Sheikh’s Secret Love-Child
Claiming his queen …
To legitimise his heir!
Playboy Sheikh Malak assumed he’d never inherit the throne – but when his brother suddenly abdicates, he finds himself king! Now past indiscretions must be put aside…until he discovers the hidden consequence of one delicious seduction. Malak will claim his heir, but fiercely protective waitress Shona won’t let him take their son the way he took her innocence. Malak’s only option is to bind Shona to him – as his queen!
An intense royal romance with a secret baby twist!
Sheikh’s Secret Love-Child
WHEN THE OTHER shoe finally dropped, and hard, Shona Sinclair couldn’t say she was entirely surprised.
Horrified, yes. Terrified—certainly.
But not surprised.
On some level, she had always known this day would come.
Get ready, she told herself stoutly. Because it’s finally here.
There were four men, cold-eyed and burly. She had never seen royal guards before, not in real life, but she hadn’t the slightest doubt that was exactly what they were. She knew it the moment she saw them. They came into the restaurant in a kind of rolling, lethal wave. They looked to the right and to the left, not looking for tables like everyone else who wandered in from the streets of the French Quarter, but more as if they were taking stock of every single person in the place.”
If asked, Shona was certain they’d have an accurate count of all the busboys as well as the few patrons scattered amongst the tables who picked at their down-market gumbo and rubbery beignets.
Shona knew who they were. She knew. And more, she knew what their appearance meant. She could feel it like a shuddering thing that wrapped around her and shook her so hard she couldn’t breathe for a moment.
But she still held out hope. She caught her breath and she hoped.
It could be a celebrity, she told herself. That happened with some regularity here in New Orleans, even in a less than A-list place like this. But these men didn’t have that Hollywood look. They were too serious, for one thing.
And they were looking directly at her, for another.
It was early yet. The dinner service had yet to really kick into gear and the restaurant was still fairly empty. But this was the famous French Quarter in New Orleans. It could fill up at any time and frequently did, because “laissez les bon temps rouler” knew no set mealtimes.
Shona prayed for a crowd. Fervently.
But when the door opened, it wasn’t a gift from any god Shona knew. Another man walked in, flanked by two more guards, and that was it.
It was all over.
Her worst nightmare had come to pass.
Because she knew the man who stood there, adjusting the cuffs of his mind-numbingly expensive-looking suit with impatient little jerks, gazing around as if he found his surroundings deeply offensive. He took in the decor, which was aimed directly at the tourist trade with vintage New Orleans street signs and Saints football memorabilia plastering the walls.
Then he took his time redirecting that dark, arrogant gaze of his back to Shona.
Where it held.
And she knew too much about him. Things that crowded into her memory and flowed like a kind of painful lava all through her body no matter how she tried to tell herself he didn’t affect her.
He still did.
She knew that his eyes were not black, as they seemed from a distance, but were instead a breathtaking dark green she had only ever seen on one other human being. And that his face was even more of a marvel up close, all high cheekbones and that hard, tempting mouth. And his hands, elegant and strong all at once, could work magic.
Shona knew that his laugh could make a woman forget herself completely and his smile could make that same woman think that losing herself like that was worth it.
She’d forgotten many things since that searing night five years ago—her sense of humor, maybe, and any sense of who that silly girl had been that night she’d changed her life forever thanks to her own foolishness and a gorgeous stranger in a bar—but she hadn’t forgotten him.
Despite her best attempts.
“Hello, Shona,” he said, and even his voice was the same. “How nice to see you again.”
She had never forgotten the sound of him, either. That low, rich voice that washed over her like a caress, his cultured British accent layered with hints of his own country, the faraway kingdom of Khalia.
Shona had never heard of Khalia before she’d met him. And now she knew far more than she wanted about a place she had no intention of ever seeing firsthand. Such as where the kingdom was situated, tucked there on the Arabian Peninsula above the sparkling Arabian Sea. Its royal family. Its standing in the international community, even. She’d made it her business to know as much as possible ever since that terrible day five years ago, when she’d opened up a magazine in her obstetrician’s office to discover that the baby she was carrying—the result of a one-night stand with a stranger whose name she didn’t know in full and whom she’d assumed she’d never see again—belonged to Prince Malak of Khalia.
He had been right there on a glossy gossip magazine page, dripping in blonde supermodels in one of the many fancy European cities Shona had never visited and knew she never would. Places like Europe were little more than fantasies for a girl like Shona, who’d had no family, no prospects and a chip on her shoulder about both that she liked to think of as her own personal pet.
Princes were even more unattainable than trips to Europe, she was sure. She’d had absolutely no doubt that if she actually managed to reach him to tell him what had happened and that, surprise, he had a baby on the way—assuming a prince could be reached in the first place, because she doubted anyone could simply call the man at will—he would bluster back into her life the way men like him always seemed to do with women like her. He would do nothing but cause trouble, because that was what rich men did. Because they could. She’d seen it happen more than once. Women down on Shona’s level were good for a night or two, maybe, but certainly not good enough to carry a rich man’s child.
As far as Shona could tell, wealthy men seemed to travel with legal teams at the ready to draw up nondisclosure agreements and engineer payoffs at a moment’s notice—anything to keep the baby far away from the man’s real family and the wife who usually knew nothing about her husband’s extracurricular activities. As well as curtail any future blackmail scenarios. But those were the happy stories. Far scarier were the women who’d lost their babies altogether because they didn’t have the money to fight in court.
That wasn’t going to happen to her, Shona had vowed that day in the doctor’s office, the glossy magazine wrinkling in her panicked grip. She had nothing in the world but her baby and she’d be keeping him, come hell, high water or some random royal sheikh.
Shona had never wanted to lay eyes on Prince Malak of Khalia again.
That hadn’t changed.
“Do not pretend you do not remember me,” Malak said, as Shona started to tell that very lie. That mouth of his curved, and she thought there was something sardonic in the way he looked at her across the sticky floor of the restaurant. “I can see that you do. And besides, lying is so unbecoming, is it not?”
Her body melted at the sound of his voice. In ways that she planned to beat out of herself when she’d handled this, by hand, if necessary. But in the meantime, he certainly didn’t need to know that he still had that effect on her.
“I can’t say I particularly care if you find anything I do becoming or not,” Shona replied, the same way she would to any crazy person who wandered in off the streets. Her reward was instant expressions of outrage from his guards, though Malak’s dark eyes only gleamed. “I see you’ve come with friends this time. A social call, I can only assume. Too bad I’m so busy or I’d love to catch up.”
Malak smiled at that, though it was nothing like the smile she remembered from that night. This one was cool. Powerful, somehow. It made something deep inside her uncoil in a kind of white-hot panic. Worse, he didn’t dismiss his guards, which told Shona all she needed to know about whether or not this was just a weird kind of coincidence years too late. A thick sort of uneasiness wound its way around and around her, until it felt like a noose pulled tight.
Because while it was always possible that he’d come back because he cycled through all his affairs every few years or so and conducted reunions as a matter of course, she knew that was highly unlikely. This was a famous prince, for God’s sake. He was knee-deep in willing women wherever he went. Why would he need to repeat himself?
Which left exactly one reason he would be here in the restaurant where she worked, not at her home—likely, she thought in a sickening rush of understanding, because he’d already been to her little rental house on a not-great street a fifteen-minute walk from the French Quarter.
She was wildly, insanely happy she’d dropped Miles at her friend Ursula’s house before work. Though perhaps friend was a strong word. Ursula had a six-year-old and also worked strange hours. They’d met years ago, waiting tables in the same place a few blocks over, and had been swapping child care ever since. They were bound together by necessity and the odd drink here and there, that was all.
The truth was, Shona knew as little about friendship as she did about family.
“Is there somewhere we can talk?” Malak asked.
And she hadn’t known him more than that single, fateful night five years ago, it was true. But the man she’d thought he was during that long, impossibly carnal night that she refused to be ashamed of, no matter what had happened afterward, had never sounded like that.
As if he was not so much asking a question, but delivering orders.
And woe betide the person who did not obey them.
But Shona had never been very good at following orders. That was what came of growing up hard, the way she had. Her own mother had abandoned her to the state when she was a baby and she’d had nothing but indifferent foster care and what she liked to call opportunities, ever since.
Opportunities to learn how to be tough, no matter what came at her. Opportunities to figure out how to stand on her own two feet and take care of herself, because nobody else would. Or ever did.
She’d been eighteen when she’d been set free by the state at last. She’d made her own way ever since, before and after she’d found herself pregnant and yet again on her own.
And she wasn’t about to change that for some uppity prince in a suit that almost certainly cost more than a year’s rent.
“No,” she told him. She could tell by the way he raised his brow that it wasn’t a word he often heard. Or had ever heard, possibly. “There is no place we can talk.”
“No?” Malak echoed, as if she might have said it by accident and would reverse herself once she heard it repeated back to her.
She didn’t. “We have nothing to talk about.”
Shona folded her arms over her chest and she was fiercely glad that she looked like exactly what she was today. She wasn’t dressed up the way she had been when she’d met him that fateful night. She was a waitress, nothing more and nothing less, and she wasn’t the least bit ashamed of that. She wore the restaurant’s black T-shirt with the silly logo stamped on the front, a little black apron wrapped around her hips and the short red skirt the owner insisted upon, and Shona didn’t mind too much, because it helped with tips. She had scraped her hair back from her face and let it do its own thing at the back, like a high, black cloud of tight curls.
Shona imagined she looked as far beneath the notice of a fancy prince from a far-off country as she was, and that was a good thing. Maybe it would remind Malak why he’d disappeared that morning five years before. Maybe, if she made sure to trumpet her obvious lack of breeding and class, he’d repeat his disappearing act.
She could only hope.
“I’m afraid that we have quite a few things to talk about,” Malak said in that same way of his, that suggested he was speaking laws aloud, not having a conversation. There was something about it that clawed at her, making her feel a kind of restlessness she refused to acknowledge. “And there can be no avoiding it, much as you might wish otherwise.”
As he spoke, he thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers and shifted the way he stood.
And then he smiled as if he had come here to do nothing but charm her.
And this, then, was the man that Shona remembered so vividly from that night five years ago, there in that hotel bar she’d always wanted to go to, when she was growing up. It had almost gotten lost in the elegant suit and the security detail, but she remembered that smile. How infectious it was. How sensual. And how it had spurred her on to act so completely out of character.
She had steadfastly refused to regret what had happened there, all this time. But now, with her heart a wild drumbeat in her chest and her breath tight and a little too close to being labored, she was afraid that everything had changed.
Because the Malak she remembered—lazy and wicked, boneless and seductive—wasn’t a figment of her imagination, after all. He might look different now. He’d stood taller before and his mouth was far grimmer. He seemed less playful, less endlessly amused.
But it was still him, and when he stood more casually it was impossible to keep herself from remembering...everything.
And that was a big problem, because Shona had never reacted to any man the way she did to him. The truth was, she’d never touched any man but him.
She shoved aside that thought, because it was the least of her worries and really, something she ought to have done something about before now. Suddenly, all these years when she’d thought she was too tired, too stressed, too poor, too something to get out there and meet someone seemed like a character flaw, not simple self-protection. Because Shona hated the fact that Malak was the sum total of her experience of sex and men when he also had the power to ruin her life.
“Even if we had something to talk about, which we don’t, I’m at work,” she told him in the same tone she’d used before. As if the moment she could, she’d be dialing 911 to have him bodily removed and possibly subjected to a psychiatric evaluation. “This is neither the time nor the place for your goon squad or you. You should try calling, like a normal person.”
“A call would not have sufficed in this situation.”
“We have no situation,” Shona said, with a little more force.
Because there was only one thing that he could possibly be talking about, and Shona was not going to let this happen. She would die first.
She’d worried about this moment for years. And now that it was here, it was as if she had done all her panicking already. Maybe that was why, despite the pounding of her heart and that sick feeling in her belly, she found herself focusing hard on Malak instead of giving in to all the sick feelings churning around inside of her. She noticed the way his guards had blocked all the exits. She calculated what she had to do to make it through this so she could run, pick up Miles from Ursula’s and get the hell out of New Orleans.
The great thing about coming from nothing and having only slightly more than nothing to her name now was that disappearing would be no problem. She was barely on the grid as it was. All she had to do was get away from Malak tonight and she could go somewhere—anywhere—far away from here. It would be like she and Miles had never existed.
She was kicking herself for not doing exactly that five years ago.
“You are correct, of course,” Malak said, a dangerous light in those eyes of his. Miles’s eyes. “He is not a situation at all, is he? He’s a little boy. I believe you call him Miles, do you not?”
She wasn’t calm at all, Shona realized then. She was frozen solid, but not in fear. Or not only in fear. She was stitched through with fury, red and bright. “Miles is no concern of yours.”
“Something you must believe very strongly indeed,” he murmured, and there was something even harder about him then. It pricked at Shona like an accusation. “If you prefer to raise him in squalor rather than as what and who he is. The only son of a prince of Khalia.”
“I don’t know or care who his father is,” Shona gritted out at him. “What matters is that he’s mine.”
“Let me tell you what happens when a prince becomes king,” Malak told her, his voice soft with a different kind of menace. “No need to offer your condolences, as I am certain you were about to. Neither my father nor my brother died. They abdicated, one after the next, like royal dominos.”
And Shona couldn’t quite take that in. She didn’t want to make sense of what he was telling her. Because that would mean...
But he was still talking. “Transfers of power are always fraught with peril, I am sure, but perhaps never more so than when the new king was never meant to come anywhere near the throne. First, the palace advisors rend their garments and pray for deliverance, of course. That takes some time. But when they are done, when reality has set in on all sides, they launch a full investigation into the new monarch, a man who...how shall I say this—?”
“Couldn’t keep it in his pants?”
His mouth curved, though whether it was at her dry tone or because he actually found that description of himself amusing, she couldn’t tell.
“As you may recall, Shona, nobody wanted me to keep it in my pants. Least of all you.” He shrugged when her eyes narrowed at that. But it wasn’t as if she could argue. He wasn’t wrong. “The palace investigators had their hands full, I regret to say. They found every woman I’ve ever touched.”
“I wouldn’t think anyone could count that high.”
Malak inclined his head, but that gaze of his never left hers. And she was beginning to imagine it might leave marks. “Each lucky paramour was thoroughly investigated to make certain there was nothing about her or her liaison with me that could embarrass the kingdom. And of them all, Shona, this great and glorious legion of former lovers, only you were keeping the kind of secret that makes the average palace aide turn gray overnight.”
“You are mistaken.” She was gripping herself too hard. But she didn’t let up, even though she was half afraid she would crush her own ribs with her crossed arms. “Miles and I have nothing to do with you.”
“I admire your independence,” he told her in a tone that suggested the opposite. “I do. But I’m afraid there are no choices here. Or, I should say, none I expect you will like. The boy is mine. That makes him the heir to the Khalian throne. And that means he cannot stay here.”
She dug her fingers into her sides, but she didn’t wake up. This was a nightmare she’d had more than once since she’d given birth to Miles, but this time, she couldn’t jolt herself awake. She couldn’t make Malak go away.
“Let me make sure that you understand something,” Shona said, though there was a ringing in her ears. Her heart still pounded, but it had gone slow. Intense. And she was focused on Malak as if he was a target, if only she could find the right weapon. “You will not touch my child and if you try, six beefed-up goons with guns won’t save you. Nothing will.”
She didn’t know what she expected Malak to do then.
But it wasn’t the way he threw back his head and laughed, with all that infectious delight and lazy sensuality that had been her downfall five years ago. His laughter had not changed at all. The dark and somber suit was new, as were the guards surrounding him. That grave note in his voice, this talk of kings and thrones and palace advisors—all of that was new, too.
But that laugh... It was as dangerous as she remembered it.
More, maybe, because unlike back then, it was wholly unwelcome.
It curled into her like smoke. It wound through her, insinuating itself into every crevice and beneath every square inch of her skin. It licked into her like heat, and then worse, wound itself into a kind of fist between her legs. Then pulsed.
She’d told herself she’d been drunk that night. She’d told herself she’d imagined that pull she’d felt when she was near him, that irresistible urge to get closer no matter what. That aching, restless thing inside her that hummed for him only. She’d imagined all of that, she’d been so sure—because she’d never felt it again. She’d never felt anything the slightest bit like it, not with any man who’d come near her before or since.
But she hadn’t imagined it.
It turned out that he was the only man in the entire world who made her feel all those things. And if anything, she’d let time and memory mute his potency.
He was standing here with armed guards, threatening her baby and life as she knew it, and that didn’t keep her from feeling it. What the hell was the matter with her?
When his laughter faded and he looked at her again, Malak’s eyes were gleaming bright and she was breathless.
And in more trouble that she wanted to admit, she knew.
“There is a certain liberty in having so few choices,” he told her, almost sadly, and it felt like a cage closing, a lock turning. “This will all work out fine, Shona. One way or another.”
“There’s nothing to work out,” she said fiercely. Desperately. “You need to turn around and go back where you came from. Now.”
“I wish I could do that,” Malak said in that same resigned sort of way, and oddly enough, she believed him. “But it is impossible.”
“Miles is the son of the king of Khalia,” Malak said, and there was an implacable steel in that dark gaze and all through that body of his, lean and sculpted to a kind of perfection that spoke of actual fighting arts, brutal and intense, and not a gym.
And she believed that, too, though she didn’t want to. She believed that every part of him was powerful. Lethal. And that she was in over her head.
“Congratulations, Shona,” he continued, all steel and dark promise. “That makes you my queen.”