Hired: The Sheikh's Secretary Mistress
by Lucy Monroe
Royal Brides mini-series
Harlequin Presents #2747
US ISBN-10: 0-373-12747-2
August 2008 both UK & North America
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Amir brought the gumia down in a sweeping arc, part of a thousand year old pattern the men in his family had learned generation after generation. The perfectly balanced, curved sword fit his hand as if it had been made for it. Which in fact, it had.
However, as satisfying as the sword practice was in a general sense, it was not doing what he most needed at the moment. Helping him to forget his reaction to Grace's naked body. It made no sense. He could accept that he was attracted to his assistant, after all sexual desire did not follow rhyme or reason. But he found it intolerable that he had been so paralyzed by the sight of her lying in the bath that he had been unable to leave the room immediately.
He had made a complete pratt of himself and she had asked him if he'd gotten too much sun. He almost missed a step as he shook his head in amazement. Absolutely clueless to her own appeal.
"Would you like a practice partner?" Zahir's voice interrupted Amir's troubled musings.
He turned to face his brother, who like him was dressed in a pair of loose fitting pants and nothing else. Obviously, he wanted to work out as well.
Without any further discussion, Zahir brought his own sword up into the beginning stance. They sparred for thirty minutes, both of them working up a sweat as they fought for dominance. But though his brother topped him by an inch and seven years of life, Amir refused to yield the field. With silent understanding, they both dropped their gubias at the same time and bowed their heads to one another in acknowledgement of the other's prowess.
"Did you work out your demons?" Zahir asked.
"Why do you think I was doing that?"
"I recognize the expression in your eyes because I've seen it in my own."
Amir's own worries went to the back of his mind immediately. "Anything you wish to talk about?"
Zahir shook his head, but because Amir was looking he saw the flicker of unhappiness quickly hidden.
"Is everything all right between you and our father?" Amir probed.
His brother shrugged. "As all right as it can be between two headstrong men bent on getting their own way."
"Does he pull the sovereign card on you often?"
"No, he respects me too much for that, but..." Zahir let his words trail off with another shrug.
"I do not envy you."
Zahir dried his face, chest and arms with a small towel. "I know. You and Khalil are too smart for that kind of stuff."
"We love you," Amir said wiping away his own sweat.
Zahir almost smiled. "I love you both as well."
"Even when you have to travel half a world away to give a message of disappointment from our father?"
A look of understanding flashed across Zahir's features. "Maybe especially then. I felt badly for you and I cannot say I regret that Princess Lina refusesd to submit to the contract between our fathers."
"Thank you." Maybe Grace had been right. Given the correct set of circumstances, his brothers might actually support him if he chose a path divergent from their father's wishes. Then again relief was not the same thing as righteous indignation on his behalf. "A man wants to choose his own wife."
"What about you? Any plans to set up a royal nursery?"
"I would need a wife first."
"There is no one." But something about how he said it made Amir know there was a story here even if his brother was clearly not ready to share it.
"I want Grace." He could not believe he had said the words aloud.
But his brother did not look shocked. "Naturally, you have done nothing about it."
"She is in my employ."
"Under your protection." Grace might not understand that concept but his brother did.
"Not marriage material?"
The question shocked Amir into stillness. "She is hardly a princess."
"And you are not heir to the throne – that does come with some benefits. The expectations concerning your spouse are one of them."
"I don't think our father has made it that far into the twenty-first century."
"Before Khalil married Jade, I would have said the same."
"Khalil loves Jade. He would have married her with or without our father's approval."
"And yet he humbled himself to get it."
"Love." Amir was fully aware he made the single word sound like a curse – because to him, it was.
As God wills it. "I suppose, but I do not want a wife that makes me that vulnerable."
"That is understandable." More than anyone, Zahir had seen what losing Yasmine had done to his youngest brother. "But it does not answer the question of Grace."
"I want her. I cannot have her. Something must be done."
"So, what will you do?"
"I have a plan."
"I hope it is a good one." This time the smile was complete. "You have not given me such a good workout in memory."
He hoped so too. Because his over the top reaction to the relatively tame circumstance of seeing Grace naked was not acceptable. He could not make love to her. Even if he didn't feel what she called his "ancestor instincts" to protect one of his own, there was the certainty that an affair between them would result in the loss of his perfect PA.
But there was another reason, one he was only now coming to admit to himself. It was the reason marriage to Grace was not an option. He already...cared for her. Even in his own thoughts, he was reluctant to admit that. If he married her, the friendship and lust he felt toward her might become something more. It might well become the one thing he did not want.
Of all the women in the world, Grace was the one who could never be his convenient wife.
Despite having no more concrete answers to his Grace problem, Amir felt better returning to his room ten minutes later. Whoever said it was lonely at the top, knew what he was talking about.
Look at Zahir. Clearly something was bothering the heir to the throne of Zorha, but who did he have to discuss it with? Amir would have to look for an opportunity to talk with his brother again, to see if there was anything he could do for him.
Amir was glad he had his brothers and part of him wished he could see them more frequently. Another, more logical part, recognized that to do so would test the boundaries of all their patience and perhaps even their love. They were too alike.