Pregnant by the Sheikh(3)

By: Olivia Gates



Zeena must have read the truth in her resigned eyes, as her tears flowed faster. But she still tried again. “If all he has over Father and Zafrana are debts, maybe we can find someone to pay them off. Like the other royals in the region. Surely great men and kings like King Kamal and King Mohab will help.”

Jen shook her head, wanting to end this. “I approached everyone with power in the region myself, but all kings Kamal, Mohab, Amjad and Rashid could do was try to make Hassan relinquish those debts to them, and he refused. Without resorting to drastic measures, there’s nothing they can do.”

“Why won’t they employ those measures? This is drastic!”

“It isn’t as easy as that, Zee. These men owe it to their own kingdoms not to involve them in other nations’ conflicts. And since the influx of oil money, Hassan now has major foreign allies whose interests lie with Saraya and who’d take exception if the other kingdoms enforced embargos on it, or initiated a bigger conflict with it. Also, with the tribal nature of the region, those kings have family alliances with Saraya, making things even more complicated.”

She knew each king wanted to tear Hassan apart with his bare hands. But those hands were tied by so many protocols. They were forced to accept any form of peaceful resolution, even if they itched for something extreme. Said peaceful resolution was now her, and her hopefully fertile womb.

“So this is for real?” Zeena asked. “There’s no way out?”

“No.”

Her succinct response fell like a blow on Zeena, rocking her on her feet. The next second, Zeena’s arms were convulsing around her, and her tears were wetting her bosom.

Jen’s eyes filled, too. She hadn’t shed tears since her mother’s death when she was seven. But she’d never been able to bear her baby sisters’ distress.

Apart from loving her most in the world, Zeena and Fayza looked up to her. Her every success had been a triumph to them. She’d been their role model, her life one they hoped to model theirs after. Zeena wasn’t only weeping for Jen’s derailed future, but for a loss of hope in her own.

But that was why Jen had agreed to this marriage. To protect her sisters’ futures.

She’d only told Zeena there was no way out so she wouldn’t compound her distress with guilt. For there certainly was a way out for Jen had she wanted to take it. She could have told her father and Hassan to take flying jumps off their respective kingdoms’ tallest skyscraper. But she hadn’t. For two reasons.

The first and lesser reason was that she couldn’t stand aside and let their father be humiliated and hurt. She loved him, in spite of his weaknesses, felt even more protective of him because of them. She knew he shouldn’t have become king, that it continued to be an unbearable burden. But fate had conspired to put him on the throne, and it had been the one thing that had appeased many a tribe at the time. He’d sacrificed his own desires for Zafrana’s. This current mess was not solely his fault. In her pursuit of independence, her career and immigration to the United States, she’d stopped following the developments in Zafrana, until things had deteriorated beyond resolution. The internal situation was now so volatile, if the major tribes didn’t get a solution soon and with their interests finally threatened by Saraya’s impending takeover, civil war would erupt.

But the major reason she’d agreed to the marriage remained her sisters. Even if she’d been able to leave her father and her people to a doom they’d caused, she couldn’t leave Zeena and Fayza to a fate they hadn’t brought on themselves. If Hassan couldn’t have her, he’d ask for one of her sisters. And their father would be forced to comply.

But they were nothing like her. They were too young, too sheltered and too inexperienced in life and with men. They didn’t have the power of another nationality and the protection of personal wealth. If Jen left, neither of her sisters would be able to resist being shoved into this marriage. Zeena would crumble, and the two-years-older Fayza would do something drastic.

So it was up to her to protect them. She had to marry that power-grabbing old man and save them. And along with them, her whole family and kingdom.

She hugged the sobbing Zeena tighter, kissed the top of her head soothingly. “Don’t worry about me, Zee. You know me. I’m a survivor, a winner, and I’ll find a way to...to...”

Words and thoughts petered away. The whole scene in front of her blurred, then disappeared. Nothing remained but a man. The most magnificent male she’d ever laid eyes on...

“To what?”

Jen started at the question, blinked as if coming out of a trance. For seconds she couldn’t remember where she was, why she and Zeena were sharing this fervent hug and why her baby sister was looking up at her with such entreaty.

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