head reverberated in the chilling silence that ensued. A soft gasp emerged from the Princess’s mouth while Prince Malak scowled.
The antagonism in Zufar’s eyes multiplied a thousandfold, roped with disbelief and a flash of fleeting pain.
Adir shifted his feet to gain a glimpse of King Tariq. His shoulders bowed, the old man stared at Adir searchingly. As if he could find a glimpse of his beloved wife, Adir realized with a frown. “Namani’s son? But…”
“Do not deny it, Your Highness. The truth shines in your eyes.”
Accusation painted every tense line of his body. “Father?”
But King Tariq couldn’t even shift his gaze from Adir. “You’re Namani’s son? The child she…”
“The newborn you banished to the vagaries of the desert, yes. The child you separated from its mother.”
“You’re our brother?” Princess Galila interjected. “But why -”
“Namani…she had an affair -”
“She fell in love with another man and was punished for it.” Adir didn’t pull his punches.
The King’s face crumpled.
“And what is it that you want on the eve of her death, Sheikh Adir?” Prince Zufar again.
“I want what my mother wanted for me.”
“How would you know what Queen Namani…what she wanted for you if you’ve never met her?” Princess Galila asked this time, her tone feather soft.
“She was forced to give me up but she did not abandon me.”
Prince Malak who had been calmly watching the proceedings until now moved to stand beside his father. “What do you mean she did not abandon you?” A caustic laugh fell from his mouth. “What is that the Queen gave you that you talk of her as if you knew here?”
His gaze swept over the Royal siblings and Adir frowned. He was missing something. They did not pounce to defend their mother’s memory. No other interest except the shadow of fear about what he would ask. “I did know her. Somehow she found a way to keep in touch with me. She wrote me over the years…encouraged me to rise in the world. Told me how much she…cared for me. Told me what my place is in this world. It is proof enough.” Adir replied, choosing the words with cutting precision. “Every year on my birthday, letters she risked to make sure reached me. Letters telling me who I was.”
“She wrote to you? The queen?”
“By her own hand.”
“Yes. It is that I came to ask the King tonight.”
“What did my mother the Queen want for you, Sheikh Adir?”
Adir faced Prince Zufar, determination running in his veins. “I want the King’s acknowledgement that I’m Queen Namani’s son. I want the world to know that I’m Royal born.
I want my rightful place in Khalia’s lineage.”
“No,” Zufar’s tone rang out before Adir had barely finished. “All it will cause is a scandal.” He glanced at his father’s form, his faraway gaze. Despite himself, Adir felt a stirring of pity for the old King. It was clear that he mourned his Queen with all his heart. “My father will become a laughingstock of the entire country if your origins come out.
She…I will not let her selfish actions scandalize our family now, even after she’s gone. As if she hasn’t caused us enough harm.
If you’re the great Sheikh your tribes claim you to be, you’ll understand that I have to put Khalia first. There is no place for you here, Sheikh Adir.”
“I would like to hear it from the King.”
“My decision is the King’s decision. I will not bring scandal over our house by declaring to the world what my mother has done.”
“And if I refuse to follow your dictates?”
“Be careful, Sheikh Adir. You’re threatening the Crown Prince.”
“Are you worried that I will want to rule Khalia, Prince Zufar? That I would ask for a slice of your immense fortune? Because if so, then let me tell you I have no intention of taking your right. I have no use for your wealth.
All I want is recognition.”
“And you will not have it, not as long as I’m alive. You are nothing but my mother’s dirty secret.”
The words came at Adir like invisible punches, all the more lethal for the truth he had always tried to fight.
He was her dirty secret, banished to the desert without second thought. “Watch your words, Prince Zufar. They carry heavy consequences.”
“Have you not wondered why she asked you to claim your right only after she was gone? Why she wrote to you but never confided in us that we have a brother?”
“She was protecting you and the reputation of the Royal family. She was -”
“Queen Namani…” his words came through gritted teeth, “…was a selfish woman who thought of nothing and no one. Writing to you, I am sure, was nothing more than indulging in another tantrum. Behaving without considering the consequences…to you or to her or to any of us.
It was cruel to lure you here when she knew nothing could come of it.”
“And if I spill it anyway?” Adir hated the bitterness in his tone, cringed inward at the fear in the King’s eyes. For years, he had watched his mother’s family. Her words about how spoiled they were, how underserving of all the respect and privilege that were their due had festered in his blood. “If I tell the world anyway?”
“I will not react to your threats, Sheikh Adir. The shame, if you spill it, will be yours and hers.
Not ours. Leave now. Or I will have the guards throw you out as if you were nothing but a vulture circling my family at a time of mourning.
If you had been anything but her bastard, you would have had better taste than to threaten my father at a time of grief.”
In the flickering shadows of the darkness - only punctured by the gas lights here and there, the view out of the window she meant to jump out of looked like absolute nothingness to Amira Ghalib.
Emptiness with no relief in sight. An abyss with no bottom.
Like her life had been for the past twenty six years. Like the prospect of marrying Prince Zufar, like her future as the Queen of Khalia.
She snorted and smiled into the darkness.
Ya Allah, she was getting morbidly morose. But then that’s what five days of being her father’s prisoner and a punch to the jaw did to her.
Of pretending to her friend Galila that she had been clumsy again and that she had walked straight into a pillar. Of once again being the object of indifference from her betrothed. Of being nothing but a means to an end to a power-obsessed father.
She had even less freedom here at the palace of Khalia than her own home, and her house on the best day was a cage. Here, all eyes were on her.
But future queen or not, she needed escape. Just for a few hours.
Having failed to locate the flashlight she’d been looking for - had her father’s watchdog confiscated it from her suite, Amira looked down the window again. She remembered that there was a short ledge there - a rectangular protrusion to cover the window on the lower floor. Big enough for her to land with both feet.
From there it would be another sideways jump to the next ledge.
From there, another jump onto the curved stairway on the other side, the stairway that was unused even by servants and staff. And she would be free of the guard outside her suite, free of her father and free of her obligations.
She could walk to the stables, bribe the teenaged boy there and go for a ride on the mare she had befriended the other day. She could just wander down the exquisitely manicured gardens Queen Namani had famously tended herself.
For a few hours, she could do whatever she wanted.
There is a ledge there, she repeated to herself.
All she had to do was hold her breath and jump.
Heart pounding, she climbed over the windowsill. Her legs dangled as she peered into the darkness, letting her eyes and ears adjust to the sounds and sights of the night. A horse’s whinny, the soft tinkle of water from the famed fountain in courtyard, the tap-tap of soles on the tiled walkway - reached her ears.
Night blooming jasmine filled her nostrils.
Already, she felt calmer. It was a lovely night to escape.
She smiled and jumped.
“You could have killed yourself. At best. At the worst, broken all the bones in your body.”
Any breath that might have been left in her lungs after she’d landed wonky on her knees punched out of Amira’s lungs.
She froze, the low, gravelly voice from the dark corner of the stairway sending shivers down her spine. Fear and something else swamped her. She blinked and peered through the quiet to see a shadowy outline.
Cat like eyes - amber hued, stared back at her. Moonlight came in patches through the archway, outlining the man. Blurry, because she had forgotten her glasses.
Broad shoulders tapered to lean hips and powerful thighs. She searched for his face. Square jaw, sharp blade of a nose, high forehead.
Her gaze went back to his eyes. Eyes that were staring at her with unhidden curiosity.
Was he a royal guard? Another spy her obsessed father had set on her? Even worse, a guest of the palace?
Anything would be better than her father’s spy. She would even brave her betrothed and explain herself than her father.
And if it was her father’s spy…
As if even her flesh remembered, a shaft of pain pulsed up her jawline and she flinched.
She could swear his scowl deepened the darkness as the man emerged from the shadows. “Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m… fine.” She dusted her palms on her thighs and winced. The skin of her palms had pierced when she had tried to break her fall with her palms.
“You’re not a natural liar, ya habibiti.”
The upper-class aristocratic accent - yet different from her own or from the Prince’s, caught her interest. With his perfect diction and the natural command in his very stillness, he could be a visiting royal, the last person she needed to be seen with. Or recognizing her, come tomorrow.
He took another step toward her.
Still on her knees, Amira scooted back. Pains and aches forgotten, all she wanted was to get away from the…interesting stranger.
Whether he noticed her retreat or not, his long strides continued to eat up the distance between them. “Let me see if you’re hurt. You landed so hard you could have broken something.”
Another scoot back. At this rate, her knees were going to get skinned. “I did not…break anything.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
Her normally placid temper simmered. “Since I have a degree in nursing, I think I can judge whether I broke something or not.” She hissed a breath out. “Please…just leave. I’ll be on my way in a couple of minutes.”
“You don’t have to fear me.”
She was panicking, yes but strangely, there was no fear.
She took a deep breath. Sandalwood combined with something utterly masculine filled her lungs as he reached her, settling into a strange tightness in her lower belly.
Arrested by her body’s reaction - neither flight nor fight but more of a languid uncoiling low in her belly, she looked up at him.
Straight white teeth flashed at her when he smiled. “You intend to stay there?”
She nodded, aware of how stupid she must look, mooning over him and yet unable to stop.
“I’m perfectly fine with having a conversation on the…dirty floor,” he said matter of factly. And before she could comprehend, he sank down his knees with a fluid grace that was remnant of a jungle predator.
The traveling moon chose that exact moment to cast bright silvery glow through the archway, illuminating the planes of his face.
Breath arrested, Amira stared.
Deep set Amber eyes glinted with humor, and even that couldn’t stop her appraisal. As if hand-chiseled with a hammer by a master sculptor, he was breathtakingly handsome.
There was almost something royal about those features, something familiar yet painfully elusive.
A high forehead, sharp blade of a nose, weather beaten skin that glinted dark gold - which said he spent quite a lot of time in the harsh sun, and a defined jawline that invited her fingers’ touch. Breathing shallowly, she fisted her hands in the folds of her gown.
His lashes flicked down where she hid her hands and then up, that glimmer of humor deepening in his eyes.
“Tilt your head forward so that I may better look at you,” he said in a low voice yet no less commanding.
Years of obedience browbeaten into her, Amira dutifully did. Only when his gaze moved over every inch of her face with a penetrating intensity did she realize what she had done.
Color filled her cheeks. Instead of moving back, instead of lowering her eyes as she had been taught again and again by her father, she used the moment to study him some more.
A sharp hiss from his mouth jerked her gaze to his. In the flash of a breath, the humor disappeared, replaced by a dark vein of anger. His amber eyes glowed.
He lifted his hand to her face and Amira instantly cringed back. The softening of his expression told her what she had done. Shame filling her, she looked down at her palms. Hard concrete at her knees pulled her back to reality.
It was high time she was on her way. He was tying her insides into strange knots.
“May I touch you?”
His husky question jerked her gaze to his face again.
She thought she saw him swallow and that was strange.
“I promise I mean you no harm.”
His eyes were deep pools, devoid of the barest of expressions and yet there was an intrinsic trust deep in her belly that he would keep his word. That this was a man who didn’t raise his hands on the weaker sex or people dependent on his mercies, for any reason. Not the least of which would be to establish his own superiority or to enforce his will.
Power seemed to emanate from his very pores. He would command any room he entered. And as to his will - she would bet any man or woman would surrender to it easily. With pleasure, in the latter case.
Slowly, she nodded. Something in her quietly leapt - anticipation, she realized. With every cell in her being, she wanted to feel this man’s touch, however fleetingly.
She thought he would pull her to her feet. Instead, his fingers landed on her jaw with such gentleness that hot tears prickled behind her eyelids.
“These are fingerprints marring your lovely cheek.” The words were devoid of emotion, feeling. Contained violence shimmering in his stillness. He was furious at the sight of the bruise on her jaw.
That simple concern on her behalf sent sorrow spiraling through her.
She closed her eyes, loathe to betray the weakness in front of him. She had never ever shed a single tear, even when her father’s palm landed on her jaw with such force once that her head had jerked back, leaving her with neck pain for weeks. But now…she felt weak like stretched glass.
As she stoppered the emotion flowing through her, she felt other things. As if her senses were slowly opening up. His huge body gave out warmth on the chilly night, enveloping her like her childhood blanket - a remnant of her mother.
The scent of him - the more she breathed it, the more she wanted to - a tantalizing mixture of sandalwood and horse and pure man.
His fingers turned her jaw to the moonlight so that the bruise, she hadn’t covered after washing off her makeup - another blunder, was visible. The pad of his thumb traced it and she flinched. More out of the heat his touch generated than pain.
A sharp curse flew from his mouth. “Forgive me, I promised to not cause you harm.”
“You didn’t,” she said automatically.
He raised a brow. “No?”
“Our skin has thousand and thousands of nerve centers that react to external stimuli, did you know? Your palm is rough against my skin and also…I’m barely ever touched by anyone other than my father - and not in such a leisurely, soft way either, so there’s this flash burn where your skin touches mine…” when his brows rose, she hurried to explain, “not like fire burns us but more pleasurable and I believe that’s why I flinched. Because even pleasure - especially when it’s unexpected and unfamiliar to the recipient, causes flinching.”
The utter silence that ensued sent blood pooling up her neck and into her cheekbones. She clamped her palms over her mouth. No wonder her father got aggravated whenever she opened her mouth.
A slow smile dawned in his eyes, causing lines at the ends of his eyes and adorable creases in his cheeks. His teeth flashed at her again and that smile made him a thousand times more gorgeous.
“I state facts and run my mouth endlessly when I’m anxious, or agitated, or upset, or sad or angry. My father thinks I do it to ignore his dictates and to insult him.”
“And when you’re happy?”
She smiled. “You’re very smart, aren’t you? You know, people think smartness is…” he cleared her throat and she blushed fiercely again. “I do it when I’m happy too, yes. Pretty much all the time, now that you made me think about it.”
His smile turned into laughter. It boomed out of him. Low, gravelly, utterly sensuous, but also a little rough and strange. As if he didn’t do it much.
Amira wanted to roll around in that smile. She wanted to be the one who caused his serious face to smile and laugh again and again. She wanted to spend an eternity with this exciting stranger who made her feel safe. She wanted to…
“I have to leave.”
He sobered up. And frowned. “So I can take your word that you’re not hurt?” He flicked another glance at her jaw. “Other than your jaw?”
“I misjudged the distance between the last ledge and the stairs, but I’m not hurt.”
He nodded. “And what is so irresistible that you took such a dangerous route…What is your name?”
Zara, Humeira, Alisha, Farhat…
“You’re thinking up fake names.”
She blinked. Like a hawk, he watched with predatory intensity. And something else…possessiveness. She swallowed. “I would get into trouble if word gets out that I escaped my room, or that I was wandering the palace without guard or that I spent all this time in the dark with a stranger…a lot of trouble.”
“No one will know,” he said. “I will get you back to your room unharmed and undiscovered.”
And all the while he tempted her, he watched her. As if he found her endless fascinating. “I don’t know if I can trust you.”
His fingers pushed back a strand of hair that brushed her jaw. Featherlight and tender, his touch knocked down the little sense remaining. “I think you do trust me. Which is why you lingered here so far. All you need to do is take the final step, ya habibiti. We’re strangers passing a few moments in a long life together.”
Another rough-padded finger lifted her chin until she was gazing into his eyes. His nostrils flared, the set of his jaw resolute. “I would have your real name.”
If he had commanded her, Amira would have prevailed. But beneath that command was a thread of longing that resonated in her soul. Yet what could such a commanding man want that he was denied?
He was harshly beautiful, like the rugged landscape of the desert and yet he looked at her with such pure need.
The last of her good sense and diffidence melted. Innocent she might be when it came to men but she already knew him better.
He wouldn’t hurt her.
“Amira…my name is Amira.” Fire awakened in his eyes. They both knew she had given him more than just her name in that moment.
He tilted his head - a regal nod for granting him the privilege. Warmth filled her chest. “I’m Adir.”
He took her hand in his - completely engulfing hers. Sensations shimmered through her, flowing like a river from where they touched to all over her body. And then he was softly tugging her to him. Raising their clasped hands, he placed a soft kiss to the tender skin at her wrist. It was a chaste kiss - nothing more than a buss from those lips to her skin. And yet her pulse skittered under his mouth. “Meeting you has made an awful night a thousand times better.”
The way he held her gaze, the banked fire in it…she wanted to answer it with her own fervor. For one night, she just wanted to be Amira and not a power-obsessed man’s daughter, nor the fiancee of a mostly indifferent Prince. She wanted to sink into Adir’s arms and let him carry her away.
“You know, when you smile, you get two dimples. Did you know that dimples are caused when a facial muscle called zygomaticus major, is shorter than normal. Sometimes, they’re also caused by excessive fat on your face. Although, in your case, it’s definitely not excessive fat, because you look hard as those rock structures we see in…in…”
His smile dawned as slow and bright like the sun over the horizon.
Amira buried her face in her hands and groaned loudly.
“So you’re informing me that my facial structure is flawed, yes?”
She tried to tug her hand from his. He didn’t let her. “Oh please, you know that you’re flawless.”
That seemed to take him aback. Didn’t he look at himself in mirror? Did he not have women flocking to him for a glimpse of that wicked smile?
Still smiling, he pulled her to her feet. “You’re… like a desert storm, Amira.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”
His eyes gleamed in the darkness. “Do you want a compliment, ya habibiti?”
Again that pure laughter - a reward for her boldness. “You’re precious. Now, do me the honor of letting me check you.”
When she straightened all the way, he patted her down matter of factly. As if he was used to her antics and had done it a thousand times before. As if he cherished his right to indulge her.
A hard knot made its place in Amira’s throat.
His hands rested on her shoulders. The sheer breadth of him took her breath away anew.
“So what was it this time?”
Caught staring at him, once again, Amira frowned. “What was what?”
“What caused you to divulge all those important facts about dimples to me? Was I making you sad, perhaps? Upset? Angry?”
“You’re shamelessly goading me into admitting something I shouldn’t. Isn’t it enough that I made a fool of myself?”
“Please, ya habibiti.”
She raised a brow, stalling for time. “Why do I have a feeling you never say that word?”
He shrugged. “A couple of times in the last decade.”
She sighed. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know. “I’m attracted to you.
One could steal all kinds of romance novels from the library and read about all the feelings that hit a woman when she finds a man attractive, but it’s not even close to what one feels.
One would think it was all cooked up to sell books - this whole chemistry thing. And yet, it’s new and it’s strange and it’s utterly scary and it’s…”
Heartbreaking and painful.
Despair swamped her so fully and so suddenly that she pulled away from him. Looked up, fighting for composure.
Stars glittered in the sky above, winking at her. The fragrant night with its whispers and taunts seemed like a punishment now. It promised something she could never have.
Warmth coated with his scent reached her back. She tensed as he stilled behind her. Her pulse zigzagged all over at the closeness. He didn’t even touch her.
“Come away with me, Amira. Just for a few hours. I promise you again I would never harm you.”
“I’m not free to be attracted to you like this. I’m not free to indulge in this…this late night stolen moment with you. And not just because my father would skin me alive if he found out.” Longing curled through her and she tried to shut it away. “I’m a betrothed woman.”
There was that contained energy within him again. Like walking too close to fire. “Is it your fiancé that…” the words choked in his throat, “that hurt you?”
“No. He…is a perfect gentleman who barely even looks at me. If you ask him what color my eyes are, I’m sure he wouldn’t know.”
“Then who is it?”
“My father. He…his temper gets away with him.”
Whatever it was that made him cover the last step between them, she didn’t care. His arms enveloped her on either side and unlocked her tight grip on the sill.
The graze of his hard chest against her back ripped open a longing inside of her. One, two, three…four seconds before she fell into his embrace. Sensations beat upon her - he was so shockingly hard all over - his abdomen against her back, his thighs resting against the back of hers, his muscular arms wound tightly around her own…he didn’t press the part of him that she wanted to feel most, to her wicked shame.
And yet, she felt consumed by him.
She closed her eyes and leaned back into him. The scent of him filled her every breath. His heart thundered against her back. She rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand, curious for the feel of him.
His skin was rough and tanned, his fingers long and square-nailed. A dark emerald ring sat on his ring finger and Amira traced it too, carving it into memory.
It was the first time in her life that she was held like this by a man. It was exhilarating and comforting - just like the man.
“Is that why those shadows linger in your beautiful eyes? Because you love this man you are to marry but he does not return the emotion?”
“Love? I would settle for acknowledgement as a person. My father is King Tariq’s closest friend. I have been betrothed to Prince Zufar for most of my life.” A bitter laugh escaped from her mouth. “I’m to be the future queen of Khalia, Adir.
I’ve been trained, educated, groomed, molded to within an inch of my life to complement Prince Zufar in every way.
My life has never been my own. My will never mine.
My dreams and desires…are not mine.”