Read an Excerpt
New York City, two months later:
It was not often that His Excellency Sheikh Tariq al Sayf, Crown Prince and Heir to the Throne of Dubaac, made an error in judgment.
Never in business. Even his enemies, who'd said he was too young for the task and had predicted failure when he'd taken over the New York offices of the Royal Bank of Dubaac four years ago, had to admit that the bank had flourished under his hand.
He rarely made mistakes in his personal life, either. Yes, an occasional former lover had wept and called him a cold-hearted bastard when he ended a relationship but it wasn't his fault.
He was always truthful, if perhaps a bit too blunt.
Forever was of no interest to him. He went out of his way to make that clear to women. Forever meant a wife, marriage, childrenthings that he'd known he must have in the future
But the future had turned out to be now.
And so he'd stood under the hot desert sun of his homeland and told himself he would find a wife in a week. Two, at the most. After all, how difficult could that be?
Standing at the wall of glass in his huge corner office, Tariq looked out over the Hudson River in lower Manhattan and scowled.
Not difficult at all, as it had turned out.
Impossible, was more like it.
"Idiot," he muttered through gritted teeth.
Two weeks at home had stretched into three and then four. His father had hosted an elegant state dinner to which he'd invited every high-ranking family in the country that had an eligible daughter.
Tariq had found fault with all of them.
Next, his father had hosted a dinner and invited high-ranking families with eligible daughters from all the Nations of their world. Tariq still flinched at the memory. All those young women, lined up to be presented to him, every one of them fully aware of why she was there
He'd said "hello, how are you?"; he'd kissed their hands, made inane conversation, watched them titter and blush and never look him in the eye because young women of good reputation would not do such an outlandish thing.
He'd bought horses this same way, he'd thought suddenly, and once that image had lodged itself in his head, that was how he'd viewed them all. As mares, docilely awaiting the stallion's selection.
"Well?" his father had said impatiently, at the end of that second dinner. "Which one do you like?"
They were too tall. Too short. Too thin. Too rounded. They talked too much. They didn't talk enough. They were introverted, extroverted Frustrated, angry at himself for failing to do what had to be done, Tariq had returned to New York a month ago.
Maybe he'd been wrong about American women. Maybe he'd find one here who would meet his requirements. When he thought it over, he'd realized he'd overlooked several things that might make them desirable choices.
On the whole, American women were attractive. All that sun, braces on their teeth in childhood, lots of vitamins and calcium
Such things added up.
And they were socially adept, good at parties, conversant in the kinds of talk that kept people smiling but raised no hackles.
Perhaps best of all, they were in love with titles. The ones he'd met over the years had made it embarrassingly clear they'd do anything to snag a husband who had royal blood.
Of course, until now, the more obvious they'd made that, the quicker he'd fled but that was before.
Now, an appropriate candidate's eagerness to marry into royalty was an advantage.
At any rate, he'd decided, it would do no harm to extend his search. Look around New York and see what he could find.
The answer was, nothing.
Tariq had accepted endless invitations for sails on the Sound, summer parties in Connecticut and charity events in the Hamptons. He'd taken an endless list of women to dinner, to the theater, to the concerts in Central Park they all seemed to adore despite the bad acoustics and the sullen heat and humidity of Manhattan.
He'd dated so many women that after a while, he'd run the risk of calling them by the wrong names, and where had it gotten him?
"Nowhere," he said aloud, his tone grim.
He wasn't any closer to finding the proper candidate for marriage than he'd been two months ago.
As they'd been when he'd confined his search to his homeland, the women were too everythingincluding too eager to please. No downcast eyes here in the States but the intent was the same.
Yes, your highness. Of course, your highness. Oh, I agree completely, your highness.
Damn it, did he have a sign hanging around his neck declaring himself in the market for a wife?
Not that he didn't want an obedient wife. He did. Certainly, he did. After all, he would someday be the leader of his people. It would not serve his purposes to marry a woman who was not respectful.
Tariq narrowed his eyes.
Then why, once a prospective candidate seemed attractive enoughthough none, to his surprise, was quite the precise physical specimen a wife of his ought to bestill, once a candidate's appearance was acceptable, why did he resort to what even he suspected were stupid tests?
He'd tell a joke that had no punch line. Make a foolish comment about world affairs. Then he'd wait, though not for long. Every time, the woman he was secretly vetting for matrimony would laugh merrily or nod her overcoiffed head like a bobble doll, and he'd look at his watch and say, "My, look at the time, I didn't realize it was so late "
On top of thatnot that he was a prudemost of them were far too sexual. Well, not exactly sexual. Obvious. That was the word. A man wanted a wife who enjoyed sex but he also wanted her to have a certain amount of reserve.
And, yes, he knew that was sexist and chauvinistic but
But, by Ishtar, he'd dug himself into one hell of a deep hole.
Maybe that was why, a couple of weeks ago, over drinks and dinner with his two oldest friends, he'd ended up telling them about his quest.
Khalil and Salim had listened, their faces expressionless. Then they'd looked at each other.
"He's trying to find a wife," Salim had said solemnly.
"But he can't," Khalil had said, just as solemnly.
Salim's mouth had twitched. Khalil's, too. Then they'd snorted and burst into laughter.
"The Sahara Stud," Khalil had choked out. "Remember when that girl called him that at Harvard?"
"And he can't find a wife," Salim said, and they'd dissolved into laughter again.
Tariq had jumped to his feet. "You think this is amusing?" he'd said in fury. "You just wait until you have to get married!"
Shudders had replaced laughter.
"Not for years and years," Khalil had answered, "but when the time comes, I'll do it the old-fashioned way. I'll let my father make the arrangements. A prince's marriage has nothing to do with romance. It's all about duty."
Tariq sighed and stared vacantly out the window. True. Absolutely true. Then, what was taking him so long?
His brother was gone. His father was no longer a young man. What if something happened? To his father? To him? Anything was possible. Without an heir to the throne, Dubaac could be plunged into turmoil. And that must not happen. He could not let it happen .
A knock sounded at the door. Tariq swung around as his P.A. popped her head into the room.
"The Five O'Clock Financial News is on CNN, sir. You wanted to watch ?"
He gave her a blank look.
"To see if MicroTech would announce their new acquisition ?"
No wife. No functional brain, either, Tariq thought bleakly, and nodded his thanks.
"Right. Thank you, Eleanor. Have a good evening. I'll see you in the morning."
The door swung shut. Tariq sat down at his desk, picked up the remote control and pointed it at the flat screen TV on the wall. A couple of clicks and he was looking at some set director's idea of an office. Pale walls, dark floor, windows, a long table at which a middle-aged man in a dark blue suit sat facing three other middle-aged men in dark blue suits
And a woman.
She wore a dark blue suit, too, but that was where the resemblance ended.
Tariq's eyes narrowed.
It was difficult to tell her age, thanks to bulky, tortoise-framed glasses with darkly smoked lenses. The glasses lent her a look of severity. So did the way she wore her pale gold hair, drawn back from her oval face in a low chignon.
She sat straight in her chair, hands neatly folded in her lap, legs demurely crossed.
They were excellent legs. Long. Lean. Nicely toned
His belly knotted with hunger.
He could see himself lifting the woman from her chair. Letting her hair down. Taking off her glasses so he could see if she was merely attractive or heart-breakingly beautiful
He was not given to fantasies about women, especially ones he had never met. Was this what his search for a wife had reduced him to? Lust for a woman on television? A woman whose name he didn't even know?
This was what came of celibacy.
He had not been with a woman in two months. He'd thought it wise not to let a woman's talent in bed influence him in his choice of a wife.
It had seemed a clever idea.
It still was.
He just had to stop fantasizing like a schoolboy.
Tariq tore his eyes from the woman. The program's moderator, the Suit seated across from her, was speaking.
" true, then, that MicroTech has acquired controlling interest in FutureBorn?"
The paunchiest of the Suits nodded.
"That's correct. We believe FutureBorn represents the future. No pun intended," he added with a thin smile. The two men seated with him laughed in hearty appreciation; the woman showed no reaction at all. "You see, Jay, as men and women delay childbirth, FutureBorn's new techniques will become even more important."
"But FutureBorn is in an already crowded field, isn't it?"
Another thin smile. "So it would seem. Artificial insemination has been around for a long time, but FutureBorn's new techniques Perhaps our vice president for Marketing can explain it best."
All heads turned toward the woman. Vice president for Marketing, Tariq thought, raising one dark eyebrow. An impressive title. Had she earned it? Or had she slept her way into it? He'd been in business long enough to know those things happened.
She looked at the camera. At him, his gut said, though he knew that was ridiculous.
"I'll certainly try."
Her voice was low-pitched, almost husky. He tried to concentrate on what she was saying but he was too busy just looking at her
" in other words, absolutely perfect for storing sperm."
Tariq blinked. What had she just said?
"Can you explain that, please, Miss Whitney?"
Tariq sent a silent "thank you" to the moderator for asking the question. Surely the woman could not have said
"I'll be happy to," the woman said calmly. "It's true, as you pointed out, artificial insemination is not new, but the method FutureBorn's developed to freeze sperm is not only new, it's revolutionary."
Tariq stared at the screen. What sort of talk was this from a woman?
"And the benefits are?"
"Well " The woman ran the tip of her tongue over her lips. It had to have been an unconscious gesture but it turned his own mouth dry. "Well, one obvious benefit is that a man who has no wish to sire children at the present time can leave a specimen with us. A donation for the future, as it were, secure in the knowledge it will be available for his use years later."
A donation, Tariq thought. An interesting choice of words.
"Or, if not for his use, then for use on his behalf."
"In what way?" the moderator said.
"Well, for example, a man might wish to leave instructions as to how his sperm should be used after his death." She smiled politely. "Frozen sperm, along with proper legal documentation regarding its use, could be a twenty-first century method of ensuring a wealthy man had an heir
Or a crown prince had a successor.
What if he left aa What had she called it? A donation. What if a test tube of his semen was set aside in case the unthinkable happened and fate intervened before he'd found a suitable wife?
Hell. Was he crazy?
Tariq aimed the remote at the screen. It went blank and he shot to his feet.
A real man did not make a "donation" to a test tube. He made it in the womb of a woman.
He had not looked hard enough, that was all. In this city of millions, surely there was a perfect candidate just waiting for him to find.
He'd been invited to a party tonight. His lawyer had bought a town house on the East Side and wanted to celebrate. Tariq, imagining all the long-legged women who'd undoubtedly be there, had at first thought it an excellent opportunity. Then he'd shuddered at the realization he'd reached the point at which he thought of such things as opportunities, and he'd sent his regrets.
Another mistake, he thought as he pulled on his suit jacket and strode toward the door. First, choosing celibacy that had clearly affected his concentration. Then, refusing an invitation to a place that might, indeed, provide excellent prospects for his search for a wife.
An old American expression danced into his mind. Three strikes and you're out. It referred to baseball but it could just as readily refer to his quest. First, his search in Dubaac, then in the Nations
Well, there wasn't going to be a third strike. He hadn't been looking hard enough, that was the problem.
And that was going to change, starting now.
"Okay, people. We're off the air."
Madison Whitney rose to her feet, unclipped the tiny black mike from the lapel of her suit and handed it to the waiting technician.
"Madison," her boss said, "you did a fine job."
"Excellent." He laughedho, ho, ho, Madison thought, just like an actor doing a really bad interpretation of Santaand leaned in close. "Suppose we have a drink and discuss things?"
Discuss what? she wanted to say. How you can figure out a way to get me into bed? But Mrs. Whitney had not raised a stupid daughter so Madison smiled brightly, just as she'd been doing ever since MicroTech had taken over FutureBorn and said oh, that would be lovely, but she had a previous engagement.
The phony smile of her very married employer turned positively feral.
"Now, Madison, it isn't wise to say 'no' all the time."
It isn't wise to court a sexual harassment lawsuit, either, Madison thought, but she knew what he didn't, that their uneasy alliance would soon be over.
It was enough to make another smile easy to produce.
"Some other time, Mr. Shields. As I say, I have a date."
She felt his eyes on her as she walked away.
Twenty minutes later, she slid into a booth at a quiet bar on Lexington Avenue. Two things were waiting for her: a cold Cosmopolitan cocktail and her old college roommate, Barbara Dawson.
Madison sighed, lifted the drink and took a long, long sip. "Bless you for ordering ahead. I really needed that."