Marriage at the Cowboy's Command

By: Ann Major
One




Desperation mounting, Caitlyn Wakefield stared at her accounting ledgers. There was no way she could make her next mortgage payment to Sheik Hassan Bin Najjar. No way.

So, what would she say to Hassan’s mysterious honorary son, Raffi Bin Najjar, when he showed up today to check on her operation?

She had no clue.

She’d gone over the books numerous times, hoping she’d figure out how to make her next payment and get her ranch on a viable financial footing, but all she saw were too many fixed expenses without enough income.

Even if she asked Hassan for more time, which she believed he would give her, she needed to make some serious and painful adjustments or she’d just be deeper in debt down the line. She couldn’t expect Hassan to bankroll her forever.

The awful numbers began to blur and her head to pound.

She hated disappointing Hassan. She wanted to make him proud of her. But the sales she’d counted on hadn’t materialized. And she was again on the verge of losing her ranch, just as she’d been six months ago when Hassan had helped her by buying her mortgage.

It was nothing short of a miracle that Hassan, one of the world’s richest sheiks, had become her friend, benefactor and banker. The fact that he was wealthy and she was not and that he spent most of his time in the Middle East and Europe while she lived in Texas would have been more than enough to keep them from ever knowing one another but for their mutual passion for Thoroughbreds.

They’d met by chance at the September yearling sales in Keeneland, Virginia, more than a year ago. Her timely advice had saved Hassan from buying an overpriced animal that had gone lame a mere four months later during a race, causing a jockey’s death. The animal had been destroyed. The sheik had written her a note, thanking her, saying he would have hated being involved in a tragedy of that magnitude.

Then, six months ago, he’d phoned her again when Sahara, one of his most promising Thoroughbreds, developed a problem with starting gates. Caitlyn had been stunned by the sheik’s offer to come to his stables in Deauville to work with the animal—for three times her normal fee.

It was just after her success with Sahara that he’d gotten to the bottom of her financial distress over a dinner they’d shared. Soon after, he bought her note from the bank.

Considering how much Hassan had done for her, she hated disappointing him. What could she say to his honorary son that would reassure Hassan?

Frustrated, she slammed the books shut. Only when her gaze fell to the small snapshot of her son, Daniel, riding bareback did her expression soften.

He’d been forbidden to ride the horse by himself, of course. Smiling, she picked up the picture and stared at his slim, dark likeness. Even when he was driving her crazy by being too curious or foolhardy, he filled her long days with joy. He was five, all boy and way too big for his britches a lot of the time, but she remembered how proud she’d been of him at Keeneland last year. Hassan, too, had been impressed with Daniel. So much so that he’d told her about his only biological son, Kalil, whom he’d nearly lost to a kidnapping in Paris a few years earlier.

“That’s when I made Raffi, the man who rescued Kalil, my honorary son,” Hassan had said.

She had smiled politely, her mind on the animals in the various pens and on Daniel, who’d been darting about under their feet.

“Your son reminds me of Raffi. So much energy. Once that energy is harnessed, he will be formidable.”

“Really?” she’d replied, not paying much attention to Hassan’s remark.

“Yes, even Daniel’s eyes resemble Raffi’s. They are the same shade of green. It’s an unusual color in my part of the world.”

“In ours, too,” she’d said absently. “His father had green eyes.”

They’d talked more, about Texas and her ranch. He’d asked for a card.

“Raffi once lived in Texas…in your vicinity, I believe.” Hassan’s gaze, more intent than before, had been on Daniel.

Ever since that first meeting at Keeneland, in all his calls and notes, Hassan always asked about Daniel. His grandfatherly interest in her son had become one of the chief reasons she liked the sheik so much.

Setting down Daniel’s picture, she tried to refocus on the problem at hand. She hated that she could think of nothing that would turn Wild Horse Ranch around. Not that she wasn’t used to being broke. When she was a child, her parents had constantly worried about bills and creditors. Never would she forget the day her father had told her and her mother that he’d lost their ranch. When they’d been forced to move into town and lease land for their ranching operation, she’d felt shattered. Nearly as shattered as she’d be if she couldn’t win Raffi Bin Najjar’s sympathy.

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