The Sheikh's Accidental Heir(4)

By: Leslie North

Ahmed smiled. The evening was suddenly interesting.

Back inside the suite, the noise from too many voices talking was like walking into a wall. He hesitated and then dove in, determined to get through this ordeal. At least he had something to look forward to. He grabbed a bottle of San Pellegrino from the bar and glanced around, looking for his brothers.

Zaid was the only one really engaging the suits gathered—Zaid had always been the most dutiful of them. Ahmed headed over to where Khalid sat on a couch, thumbing through his phone, checking messages, no doubt—his eldest brother had always been the responsible one. Sitting down, Ahmed draped one arm over the back of the couch and asked, “What vital conversation did I miss?” Khalid opened his mouth to answer, but Ahmed waved a hand. “That was a sarcastic, rhetorical question, brother. I wasn’t paying attention to any of them to begin with.”

Staring at him, eyes slightly narrowed, Khalid said, “You really don’t like all of this, do you?”

Ahmed shrugged. “Business is always there, is it not? So why not take the opportunity here for a little fun?”

Khalid shook his head. “It is time to start taking some of this seriously. Someday soon, Father will lose patience with you. You’re no longer the baby of the family, Ahmed. Father expects you to become a man.”

Raising his hand, Ahmed held it in front of him. “Now you sound too much like him.”

Khalid’s mouth pulled down. He was starting to look too much like their father, too. His figure had thickened slightly—married life was turning Khalid into a dull husband. They all shared the same heritage of their father’s dark hair and eyes—but Khalid seemed… happy.

Ahmed frowned at that thought. Happy was not a concept he courted—he wanted excitement, he wanted to live before their father tied all of them to the lives he had planned for them. Ahmed squirmed in his seat. He was growing impatient with being the youngest—the last one Father ever thought about, the one who had nothing to do other than let his older brothers learn the business like Zaid or start having grandchildren as Khalid seemed intent on doing.

He was here in America, far from his father’s disapproval, and he had a lovely woman willing to dine with him. And perhaps more—American woman were wonderful in how they went after their own pleasure like a man. He glanced around and saw Melanie, back at work again, supervising a new tray of some tiny treats that were to be passed around. He watched as she worked her way around the room. She did not look his way, and he knew she was trying hard not to.

Ahmed sipped his water and waited for Khalid to take up his lecture again. But his brother surprised him by slapping a hand on Ahmed’s shoulder and standing. “You should find yourself a wife.”

Ahmed gave a snort. “So says the married man, who only wishes to see others chained. I am satisfied with my life as it is.”

Khalid shook his head. “Choose on your own, brother, before Father chooses for you.”

“Oh, he will have to marry Zaid off first, and then he will pay attention to me—perhaps. Until then…well, until then I will live life to the fullest.”

“Meaning you will find trouble for yourself and the family.” Khalid shook his head. “Father’s patience is not endless. And neither is your life. Find something you want, Ahmed. And go after it. Father will never respect you until you learn first to respect yourself.”

Khalid strode off to Zaid’s side. Ahmed turned away from him—his older brother was wrong. Someday Ahmed would earn their father’s respect. Just not today, given what he was planning.

The party seemed to be winding down—guests were taking their leave. Khalid and Zaid still worked the room, and Ahmed sat where he was, frowning at his water and wondering why Khalid’s words stuck under his skin like a sliver of glass.

Find something he wanted?

Was he not always doing that? And always having his father or his brothers tell him that was not a fit thing for the son of the Sultan of Sharjah? Of course, that only made him go out to find yet another thing to irritate his father. He knew he enjoyed that a little too much—it had been his only hobby growing up and the only way to ever get his father’s attention. Well, too late to break such a habit now.

He grinned suddenly. Besides, it gave his father more to do—Father adored nothing more than a good lecture.

“Standing, he set his water down, smoothed his suit and headed over to shake the hands of their last guests.

Turning to Zaid, he said, “I think the caterer is ready to shut it down, so we should probably call it a night.” And please get yourselves back to your own rooms.

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