“Oh thank goodness you’re all here!” Shantra exclaimed after bursting into the salon where the family normally gathered for drinks before dinner. Previously, this period of the evening had been a special time when the five siblings would gather and talk about their day. But now that Ramzi and Turk had found the loves of their lives, their quiet time as a small family had been sporadic, almost non-existent some weeks. Her two older brothers tended to prefer dining alone with their spouses rather than as a family.
“What’s going on, little one?” Ramzi asked.
“Don’t call her that,” Ramzi’s wife, Mia, commanded as she waddled into the room. Her pregnancy seemed to be more pronounced every day, as was her grouchiness because of the pregnancy. She loved children, but she wasn’t in love with being pregnant.
Ramzi immediately walked over to his wife and put a hand around her very large, very pregnant waistline. He suspected that she was tired since her French accent was a bit more pronounced than normal. But she’d insisted on joining the family for dinner tonight although he wasn’t sure why. “Why not? I’ve always called her that. She’s the smallest one in the family. The name fits.”
Mia accepted his help in sitting down, then sighed with relief when she was ensconced in the comfortable chair with her feet on a low ottoman. At that point, she turned to glare up at her husband. “Because she hates it.”
Ramzi’s dark eyes moved back to his youngest sister in time to see her lashes lower, indicating that his beautiful wife was correct but his baby sister was too kind to ask him to stop. “Got it,” he finally said and kissed the top of Mia’s dark head.
“What’s going on, brat?” Rais, the middle of all of them but the youngest of the brothers, walked into the room and over to the bar to pour himself a drink. Of the five, there were three older brothers. Ramzi, the oldest, was the current Sheik of Kilar. Then there was Turk, who had taken on the role of Minister of Defense. The youngest brother, Rais, was the Minister of Finance and a genius at making money and forcing the business world to bend to his will. The brothers were significantly older than the sisters and, therefore, more protective. After several years of dealing with the insanity of three brilliant, creative and mischievous sons, their mother had demanded daughters and so Ciala, the fourth in the Sumara clan, arrived. And very soon after that, Shantra, the youngest, came into the world.
Shantra’s eyes snapped and she glared at her brother. Unfortunately, he was too big to care about her anger and too arrogant to change. Remembering this quickly, her glare turned to a smile. She wasn’t going to change her brothers, so she might as well accept them and focus on the positive aspects of their personalities, even though some days it was extremely hard to remember those facets.
“You’re in trouble,” Turk mumbled. He shook his head as he escorted his wife, Raven, into the room. Raven was a brilliant doctor who was also pregnant with their first child.
“Who is in trouble?” Raven asked, walking next to her husband as he helped her into the chair next to Mia. She looked up at her husband, her eyes questioning if he was the man in trouble.
“Don’t look at me,” he replied, shaking his head. Holding his drink, he waved towards the youngest brother. “Rais is the one causing problems.”
“Tonight,” Raven mumbled under her breath, knowing her husband too well. In response, she felt his hand slide under her hair, his strong fingers stroking along the edge of her neck, exactly where he knew she was extra sensitive. She yelped slightly and started to move away from him with a laugh, but his hand wouldn’t relinquish the gentle hold.
“What’s going on?” Ciala asked as she stepped into the room. Of the five siblings, Ciala was the calmest, the one to bring peace to the group. As the middle child, Rais should be the peacemaker. But he was more likely to tease his two youngest sisters and, as the youngest of the brothers, he was always eager to step into the fray and enjoy a good battle, either verbal or physical. “Shantra, you seem to have some news?”
Shantra took a deep breath, her face brightening as she remembered her fabulous announcement. “Jo and Keith are finally coming for a visit!” she announced. She waited for everyone’s excited reactions.
Ramzi, Turk and Rais all stiffened at the news that their sister’s best “friends” from university were coming to the palace to visit their baby sister. They didn’t like it. Not one little bit. Two men coming to visit? All three of them thought their baby sister should find other friends that were…well, female. They didn’t like her best friends being male even if she assured them that they were simply buddies.
“Your friends?” Ramzi demanded, his hand tightening on his wife’s fingers. “What are they to you?” Since no one in the family had ever met them, he didn’t like them. His little sister talked about them all the time but this was the first time they’d ventured into the lion’s den, so to speak. Shantra had always been the one to visit them.
Shantra laughed softly and waved her hand in the air, dismissing her brother’s obvious concerns. “Nothing like what you’re thinking.” She turned to face Rais. “And if you promise to keep your hands off of Jo during this visit, I promise to keep Keith away from you.”
Startled at the idea of him trying to keep his hands off of some guy, Rais chuckled and lifted both of his hands into the air. “I doubt that will be a problem,” he replied over the muffled amusement of his older two brothers. “Why in the world would you think that would even be an issue?”
“Good!” Shantra walked over to the drink cart and poured herself a glass of scotch, shocking all three of her brothers when she didn’t choose wine. “They are arriving early tomorrow morning and I want the three of you to be on your best behavior.” Turning to Ramzi, she glared at him. “No intimidating my friends!” she told him firmly.
Ramzi rolled his eyes. “When do I ever intimidate anyone?” he asked.
“All the time!” Shantra replied.
Ramzi looked down at his wife who was nodding her head in agreement. He sighed as if he was severely put out. “Fine! I’ll be nice!”
Shantra turned to look at Turk. “And you?”
Turk shook his head, refusing to bow down to his little sister’s glare. She was the youngest and most naive. He was going to protect her even if that meant he had to protect her from herself. “I’ll reserve judgement until I meet them.”