Sheikh Masoud Khalidizack tapped the foot of his Champagne glass against the rail as he looked down at the party. From his position on the landing overlooking the party, ornate chandeliers cast sparkles down upon more than one hundred people milling around below dressed in their finest cocktail attire. Butlers walked around with trays holding expensive delicacies so small they looked as though they belonged in a dollhouse, yet guests eagerly ate them, moaning in delight at the taste. The party was in full swing, without a single dull moment.
The sheikh’s gaze traveled around the room, looking for something that would hold his attention longer than a couple seconds. His growing disdain for those so quick to curry favor with his family had him wishing for something stronger to drink than Champagne.
“If you don’t smile, people will think you’re not having any fun.”
Masoud turned to see his younger brother, Adil, walking toward him. A beautiful woman had a vice grip around his arm and was nuzzling his neck. Masoud struggled not to roll his eyes.
“It looks like you’re having enough fun for the both of us,” Masoud muttered as he jerked his head to the woman in question. Adil whispered something in her ear, and she giggled and slinked away.
“Come now, brother. Why so blue? With all these interesting people, you’re standing up here sulking like a child sent to bed without his supper. I’m supposed to be the child.” Adil looked down upon the crowd. “Look. Even Jaymin is socializing, and he hates to have fun.”
“He’s not socializing. He’s trying to spread awareness of the archaeological find. Since we’re hosting a party about it, someone should be discussing it.”
Adil frowned. “Is that why we’re having a party? I was wondering.”
“Please tell me that’s a joke,” Masoud blurted out, as he stared at his younger brother in disbelief.
“It’s a joke! Relax, Masoud. This is a party. Lighten up!” Adil focused on someone behind Masoud, and he winked.
Masoud turned around to see a beautiful woman disappearing in the crowd.
“Down, boys. She just married Kasim a month ago.” Both men turned to see Rameez, an old friend of the family, grinning at them.
Adil groaned, and this time, Masoud felt his sentiments. “Another one bites the dust, huh? What’s that? Ten this year?” Adil asked.
“I think you three boys are the only eligible bachelors left in the kingdom,” Rameez acknowledged as he cocked his head thoughtfully. “And none of you are seeing anyone.”
“Speak for yourself,” Adil said with a shrug. “I see several women every day.”
Masoud groaned. “And that’s why you’ll be the first to marry.”
Adil put his hands up in alarm. “Whoa! You can’t tie all this down.” He grinned as he ran his hands over his body. “This needs to be shared with the world.” His loud laughter stopped abruptly when their eldest brother grabbed his arm and spun him around.
“Can you not make a scene for one party?” Jaymin hissed. “Your voices can be heard across the room.”
“Relax, Jaymin,” Masoud said with a wink. “It’s a party. We were just speculating that Adil would be the first to get married. If nothing else, he’s bound to get some poor woman pregnant if he isn’t careful.”
Adil shuddered visibly. “Why would you even say that? Besides, Jaymin will undoubtedly be the first to marry. I’m sure he’ll find himself a lovely old crone to make a great political match.”
“He is the oldest,” Masoud mused.
“I have more important things to worry about than marriage,” Jaymin answered stiffly. “Like keeping you two in line.”
“I resent that,” Masoud said mildly. “I never cause trouble.”
“That’s because you’re boring!” Adil laughed.
“Bored,” Masoud corrected. “I’m bored. There’s a difference.”
“Gentlemen.” All three brothers turned as their father’s shadow fell over them. “May I ask what we’re all doing up here?”
“Actually, we were just speculating on which one of your sons would marry first. They are the only single Sheikhs left including the neighboring countries,” Rameez interrupted smoothly. He and Sheikh Quadie had been old friends for years.
Quadie narrowed his eyes, and Masoud could have sworn that he saw a silent message pass between the two men.
“It doesn’t really matter, since none of us are going to marry any time soon,” Masoud said uncertainly.
“Really? None of you plan to marry before the end of the year? Masoud, you used to be quite the romantic,” Quadie teased his son.
“Adil’s the one who always has to have a woman on his arm,” Masoud grumbled.
“If Jaymin sees a political match, he’ll marry in a heartbeat!” Adil protested.
“A bet then,” Rameez said smoothly. “Let’s see who is still left standing at the end of the year.”
“What’s the prize?” Masoud asked, mildly interested.
Quadie smiled slowly. “Muharraq Island.”
Masoud tensed, looking at their father in surprise. Judging from the knowing look on Quadie’s face, he knew he had hit a sore spot with Masoud. Muharraq was a small island that had been in the Khalidizack family for generations. Completely unspoiled by man, the small preserve was a paradise in the making. Up until now, it had merely been a passing dream, but he suddenly began to think about it more speculatively.
Jaymin scowled. “Seriously? That’s prime real estate. If you give it to Adil or Masoud, they’ll squander it!”
Masoud snorted. While Jaymin may be the one being groomed to take over their father’s empire, it didn’t mean that Masoud wasn’t capable of building his own. Muharraq might be the incentive he needed. Granted, he had an advantage over his siblings in that he didn’t believe in marriage. It didn’t help that their parents’ thirty-year marriage was one of political alliance. Over the years, he had heard his elders shake their heads at how distant his parents were with each other, as love often grew between political matches, in time. Masoud was amazed they’d managed to have three sons, as it didn’t appear as if they could stand to be in the same room with each other.
Now that his mother was ill, his father didn’t even seem to care. What kind of marriage was that? No, he’d rather remain single than turn into his father.
“Then you’d best see that you are the last one standing,” Quadie said with a smile. He leaned over to whisper something in Rameez’s ear, and they both laughed and walked away.
“Now that this is over, you’ll have to excuse me. I was just speaking with some of our guests about Solomon’s Diamond, and I would like to get back to it. That is, as long as you two can stop projecting your voices across the room and embarrassing the family with your comments,” Jaymin said with a long-suffering sigh.
Surprised, Masoud reached out and grabbed his older brother’s arm. “Solomon’s Diamond? You’ve got to be kidding. Why are you reminding people about that?”
“It’s the only reason that we rule,” Jaymin reminded him. “The discovery of the mines helps solidify the power of the diamond.”
“You know just as well as I do that we should not be talking about it.”
“Too late,” Adil said grimly. “You really have zoned out lately. Since the discovery of the ruins, Father has talked about nothing else.”
Masoud opened his mouth to remind his brothers that they didn’t have the diamond, but he was caught up by the presence of the family security team.
“We have a problem,” a guard told them quietly.
“What kind of problem?” Masoud demanded with a sigh. He was always the one who ended up mediating issues with guests. Jaymin was happy simply to throw them out, and Adil normally invited them to his private quarters for a drink. Some things needed to be handled with more diplomacy.
“We’ve found someone else snooping around the site.”
Masoud growled and stepped away from the railing to follow the guard. Only a month since the discovery, security had already found ten trespassers claiming to be archaeologists. They were all looking for treasure. It was getting ridiculous. Particularly with the site in such, close proximity to the palace. “Where are you holding him?”
“The palace cells.”
Masoud jerked and turned his head sharply. “The cells? For a crazy person trespassing? Why?”
The guard blushed and looked down. “She was a little insistent that she had a right to be there. When we removed her, she kept coming back. The cell was the only place we thought might deter her.”
“She?” Masoud waved the guard away. “I’ll handle it. Try to keep it quiet and make sure I’m not disturbed.”
At least the party wasn’t boring anymore.