Hidden in the Sheikh's Harem: Christmas at the Castello(2)

By: Michelle Conder


When a message pinged into his phone, he immediately reached for the distraction and saw it was from a good friend he used to race superboats with, Damian Masters:

Check email for party invite. Ibiza. Also, just relented and gave Princess Barbie your private email address. Hope that’s okay. D

Well, well, well. Zach wasn’t one for all that ‘signs and destiny’ rubbish but he’d just been thinking about Amy—or ‘Princess Barbie’ as his friends had unhelpfully nicknamed her—and now here she was.

Clicking onto his email list, he found hers and opened it.

Hi Zach, Amy here.

Long time, no chat. I hear you’re going to Damian’s party in Ibiza. I really hope to see you there. Catch up on old times perhaps??

Love Amy xxx

A wry smile crossed his face. If those question marks and kisses were any indication she wanted to do more than “catch up” on old times. But did he?

He laced his hands behind his head. He might not have thought of her much over the last five years, but what did that matter? It would be interesting to see her again and see how he felt. See if he still thought she should be the mother of his future children.

Almost distractedly he sent a short reply indicating that if he went to the party they would talk, but instead of feeling better he felt worse.

Sick of the thoughts batting back and forth inside his head and the restlessness that had invaded his usually upbeat attitude, he gave up on sleep, flung on jeans and a shirt, and headed out to the palace garage. Once there he jumped into an SUV and waved his security detail off as he turned the car towards the vast, silent desert beyond the city. Before he even knew he was thinking about it, he turned the car off-road and sped down one enormous sand dune after another, lit up in peaks and shadows by the light of the full moon.

Feeling his agitated mood ebb away, he let out a primal roar and pressed the accelerator flat to the floor.

Two hours later he disgustedly tossed the empty jerry can into the back of the car and swore profoundly. He hadn’t realised how long he’d been out or how far he’d come and now he was stranded in the desert without any juice and no mobile phone reception.

No doubt his father would have put his impulsivity down to arrogance and his cavalier attitude to life. Zach just put it down to stupidity. He knew better than to head into the desert without a backup plan.

Hell.

Just then the soft whisper of movement had him turning as a dozen or so horsemen appeared on the horizon. Dressed all in black, with their faces covered by traditional keffiyehs to keep the sand out of their mouths and noses, he couldn’t tell if they were friend or foe.

When all twenty of them lined up in front of him and sat motionless without saying a word, he thought probably foe.

Slowly, he walked his gaze over the line up. Probably he could take ten of them, given that he had a sword and a pistol with him. Probably he should try diplomacy first.

‘I don’t suppose one of you gentlemen has a jerry can full of petrol strapped to one of those fine beasts, do you?’

The creak of a leather saddle brought his attention back to the thickset stranger positioned at the centre of the group and who he had already picked as the leader. ‘You are Prince Zachim Al Darkhan, pride of the desert and heir to the throne, are you not?’

Well, his father would probably argue with the antiquated ‘pride of the desert’ title, and he wasn’t the direct heir, but he didn’t think now was the time to quibble over semantics. And he already knew from his tone that the stranger with eyes of black onyx had figured out who he was. ‘I am.’

‘Well, this is fortuitous,’ the old man declared and Zach could hear the smile in his voice even if he couldn’t see it behind the dark cloth.

The wind picked up slightly but the night remained beautifully clear, full of stars and that big old moon that had beckoned him to leave the palace and burn up some of his frustrated energy on one of his favourite pastimes.

The old stranger leaned towards one of the other men, who then dismounted slowly from his horse. Of medium height and build, the younger man squared off in front of Zach, his legs braced wide. Zach kept his expression as impassive as he’d held it the whole time. If they were going to try and take him one at a time, this was going to be a cakewalk.

Then the other eighteen dismounted.

Okay, now that was more like it. Pity his weapons were in the car.

* * *

Farah Hajjar woke with a start and then remembered it was a full moon. She never slept well on a full moon. It was like an omen and for as long as she could remember she was always waiting for something bad to happen. And it had once. Her mother had died on the night of a full moon. Or, the afternoon of one, but Farah had been unable to sleep that night and she’d railed and cried at the moon until she’d been exhausted. Now it just represented sadness—sadness and pain. Though she wasn’t twelve any more, so perhaps she should be over that. Like she should be over her fear of scorpions—not the easiest of fears to overcome when you lived in the desert where they bred like mice.