Home > The Sheikh's Redemption (Desert Nights #1)

The Sheikh's Redemption (Desert Nights #1)
Author: Olivia Gates


Twenty-four years ago

The slap fell on Haidar’s face, stinging it on fire.

Before he could gasp, another fell on his other cheek, harder, backhanded this time. A ring encrusted in precious stones dragged a ragged line of pain into his flesh.

Disoriented, he heard a crack of thunder as tears misted his sight. Admonishments boomed again as more slaps tossed Haidar’s head from side to side. One finally shattered his balance, sent him crashing to his knees. Tears singed the fresh cut like a harsh antiseptic, mingling with the blood.

A tranquil voice broke over him. “Shed more tears, Haidar, and I’ll have you thrown in the dungeon. For a week.”

He swallowed, stared up at the person he loved most in life, incomprehension paralyzing him.

Why was she doing this?

His mother had never laid a hand on him. He’d never even gotten the knuckle raps or ear twists his twin, Jalal, drove her to reward his mischief with. He was her favorite. She told him so, showed him her esteem and preference in every way.

But there had been times lately when she’d been displeased with him, when he’d done nothing wrong. Actually, when he’d done something praiseworthy. It had bewildered him. Still, nothing could have prepared him for her out-of-the-blue, ice-cold fury just when he’d expected her to shower him with approval.

She stared down from her majestic height, looking as he’d always imagined a goddess of myth would, her eyes arctic. “Don’t compound your stupidity with whimpering. Stand up and take your punishment like your twin always does—with dignity and courage.”

Haidar almost blurted out that it was Jalal—and their cousin Rashid—who deserved the punishment. The “experiment” he’d warned them against and had refused to take part in had caused the fire that had consumed a whole chamber in the palace and ruined his and Jalal’s tenth birthday party.

Being habitually wild and reckless, Jalal and Rashid had long depleted their second chances with their elders. Their punishment would have been severe. Being the one with a track record of caution and commitment, his reserve of leniency was intact. So he’d stepped forward as the accidental culprit.

Just when his confession had garnered what he’d expected from his and Jalal’s father and Rashid’s guardian—surprise followed by acceptance of his explanation and dismissal of the whole debacle—his mother had walked up to him.

Her eyes had told him she knew what had really happened, and why he’d stepped forward. He’d expected admiration to follow the shrewdness that made him feel she could read his slightest thought. What had followed were the slaps that hadn’t stopped even when her husband, the king of Zohayd, had ordered her to cease.

Haidar rose and lifted a trembling hand to the sticky warmth oozing across his left cheekbone. She swatted it away.

“Now beg your twin’s and cousin’s forgiveness for being slow in coming clean about your thoughtless transgression, almost causing them to be punished in your stead.”

Disbelief numbed him, chagrin seared his chest. It was one thing to take punishment for them, another to apologize to them, and in front of everyone present, relatives, servants…girls!

His mother clamped his face in a vicious grip, her long nails digging into his wound. “Do it.”

She released him with a shove, made him stumble around to face Jalal and Rashid. They were staring at their feet, faces red, chests heaving.

“Jalal, Rashid, look at Haidar.” His mother now spoke as Queen Sondoss of Zohayd, her voice clear and commanding, carrying to the whole ballroom. “Don’t spare him the disgrace of groveling for your forgiveness in front of everyone.”

Jalal’s and Rashid’s gazes wavered up to her before turning to him, apology and contrition blazing in their eyes.

His mother prodded him with a head whack. “Tell them you’re sorry, that you’ll never do anything like this again.”

Burning with mortification, he looked into his twin’s eyes, then into his distant cousin and best friend’s, and repeated her words.

* * *

“I didn’t do it!”

Haidar blurted the words out as his mother finished dressing his wound. Now that they were in the privacy of her chambers, he had to exonerate himself, if only in her eyes.

Her smile was filled with pride and love as she kissed the injury she’d inflicted. “I know.” So he’d been right! “I know everything. Certainly about you and Jalal and that rascal Rashid.”

His confusion deepened. “Then…why?”

She cupped his cheek tenderly. “It was a lesson, Haidar. I wanted to show you that even your twin and best friend wouldn’t say a word to spare you. Now you know that no one deserves your intervention or sacrifice. Now you know to trust no one. Most important, you know what humiliation feels like, and you’ll always do anything you must to never suffer it again.”

His head spun at her explanations, their implications.

He didn’t want to believe her, but—she was always right.

Was she about this, too?

She came down beside him, hugged him. “You’re the only true part of me and I’ll do anything so that you never get hurt, so that you become the man who will get everything you deserve. This world at your feet. Do you understand why I had to hurt you?”

Shaken by the new perspective she’d shown him, he nodded. Mainly because he wanted to get away, to think.

She stroked his hair and crooned, “That’s my boy.”

Eight years ago

“You’re just like Mother.”

Haidar flinched as if from a teeth-loosening slap.

Jalal was twisting the knife that had been embedded in his chest ever since they’d been old enough to realize what their mother was. What she was called. The Demon Queen.

To Haidar’s heartache, no matter his personal feelings for her, he’d been forced to concede the title had been well earned.

While his mother possessed unearthly beauty and breathtaking intelligence and talents, she wielded her endowments like lethal weapons. She flaunted being unpolluted by the foolish weakness of benevolence. Instead of using her blessings to gain allies, she collected cowed servants and cohorts. And she relished making enemies, the first of which being her own husband.

If it weren’t for her fierce love for her sons, or for him mainly and to a lesser degree, for Jalal, he would have doubted she was human at all.

But what had always tormented Haidar was that the older he got, the more he realized what a “true part” of her he was. He’d felt the taint of her temperament, the chronic disease of her traits spreading inside him. He’d lived in fear that they’d one day obliterate his decent and compassionate components.

It was ironic that Jalal had thrown that similarity in his face now, when he’d been feeling his mother’s shadow recede, her legacy loosening its noose from around his thoughts and inclinations. Ever since he’d met Roxanne…

“I take it back.” Jalal, the twin who resembled him the least of probably anyone in the world, shook his head in disgust. “You’re worse than her. And that I didn’t think was possible.”

“You talk as if she’s a monster.”

They’d never spoken this openly about their mother. They’d been speaking less and less about anything at all.

Jalal shrugged, the movement nonchalant but eloquent with leashed force. A reminder that though they were similar in size and strength, Jalal was the…physical one.

“And I love her nonetheless. But that’s the unreasoning affection a mother wrings from her child. You don’t get the same leniency. Not on this. This is one instance where I cannot, will not, rationalize or forgive your heartlessness.”

Unable to deal with his twin’s disapproval any better than he ever had, he let the fury and suspicion that had brought him to this confrontation take over. “So this is your strategy? Like they say in Azmahar, ‘Yell accusations lest your opponent beats you’?”

“It’s you who are resorting to ‘Hit and weep, preempt and cry foul.’”

Jalal’s derision scraped his already raw nerves. “I never suspected you’d be such a sore loser when Roxanne chose me.”

Jalal snorted, his eyes smoldering like black ice. “You mean when she was manipulated by you. Conned by you.”

Haidar suppressed another spurt of indignation, the frost at his core resurfacing. “Can’t find a more realistic excuse for trying to steal her from me? We both know I can get any woman I want without even trying, no manipulation involved.”

“You couldn’t have gotten Roxanne without it. She saw you for the ice-cold fish that you are that first night. It must have taken some Academy Award–winning acting to create the fictional character that she fell for.”

Haidar had never resorted to violence, not even while growing up among an abundance of male-only relatives who relished rough…resolutions. He’d always suppressed his temper, used cold deliberation to outmaneuver them. Now he wanted to smash in Jalal’s well-arranged face.

He gritted down on the urge. “The fact remains—she’s mine.”

“And you have been treating her like property. Worse, like a dirty secret, making her hide your intimacies from even her mother, forcing her to watch you flaunt the other women ‘you have without even trying’ in public. You told her they’re decoys to draw suspicion away from her, right? It must be killing her, even if she believes your self-serving lies. I can’t imagine what it would do to her if she knew you’d been playing her from the start, that she’s just another source to feed your monstrous ego.”

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