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Sheikh's Desert Duty

By´╝ÜMaisey Yates

Sheikh's Desert Duty
Maisey Yates

CHAPTER ONE

SHEIKH ZAYN AL-AHMAR had many regrets in his life. The kind of regrets that reached into the darkness in the middle of the night, and tried to strangle him while he slept. The kind of regrets that followed him all through the day, and informed his every action; constant reminders of why he'd had to leave the old version of himself behind, and become something entirely different.

But however pressing his past regrets might be, right now he could think of only one. Right now, his most sincere regret was that he could not close his fist around James Chatsfield's throat and end the worthless man's life here and now, in an alley behind his family hotel.

Instead, he settled for something much less satisfying. He curled his hands around the lapels of James's jacket and shoved the other man back against the brick wall. It was a violent action but, Zayn found, not quite violent enough for his current mood.

"I'm not quite sure what has your knickers in a twist, Al-Ahmar," James said. His pretty-boy face, filled with that kind of insouciance he excelled at, only enraged Zayn further. The mocking gleam in his eyes only stoking the fires higher. Because Zayn was so well acquainted with both. Because Zayn might well have been looking into a mirror that showed a reflection of the past.

But most especially because what the man had done was unforgivable.

"I think you very well know, Chatsfield." Zayn didn't see the point in playing games. Not here in a darkened alley with no one around to witness his actions.

For sixteen years, his life had been consumed with the protection of his family. With the protection of his reputation, and that of his country. And now, this one man was threatening to undo it all. Right now, this man represented the single greatest threat to Surhaadi, its people and to everything Zayn had built his new life on.

"Please, tell me this isn't about your sister."

Violence surged through Zayn's blood, and he took the opportunity to reacquaint the back of James's head with the wall. "What else could this be about? You have dishonored her. And in so doing you have dishonored me, the royal family and my people."

James didn't even have the decency to look scared. Instead of trembling, he arched a brow, his lips curved into a mocking smile. "That is a very heavy burden to place on one woman's body. I was not aware that the integrity of the nation rested upon your sister's maidenhead."

"You have no place to comment on integrity," Zayn said, tightening his grasp on James. "You are a man in possession of none."

"But at least I don't treat women like they are my property."

No, James Chatsfield would never treat a woman like she was his property. Because once he had slept with a woman, he had no further association with her. Worse than treating them like he owned them, he treated them as though they were disposable. Paper dolls that he could dress, and undress, at will, before crumpling them up and throwing them away.

And in Zayn's sister's case, leaving them forever altered. Leaving her with child. A fact Zayn preferred James Chatsfield never even know. He didn't have a right to know. Because he had never had a right to touch Leila in the first place. And as far as Zayn was concerned, James would never touch her again.

"Perhaps not, Chatsfield, but the fact remains that you have badly handled what belongs to me. My family, anyone beneath my protection, belongs to me. You are fortunate we are not in my country, for there, I would not hesitate to remove the member that committed the offense."

Chatsfield shifted, suddenly breaking Zayn's hold, his agility and strength surprising. Indeed, contrary to Zayn's initial appraisal, the man was not the lazy playboy he appeared to be. Oh, the fact remained that he was a playboy, but there was a sharpness to him that Zayn found surprising.

"You're positively biblical, Al-Ahmar." Chatsfield straightened his suit jacket, and his tie, brushing off an imagined bit of dust. "Sadly, I haven't the time to engage in any eye-for-an-eye nonsense."

Rage poured through Zayn, and he wanted nothing more than to wipe the smirk off Chatsfield's face. But he would not risk drawing attention. Would not risk giving Chatsfield a reason to wonder if there was more to Zayn's rage than him simply sleeping with Leila. "You will not speak of your dalliance with my sister to anyone in the press."

James made a scoffing sound. "Why would I ever speak to the press about such a thing?"

"Because while Leila was simply one in a long line of your exploits, the fact remains she is a princess. The media would love to get their hands on that."

"You insult me, Al-Ahmar. In this country I am royalty in my own right. I hardly need to trade on your name to create a scandal so I can get featured in the headlines. I have my own."

"If you breathe a word of this to anyone, I will have your head. And I do not speak metaphorically."

Something in Chatsfield's expression hardened. "Oh, I have no doubt." He straightened his jacket yet again and turned, walking back inside the hotel, leaving Zayn alone in the alleyway to curse into the emptiness around him.

The feeling of helplessness that was pouring through him was unwelcome, and all too familiar. It echoed a time he'd failed another sister. Another time the problems had been too big to fix. Regret piling on top of regret.

Rain was starting to fall, the only light coming from a lone streetlamp, casting everything in a yellow glow. Zayn's mind was racing, his pulse in overdrive. If any of this got out, the press would have a field day. He had no idea what Leila intended to do about her pregnancy, and with the heightened interest surrounding the royal family, due to Zayn's own upcoming marriage, she was in a much more precarious position than she might have been.

She was vulnerable enough without introducing the variable of public opinion and scrutiny. That would add pressure she didn't need, judgment she didn't deserve. No, he would not have that. He would not expose his family to such criticism and judgment. Not again. Not while he drew breath.

He heard a clattering sound in the corner of the alley, a trash can turning over on its side, a blur of motion catching his eye.

He was not alone. And he and Chatsfield had not been the only two involved in the conversation that had taken place only minutes before. They had a witness.

And that was unacceptable.

The feeling of helplessness drained, a shot of adrenaline moving through his veins. Action. He craved action. He craved a plan.

Zayn stalked toward the movement, his body on high alert, muscles tensing, ready to strike. When a man lived as he did, he had ample time to train his body. And Zayn had done just that. Had taken every opportunity to spend hours channeling physical frustration into strength training.

He didn't fear whatever would be waiting for him in the shadow. He had no reason to. Because he had no doubt whatsoever that he was the most dangerous thing in this alley.

There was more clattering, followed by a squeak, and he acted, reaching into the darkness and coming up with a fistful of hair, resistance and a sharp squeal.

Not the sound of a hardened criminal.

He released his hold on the person he had seized, and straightened.

"Who are you?" he asked. "What do you want?"

"Ow," his quarry made a plaintive noise.

"I doubt very much that you're injured," he said. "Come into the light."

The intruder obliged, moving from the shadow and into the golden haze cast by the streetlight. He wasn't entirely certain what he'd expected, but the slim blonde with long honey-colored hair, disheveled-lik

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