Authors: Tina Leonard
“I—I…” Cade stared at her, uncertain as to how to answer. “You have to give me a minute to think this through. I don’t know that I can make love to a woman intended for my brother. My mind still thinks of you that way.”
Serena leaned close to him, near enough to tease him with her perfume and her femininity. “Prince Kadar, your brother did not want me.”
“He didn’t have a chance to find out.”
“The race goes to the swiftest,” she said, placing her fingers lightly over his hand. “In this case, the crown, with all its benefits and drawbacks, goes to the fastest warrior. That would be you.”
“Only because Mac—”
“You are my choice,” she told him sincerely. “His arranged marriage is now yours. So, my husband, do you find me desirable enough to make love to me?”
This book was a gift, and I thank Melissa, Denise and Tashya for giving it to me. Lisa and Dean, Mumsie can cease being a grouch now. Olivia Holton, your treatise on “sheikh appeal” was invaluable—this jet’s for you! Fatin Soufan and Shadin Quran, thanks for the support—this sheikh’s for you! Last, a smile to the one who inspired me as I wrote this book. You’ll never know you were the sheikh in my heroine’s dreams, but that is as it should be.
As a child, Tina Leonard cut her teeth on Alfred Hitchcock black-and-white TV shows, enjoying late-night summer episodes with her stepmother, Judy. To this day, Tina has an affinity for the old, scary movies, and the hokier, the better! Tina in person is a self-avowed chicken, however. The only brave thing she has ever done is scare a large rat away from an open car door! She eschews the blood-and-guts movies and books, preferring instead more psychological bogeys, and believes fervently that the most compelling part of any good romantic mystery is the timeless and magical love between a man and a woman.
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
758—DADDY’S LITTLE DARLINGS
771—THE MOST ELIGIBLE…DADDY
796—A MATCH MADE IN TEXAS
811—COWBOY BE MINE
846—SPECIAL ORDER GROOM
873—HIS ARRANGED MARRIAGE
576—A MAN OF HONOR
“I’m not getting married,” Mac Coleman stated, “and that’s that.”
“That would be my response,” Cade Coleman agreed, shooting a grin at their mother, Rose. She stared back at her twin sons with dismay. “Mac shouldn’t have to marry a woman he doesn’t know—much less love—princess or otherwise.”
“Cade, you know that with Alex’s marriage to Hannah, Mac became the next prince in line to secure a royal match.”
“It’s hell being the oldest twin,” Mac grumbled. “I hate to be a disappointment to the family, but I’m much better with horses than women. Besides, thirty years old is much too young to get married.”
“Much,” Cade responded cheerfully, lifting a glass of tea to his brother’s sentiment.
“This is a serious matter, Cade,” Rose insisted.
Mac snorted. “Not since it’s not his neck in the matrimonial noose.”
Cade clapped his brother on the back. “Don’t take it so hard, bro. Maybe this princess is just what you need to break you out of your shell.”
“I like my shell just fine. Look, I spend long hours with the horses. She’s not going to want to be brought here and then left while I’m working. I’m pretty certain princesses expect to be waited on hand and foot.”
Cade raised his brows. “Well, those twenty-three minutes that saved me from being born first are certainly playing in my favor now. I wouldn’t be in your boots for anything.”
“The importance of this matter can not be underlined enough.” Rose leaned forward from her seat at the head of the table. “A marriage to Serena Wilson-Al Farid secures the lineage and will put the political turmoil concerning Balahar and Sorajhee to rest.”
“Imagine that a simple wedding band and an ‘I do’ can work such miracles,” Cade said. “Mac’s fine here at The Desert Rose, Mother. None of us needs to marry King Zakariyya Al Farid’s adopted daughter.”
“It is your rightful heritage, Kadar,” Rose said quietly. “It was stolen from us many years ago. This will put everything right again.”
Mac shook his head as Cade began another spirited rebuttal. “Mother’s right. I just need a day or two to absorb this.” Prince Makin—Mac—stood,
suddenly tall and imposing beside his mother. Cade watched as mother and son stared at each other for a single second. Mac nodded before leaning down to give his mother a respectful brush on the cheek.
Then he left the room.
Cade sighed as he felt Rose’s even gaze upon him.
“I know. I’m not a dutiful son.”
“No. You’re not.”
“Looks like royal duty stinks to me.”
“Duty is an interchangeable word with responsibility.” Rose took a sip of tea. “Mac will do what he knows is right for The Desert Rose, and he also knows he is making me very happy. It is no small thing to be able to help achieve peace between countries that desperately need it right now, either.”
“Good boy, Mac,” Cade said under his breath.
“Cade, you have done a fine job handling the business end of The Desert Rose operations. But it is no secret to you, I am sure, that eventually this alliance could assure our position as a foremost Arabian horse farm. The most urgent factor, however, is that we gain back the royal heritage that was wrongly wrested from the family. I feel certain your father, were he alive, would approve.”
“No downside to the whole thing except for Mac’s heart. He’s never been easygoing or inclined to take life lightly.”
“No, he lacks that particular dynamic of your per
sonality,” Rose agreed. “Sometimes not an altogether bad thing.”
“He’s too serious. He’s reflective. He’ll suffer if the marriage doesn’t work out. You know Mac will blame himself, at the least because of the responsibility involved. He’s a poster boy for doing the right thing. If this princess is a pampered pillow-sitter, or even if they simply can’t make this union a happy one, Mac will take it hard.”
“Whereas you would simply say, ‘Buck up, Princess Serena baby, this is life in Texas. Not like you saw on the
“Maybe.” He eyed his mother from the other end of the table, recognizing the steel in her eyes and her tone.
“I agree she would find it difficult to adjust to Bridle. That’s why Mac will live in Balahar for at least a year. It’s important that he learn about the country for the eventual day when he takes over as ruler.”
“Does Mac know that?”
Rose shook her head. “One shock at a time, I think.”
“It’ll kill him to be away from his horses that long.” But Cade knew that Mac would voice very little complaint. He would simply do it—for Rose. For The Desert Rose. And for a country he’d never seen.
“Oh, hell,” he muttered. “I’ve heard that heavy
is the head which wears the crown, but this is ridiculous.”
“They have Arabian horses in Balahar,” Rose reminded him. “No doubt Mac can learn much from the king’s stables.”
Cade didn’t think Mac would have a lot of time to go through the king’s stables if he was supposed to be a devoted suitor to a princess. Mac wasn’t the kind of man who was at ease with women, parties and idle chitchat.
On the other hand, Cade was.
He got to his feet. “I think I’ll go talk to him.”
“Don’t try to talk Mac out of this. His mind is made up.”
Cade met his mother’s eyes. “Why would I try to do something like that?”
“Because you don’t take your heritage seriously,” Rose snapped in an uncharacteristically sharp tone. “This is more important than I can make you understand.”
Cade left the room. He did take life seriously. From the zygote that had been halved between him and Mac, however, the talent for lightheartedness had been unequally distributed.
Mac would never be happy in a foreign country, playing at being a prince. His heart was at The Desert Rose. No prize princess could ever make up for leaving that behind.
ON’T DO IT
,” Cade told Mac as he came upon his brother leaning against a wood post outside. Cade knew what Mac was staring at. Three horses, some of the world’s most admired and coveted breeding stock, grazed inside the corral. Mac’s eyes may have been on the Arabian horses, but Cade knew his heart was tearing at the thought that a bride would soon take precedence. “I told Mother I wouldn’t try to talk you out of anything, but I just want to remind you that you haven’t officially agreed yet. You don’t have to marry anyone you don’t want to.”
Mac snorted. “Don’t you think I know that? But I could do it. I mean, what would it hurt? I don’t have time to hunt for a wife. I’m not the world’s luckiest guy when it comes to relationships and picking women. The bright side of this is that the princess won’t expect a whole lot out of me if she’s been groomed for an arranged marriage.”
“So why look a gift horse in the mouth? Is that what you’re saying?”
Mac smiled wryly. “So to speak.”
“Maybe Serena’s throwing a fit about having to marry you.”
“I’ve thought about that. She may have to do it, but no doubt she’s not exactly jumping up and down.” He sighed. “That doesn’t make me feel much better, to be honest. I’d like a bride who really wants me. And though I’m resigned to this, I’d be
lying if I said that I look forward to leaving The Desert Rose.”
“You’re not much of a ladies’ man.”
Mac laughed. “Your conceited and totally wrong point being that I’m like a green stud who’d have to be shown what to do with a reluctant mare.”
“Something like that.”
Mac narrowed his eyes at Cade. “Are you offering to go to Balahar to smooth the waters between my bride and me? Sort of a romantic emissary?”
“I do a lot of traveling,” Cade said. “You don’t. In fact, you’ll have to get your passport updated. You’ll have to take a charm class. New duds and a suitable gift for your fiancée will be necessary. You don’t have time for all of that.”
“I hadn’t thought of any of that stuff.”
“You’re too busy with the horses. I’m used to the business end of The Desert Rose. There wouldn’t be much difference between conducting transactions for a prize horse or a bride.”
“She should be
princess,” Cade said softly. “Mac, I want you to have the woman of your dreams. That wouldn’t matter so much for me, but it matters for you.”
They stared at each other for a long moment. Cade could see his brother wavering. He knew his twin well. Mac would perform his duty, but his heart was sick over it. He couldn’t bear to see Mac suffer.
“This is a mistake that could hurt you for a long time, Mac.”
“But why? Why wouldn’t it hurt you?”
Cade shrugged. “As Mother said, I don’t take life as seriously as you do.”
“So what would you do? Marry this woman and then leave her to her own devices?” Mac’s voice was incredulous.
“I wouldn’t get real worked up about it, that’s for sure.” Cade shrugged. “It’s an arranged marriage. Once the princess learned her place, we’d probably get along fine. Anyway, all I’m suggesting is that we check her out first. Then you’ll at least know what you’re getting. Never buy merchandise you haven’t handpicked, you know. You wouldn’t buy a horse without checking its teeth, would you?”
Mac snorted. “I’d be glad to trade identities with you, because I don’t think the princess is going to go for having her cheeks pinched open and her molars prodded.”
“Let’s pull straws.” Cade grinned. “Short straw gets to visit the ugly princess.”
Mac turned a bit pale. “Who said she was ugly?”
“Hey, if she was any great catch, her family would be raffling her off to some important nation, not trying to ship her off to us. If she’s not ugly, then she’s meaner than a bull that’s short on mates. Trust me, this princess is a booby prize.” He sighed heavily. “I’d be willing to bet she doesn’t even ride
a horse. Probably has some retainer ride her horse for her.”
“That’s it! Get out the straws!”
Cade grinned at Mac’s desperate tone. He snatched up two pieces of hay that lay nearby, chewing one short. Holding them up for Mac’s inspection, he palmed them. “Draw.”
Mac swallowed. Reluctantly he took the straw Cade had placed nearest him, as Cade had known Mac would. Mac never veered from his course. Even when they were kids, he’d always taken the straw closest to him. “Lucky you,” Cade said, as Mac’s face lit up. Cade put his straw in his back pocket. “You stay here and mind the heart of The Desert Rose. I’ll go check out the princess’s heart and let you know the lay of the land. I needed to be over in Saudi Arabia to meet with some potential clients anyway. This’ll just be a minor detour.”
“I sure would appreciate it,” Mac said gratefully.
“How are you going to pull this off, Cade?”
“We’ll simply tell Mother you’re going to take some time to think over the situation. She doesn’t need to know I’m doing a little covert babe-watching. Since basically it would take our mother or a fingerprint to give away the fact that I’m not you, I don’t see it as a problem. It’s not like they’re going to lay down the red carpet for Prince Makin until a formal decision is reached, bro. From what I
gather from Mother, this whole marriage thing has to be pretty hush-hush so that old King Azzam doesn’t find out and start up with his evil bag of tricks again.”
Mac shook his head. “I gotta be honest, I’m not much for political intrigue.”
“I know. It’s definitely a drawback to the good life.” Cade smirked.
“It’s hell having to ask your brother to possibly be assassinated in your place.”
The smirk was instantly replaced by a frown. “Who the hell said anything about me being assassinated for you? I’ll be in and out of the country so fast Azzam will never even know I was there.” He smiled reassuringly at his brother. “Don’t worry so much. I can pull this off without a hitch.”
HE TRUTH WAS
, of course, that Cade had made certain he had the short straw. He didn’t want his brother to go to Balahar. Mac wasn’t cut out for marriage to a woman he didn’t know or love, especially a princess who could very likely turn out to be hard to handle.
Cade, on the other hand, had loved women with all the enthusiasm of a handsome, confident male who knew how to please a lady, and make her feel like a princess when the morning hours dawned and it was time to say goodbye. A difficult woman was more his forte than Mac’s.
More than anything, it would hurt him to see his twin suffer. If Mac was happy, then Cade would be happy.
This was the wrong time for a woman to be foisted on Mac. Cade was a little annoyed that his mother didn’t recognize this fact. Mac had been engaged some time ago and nearly made it down the aisle when he discovered his fiancée was pregnant by another man. Talk about heartbreak. Cade sighed.
And then at their cousin Jessica’s graduation from the University of Texas last December, Mac had slipped away for the evening. Seeing Mac the next morning, Cade tried to pry out of his brother where he’d been the night before. Mac was elusive, and Cade suspected his brother had met a mystery woman. But if he had, he refused to be teased into an admission.
That was Mac, though, Cade thought. If it had been Cade, he would have written the whole matter off as a windfall adventure. He might have thought about the woman again, but not often.
No, going to Balahar to make certain his already-wounded brother wasn’t getting saddled with a rack pony as opposed to the wonderful woman his brother deserved was a job Cade would gladly undertake.
Royalty be damned.
WILL NOT MARRY HIM
,” Princess Serena insisted. “There are plenty of princes from whom I can make
my own choice.”
King Zak sighed at his adopted child’s insistence. Adopted maybe, but no less a daughter of his heart. “I want you to be happy. I need also to make certain that peace is achieved between our country and that of Sorajhee. I am not asking you to be a brood mare, a sacrificial lamb. This marriage with an old family of royal standing and popularity among our people would pacify the peoples of Sorajhee and Balahar. Could you not just meet Prince Makin?”
“I will meet him,” Serena said with a toss of her head. Rich, light emerald eyes flashed with determination, and her chestnut tresses shone with fire. “I will meet him, and I will be a dutiful daughter to the father who has been so good to me. But I promise you one thing. I will not love him, this royal pretender to our throne. He will be haughty and overbearing, as all Americans are. He can never fit into my world. Just because he breeds Arabians does not mean he will breed with this one.”