Authors: Ella Brooke,Jessica Brooke
“Good for him. And Faaid was always Mr. Responsible.”
“That’s true, but what am I going to do with you?”
“I’ve always been a fan of ‘live and let live’ myself,” Asam quipped as he tried to slip past his elderly father.
The old bastard snaked out his hand and grabbed his forearm tightly. Asam hissed as his father’s yellowed nails dug into his skin. “You shouldn’t be so flippant. You know I can disinherit you, don’t you, boy?”
“I don’t believe you would.”
“I’m tired of you whoring around with Western women. I am proposing to you something similar to what I told Dharr a couple years ago. You will bring me an appropriate bride, one that I can approve of, and you will do it within six months. Dharr says you’re focusing hard to make the Oasis one of the finest hotels on Earth, but I won’t trust you or your instincts until you have a woman stabilizing you as well.”
“You’re an heir to billions and one of the oldest kingdoms in the Middle East. The wealth and luxury…the
of Al-Marasae is yours for the taking as well if only you would grow up like your brothers. You have six months, Asam. I hope for all of our sakes that you can be the man Dharr says you are. I’ll be shocked if it turns out that way, but I’ve always liked watching wagers. Bring me a real bride, and you stay a full sheikh. Fail to do so, and I hope you’ve saved your money well because someone else from within the Hassem family will run Oasis forever.”
Asam glared back at his father and balled his hands into fists at his side. He wouldn’t strike someone as feeble as his father had grown; after all, he was a believer in fair play. However, he couldn’t completely squelch his anger. “You’re always about ultimatums.”
“I am, but this is very real. Either show me your dedication, or I will disown you. If you don’t want to live on some American friend’s sofa and eat peanut butter after March, I suggest you work hard on finding a woman suitable to join our family.”
“I loathe you, old man.”
“You wouldn’t be the first person,” his father said, wheezing again. “Now, get to it. The clock is ticking.”
Asam shucked off his jacket when he got back to his room in the palace. Since he’d left for college at Princeton, he hadn’t been there more than two or three days in a row. The palace was nice, but he could get a king-sized bed and a heavenly mattress at any five-star hotel. What he couldn’t get here was a reprieve from his parents’ scrutiny and raucous advice.
Of course, the gorgeous silks and soft, brightly colored pillows as well as the antique rugs his great, great, great...and then some...grandparents had collected over the centuries were something you could only get here in Marasimaq. It was beautiful but hollow. It all made Asam long to be either free of his family or make them proud, at least once.
He thought that by spearheading the Oasis initiative and expanding the family business in a direction it had never been in he’d get some respect. Maybe his father needed to see the first year of receipts before he’d give him even a begrudging nod, which with Azhaar Hassem was as close as any of them would probably ever get to a blessing.
But if he didn’t have the right wife and a rugrat forthcoming, then that wouldn’t be enough.
Suddenly more tired than anything jet lag could explain, Asam stripped off his clothes then stepped into his shower. It was a huge marble monstrosity decked out with several jets. He loved the feeling of hot water streaming down his body. He spent as little time in Al-Marasae as he could but even he admitted that would change when someone needed to be the head of the soon-to-open Oasis.
Still, it had put him out of practice. As a child and teen, he’d gotten used to the dry sand that seemed to get in every crevice due to windstorms.
Maybe he had an alternative purpose as well.
Reaching down, he started to caress his testicles, slipping his thumb and forefinger around them. With his other hand, he reached down to stroke his heavy member. After speaking with his brother, he had only one woman on his mind. He focused on the beautiful sight that was Kelly Kentworth. She was a bit curvier than he normally liked, but something about her ample hips and delicious cleavage enticed him. She was refreshing after his years spent chasing after models made like coat racks and bed slats. Her green eyes shone like emeralds when she smiled, and her long blonde hair that she kept halfway down her back always sparkled like gold in the sunlight.
She was beautiful, but she wasn’t his.
Except as he continued to massage his balls, to work his hand over his hard length until his knees felt weak beneath him, at least here it felt like she could be. He imagined the ecstasy it would be to slip into her warm core and feel her spasm around him. His tongue would trace nimbly over her nipples. Her skin would be soft and supple under his ministrations. All he wanted was another chance with her, to make her scream his name as she orgasmed for him.
Finally, he came with a groan and spurted his seed onto the tile floor of his shower. Asam’s knees went weak, and he steadied himself against the far wall of the shower with his palms planted flat against the smooth surface.
A devilish idea came to his mind.
If his father was so set on him getting a wife then, damn it, he knew exactly whom he’d ask. Maybe he could make her come around this time around. What else did he have to lose outside of his entire inheritance?
Kelly would be worth it, if only he could convince her.
“You only need a few slivers of Parmesan, but you should really layer on the ricotta in the middle. That’s what brings the manicotti’s flavors out, and you definitely need to go light on the garlic. People make that mistake far too often, and suddenly, it’s all heartburn and bad breath. No one coming to our famous buffet wants that,” Kelly said, smiling at her new sous-chef. The other woman was an expert in her own right and had been working at the Bellagio before she came to the citywide famous kitchen of the Paradiso hotel and casino. However, Kelly wanted her to know her quirks and the recipe’s ins and outs.
Tina pushed a lock of auburn hair out of her eyes and smiled back at Kelly. “That sounds completely doable. I think I can make this work.”
“I bet you can. It’s really not too hard here. We focus on clean flavors. The ingredients are fresh and locally sourced, and they speak for themselves. There’s no need to over spice when we have the best tomatoes in Nevada working for us.”
Tina grinned. “I’m just excited to be working for the Kelly Kentworth!”
Kelly laughed. “You already have the job. Once Monique signs your contract, there’s not much I can do about it until the owner gets a bee in her bonnet.” Kelly decided not to mention the heiress’s tendency for crazy ideas about what she wanted and how she changed her mind about how to run the casino about once a week. That was something all long-term employees learned to cope with. Not surprisingly, that was also the reason why at only five years and change with the Paradiso, Kelly was considered a long-timer. “Anyway, you help make the manicotti, and I’ll start on the lobster ravioli. Trust me. On the strip, if you put anything lobster on a buffet, it goes fast.”
“I can imagine,” Tina said. “But I wasn’t sucking up. I’ve read about the awards the Paradiso won last year in the Vegas Cuisine-Off. The Paradiso’s so new, relatively speaking, but you all kicked some Venetian ass in Italian food. That sounds like it shouldn’t even be possible!”
“Thanks, I think,” Kelly said, winking and turning to her own dishes. That lobster wouldn’t shred itself. That was done by hand and took more time than she’d like, but it was one of their most popular dishes. It brought people into the casino, people who ended up staying to gamble. “That’s sweet.”
It was nice to be lauded. Although, Kelly knew she was talented, and she commanded the kitchen staff of the Paradiso with aplomb and at times an iron fist. However, it often burned. She desperately wanted to run her own place.
In her dreams, she was back in New York where she’d perfected her craft at culinary school. She would be in a small place because the rent in NYC was insane, but she’d have her name above the door and wouldn’t be at the whims of what Monique Dawson wanted. She’d be able to feel like she’d made it. Her gig at the Paradiso was huge and paid well, but it wasn’t what she’d dreamed of.
Besides, she was sick of Vegas’s constant heat as well as the cacti and desolate, brown view. She wanted to someplace with seasons. Odd as it was, she missed snow—even if NYC could get its share of snowpocalypses—and she missed the way Fifth Avenue and Central Park were lit up and decorated for Christmas. Vegas tried, but it felt fake here out in the desert.
Kelly hadn’t always felt this way, but since Alana was half a world away, she yearned more and more to go home. Of course, this was still, with all its ups and downs, a once in a lifetime gig. She wasn’t even twenty-eight yet and she had a job most chefs would kill for. She couldn’t leave, and it just made her feel more trapped. Her life of late seemed to be lonely, isolated, and spent petting her ornery cat Jasper late at night. Without Alana, it just wasn’t the same and dealing with Monique was wearing on her.
She smiled anyway and nodded her encouragement back at her new sous-chef. She had seven more hours to go, so it was best not to get upset now. That was what her after-work pint of Ben & Jerry’s was for.
It would have stayed like that—the quiet and almost zombie-like monotony—if not for someone coughing behind her.
Kelly turned around, but she wasn’t shocked to see the reed thin brunette towering over her. Monique Dawson was the heiress to an old steel family that had seen the coming tech boom and invested hard in the 1960s in medical equipment. She was worth a couple billion alone, and that was the tip of the iceberg with that family. Her boss had a pinched, upturned nose and sharp, evaluating brown eyes with her chestnut hair in an angled bob. Monique was also someone you could expect ninety-nine times out of a hundred to be sneering at you.
A winning personality wasn’t her style.
“Kelly, how are you doing?”
“Fine. We have everything cooking for the lunch buffet, and I’m thinking of doing a swordfish special for the a la carte dinner tonight.”
“That’s great. I’m glad you’re such a food expert,” Monique said with a cloying tone. It didn’t escape Kelly’s how the other woman shook her head while running her gaze over Kelly’s hips and curves.
“I live to serve the Paradiso.” Kelly frowned at her. “Ms. Dawson, is there something you wanted? You usually don’t come to the kitchen.” Correction, she
came here. It was clear something was on her Prada-coifed mind.
Monique gave her a tight smile. Kelly had seen great white sharks with safer grins. “I decided we needed to revamp the buffet. It’s great you have this Italian thing going on, but do you know how many carbs and saturated fats are in this?”
Kelly’s frown intensified. Of course she knew. The cheese and cream sauces were why it tasted so good. “People have liked it so far.”
“Yes, but I want to go in a completely different direction. I was hoping you could work up a new fusion menu. Something vegan.”
Kelly widened her eyes. She had to have heard Monique wrong. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know how to do health food dishes, but that wasn’t her specialty. There were a few low-carb and low-fat options to order direct from the menu here at Paradiso already. Her salads were well regarded, especially her grilled wasabi chicken. However, going from Italian to vegan was a complete 180. The foods couldn’t be further apart, and it wasn’t what their loyal customers and the tourists they lured in expected.
“I can, but I’m confused.”
Monique glared down at her ample hips one more time.
Kelly wanted to groan. Seriously, not everyone could spend three hours on a treadmill and eat like Monique did. “I assumed so. Look, I’ve decided we need a new healthy angle. I felt since you’ve done so much to build the kitchen’s reputation…”
No, Kelly had done everything. Before her, the Paradiso wasn’t even in the top twenty hotel destinations in Vegas. Now it was well regarded enough for the food only to be listed in the top ten best of ratings consistently.
“Yes, I do try.”
“Exactly, so start showing me a vegan fusion. Bring me your first sample dish tonight, and we’ll see what we can do to really rehab this place.”
Kelly swallowed hard. She wanted to demand that Monique repeat herself. Not that she hadn’t already heard the other woman loudly and clearly, but rehab her ass. Kelly had put this place on the map. Monique had to be kidding.
However, since she still needed a job to avoid living in a box under an overpass, she kept a strained smile planted on her face. She could scream into a pillow later tonight back at her apartment.
“I can work on that. I just…let me go get the ingredients.”
Kelly was absolutely shocked as she made her way through the labyrinthine halls of the casino floor and passed the bar. It was only eleven, but the floor never closed. A casino that wasn’t open was a casino not maximizing their profits. Besides, no natural light was ever allowed in. There were no windows where the games and slot machines were. That was a trick to keep people gambling that was as old as the city itself. It also meant booze flowed freely at all hours. After all, the only thing better—and more prone to making mistakes—than an exhausted gambler was a
, exhausted gambler.
Just like Asam Hassem who she’d been happy not to see for nearly nine months, ever since the Ramadan festival when she’d visited at the palace.
Kelly had hoped she wouldn’t be seeing him for several more months or even decades. Decades was good.
“Are you kidding me?”
Asam winked back at her.
She tried to ignore how attractive he was. The sheikh was over six feet tall with dark, bronzed skin and hazel eyes that had more flecks of gold in them than one would think possible. His beard was longer than she’d have preferred, but it felt wonderful and enticing when they’d made out at his brother Dharr’s bachelor party. His build was that of a runner, lean but muscular. He had dark, silky hair too. Something she also knew thanks to the bachelor party was how much fun it was to stroke her through those curls.