I was thrilled to read that 2020 US presidential candidate Joe Biden shares my commitment to peace and ending crimes of racial hatred. The following is an excerpt from a news article:
“On Monday, Biden focused on Islamophobia, Trump, the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to have a state of their own, and the contributions of Muslims in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t mention terrorism or Islamic extremism.
“One of the things that I think is important: I wish, I wish we taught more in our schools about the Islamic faith,” Biden said. “What people don’t realize is … we all come from the same root here, in terms of our fundamental basic beliefs.”‘
You can read the full article here: https://www.npr.org/2020/07/20/893066503/presidential-nominees-rarely-speak-to-muslim-audiences-biden-did-monday
It’s a sentiment I share in Claimed by the Sheikh, inspired by the work and life of the pioneering elegance of Zaha Hadid. The photo above is a detail of downtown Miami’s One Thousand Museum tower by Zaha Hadid Architects. Isn’t the reference to Islamic design beautiful? Photo by Hufton + Crow.
That’s what beautiful is…not wars as Donald Trump claims. Ask anyone who has lost a son, a daughter, a loved one.
As I shared in the Author’s Note:
This book was inspired by the sassy brilliance of Dame Zaha Hadid. (DBE RA) She was an Iraqi-British architect and the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004. Tragically her life, her love, and her brilliance was cut short when she was in the prime of her career, aged 65. Her beautiful, innovative, pioneering architecture always inspired me, as it has countless other people. Hers was not an easy journey.
She once said, “If architecture doesn’t kill you you’re no good.”
She was beyond good―and architecture did kill her. She never married and she never had children. And she was always battling the architectural paternity for validation and acceptance. Despite her career success, her life struck me as very lonely and sad.
Claimed by the Sheikh was also inspired by the tragedy in 2015 that took the lives of former New Zealand All Black legend Jerry Collins and his Canadian partner Alana Madill in France.
The crash happened at 3:10am along the highway near Béziers on the way to the city of Montpellier. They died instantly, and their baby daughter was taken to Montpellier hospital in a critical condition.
I cried such tears thinking of that baby being left an orphan. It really worried me that she would be left in the world with no parents to love and care for her.
So I wondered―what if her parents weren’t really dead? What if the two people that died were the baby’s adoptive parents? What if her biological parents were very much alive?
And then, as writers are want to do, I thought, what if the biological father was an extraordinarily wealthy sheikh who was unaware that he had fathered a child?
Why a Sheikh? In a previous incarnation as a transformational leadership coach I was on assignment in one the most dangerous prisons in New Zealand.
I very much admired the men and women who worked in these very oppressive environments to keep our world safe. I especially admired those that were committed to helping prisoners change their lives.
One of the female prison oﬃcers at Rimutaka Prison knew that I was a romance novelist and asked me if I would write a book with a sheikh as the hero.
So here he is, Cheryl. I dedicate Melanie and Tariq’s love story for you. And I also dedicate this book to the survivors of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand―and to those around the world who know that only love can bring peace.
Because this story was also born from a desire to understand and draw closer to the true beauty of Islamic faith and belief.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5 of Claimed by The Sheikh
Three hours later Melanie was wheeling her carry-on suitcase through the stark grey, soulless walls of Paris’s Hôpital Necker when she caught sight of Tariq na Hassir. Sheikh Tariq na Hassir, she corrected as she took an abrupt step back, panic shooting through her in a splintering surge of shock.
She froze as he feasted his dark contemptuous gaze on her, too stunned to believe that he was really there. Too overwhelmed to comprehend that in the midst of this tragedy the man she had once loved with all her soul stood before her. Too appalled that the man who had broken her heart, the man she had believed, hoped, and prayed she would never see again was advancing toward her.
It was beyond horrific. The worst of circumstances. She wanted to flee from the tainted memories that united them and stained their past. She wanted to run from the contamination of the choices she had made. She wanted to bolt from the danger he presented but her black ankle boots felt glued to the sanitised linoleum floor.
“What are you doing here?” she hurtled out.
“I am claiming my brother’s son,” he said with righteous arrogance.
“You?” Her voice rose beyond the bounds of what was acceptable in a hospital. “You never wanted a child, isn’t that what you said when you threw me from your bed?”
“You gave me no choice. I wanted marriage, a man who would love me—children. You didn’t. Not with a commoner,” Melanie said without making eye contact, her voice trembling with hurt and regret.
Tariq crossed his arms over his powerful chest. “I never said that.”
“You made that abundantly clear. I wanted to be your wife—not your convenient mistress,” she gritted. “I wasn’t good enough. Just like little Salim. Only he’ll be worse, won’t he? Salim’s a half-caste— your brother’s royal blood tainted by a Western whore. That’s what your father called my sister, didn’t he?” she fired at him. “But he was wrong. Zayed loved my sister. He married her against your father’s wishes. She was his lawful wife, not his shameful wench.”
I feel nothing for you, she lied to herself as she pushed past Tariq and walked toward the glass wall separating her from her son.
“Oh my god,” Melanie bit her lip, blinking back tears, as she looked at the small boy lying bandaged in the paediatric hospital bed. Her fingers trembled with longing, wanting to hold her son for the first time in her arms.
Why does love always cause pain, she thought, looking up at Tariq and then back toward her son? She studied Salim’s closed eyes, his dark lashes resting peacefully against his cheeks, his wild curly hair splayed upon the starched hospital linen, his cupid lips curved into a mercifully comatose dream, she was suddenly struck by how like Tariq he was.
God, we created something beautiful.
“Where are the doctors? Nurses? Why isn’t anyone here….?” She said, spinning around.
“They’re preparing to leave.” He said, exuding authority and a compelling magnetism that sent her pulse soaring.
“Leave? I don’t understand? Why? Where?” She stammered.
“I’m taking my brother’s child back to Avana.”
“Salim, his name is Salim. God, can’t you even say his name.”
“Yes, I’m upset,” she flew at him. “My sister is dead, and now you want to take away my…” she swallowed hard, forcing back the truth she yearned to speak, “—my only connection to her.”
Just like you always remove the things most important to me.
“Besides, you can’t just take a three-year-old boy who has just survived a fatal car crash from the hospital.”
“I can and I will.”
“He’ll die.” How could she trust him, when he had deceived her before?
“Salim will die if he stays in France,” he said jabbing at the headlines in a newspaper laying on the waiting room table. “The place is almost prehistoric. Hospital fire kills. Read it for yourself.”
Melanie scanned the paper and read the article out loud, “A fire at a Paris hospital has killed eleven newborn babies. The blaze is believed to have been caused by electrical wiring.”
Her hand flew to her mouth. “How horrible…Oh my God…Those poor babies… Those mothers… ” her voice trailed oﬀ. Mother. She was a mother. It still didn’t seem real.
“It is already decided. Only I can ensure the child’s protection.” Not a muscle in Tariq’s hard, handsome face moved, and feeling as though he’d slapped her, as though he too considered her unworthy of the title, Melanie looked away.
“My aids have assembled and flown to my kingdom the most skilled medical staﬀ in the world. Everything has been arranged. We leave in my private jet today.”
“You can’t just take my—” she paused, frantically scrambling for the right words. How could she possibly reveal the truth? His wrath would be merciless. Her deception would only make his resolve to claim her child stronger.
“You can’t just take my sister’s child like that. You have no more claim to him than I do. What about what I want?”
“You?” he almost spat the word. “Your sister murdered my brother.”
Here’s another excerpt from Chapter 21, inspired by true events at a school here in New Zealand. My hope, like Joe Biden’s, is that hate crimes cease.
“Not long,” he said.
“I was just leaving.”
“There’s no need.”
“Yes,” she stammered, her voice barely audible. “There is.”
He watched as she hurried from the room, and then walked to the bed and lay the soft, pink, giraffe he had purchased in Paris beneath the three-year-old’s arm. Pink, he affirmed Not blue—or brown or anything even moderately manly or remotely true to the animal’s natural colours.
Melanie had been right. Tariq was so shut down, so closed, so hard-hearted he was incapable of showing emotion. His own upbringing had been so frozen of femininity, so malnourished in favour of warrior-like masculinity, so deliberate in the demarcation and devaluing of the female gender that as a result, he went about his life with no more emotion than a terracotta warrior.
A tide of anger surged through his gut and churned with the pain of his lost childhood. He clenched his fists. He wanted none of that for his brother’s son, he realised with punching clarity.
He leaned over and stroked the child’s hair. Tariq’s heart kicked as Salim’s eyes fluttered. Was it possible that, against all medical wisdom, the boy was aware of his presence?
Impossible. He was lost to everyone, deep in a coma from which the doctors said he may never wake. The irony, the injustice, the torture, Tariq thought, tightening his grip on the metal frame of the paediatric bed. He was powerless.
What did the child dream of, he wondered, as he watched the boy lying lost in his unconscious mind? Tariq envied the peacefulness that enveloped him. He was thankful the child knew nothing of the car crash that had killed his parents. At least he had been spared that unspeakable trauma.
Tariq’s gaze drifted to the pink giraffe. It was the perfect totem to accompany Salim on his sleepy journey. Wide-eyed, the giraffe appeared to agree. Tariq remembered the words of the African shaman he had met on one of his many rescue missions to liberate endangered species. The gentle creatures, with their gracefully long necks, were believed to stretch into heaven. ‘They are a spirit animal who wanted you to hold your head high and rise above trivial earthly desires’, she had said.
‘They have the ability to reach opportunities that are not available to others,’ she had told him. ‘It is also said that they can see the cosmic plans of the gods and inherently the possible future. As a spirit guide, the giraffe provides you the confidence to get through the toughest situations. Their luck will rub off on you as you come across great opportunities. You have to realise that these opportunities don’t come around often so you have to grab them while you can.’
Longing flooded his body as he gazed at the child. More than anything he wanted to clutch the boy and cleave him to his heart and kiss him awake. It wasn’t trivial to want the boy to rouse; it wasn’t trivial to want the boy to gain consciousness. it wasn’t trivial to want the boy to live.
His grandfather’s words floated through the air. Teach your children to love. The very words Hamza had spoken to his own son, Tariq’s father, only to find the wisdom fall on blocked ears. Wasn’t this why there was so much hate in the world? People had stopped listening to their hearts.
Tariq’s mind drifted to a news article he had read recently. A 10-year-old child whose family had escaped persecution for their beliefs under the hateful Taliban regime, hoping to find a safe haven from Islamic State terrorists in New Zealand, had been taunted and bullied at school. Feeling so much pain he had tried to commit suicide. The hate-riddled school children, the article said, had held a knife to his throat as they yelled, Isis lover.
Rage ripped through his chest. Melanie was right. The child needed love. All children needed love. The world needed love. What right did he have to deprive anyone of that?
Tariq clutched his heart, feeling the pain, the emotions, the trauma he had suppressed for so long, flood to the surface. No, he vowed, clenching his fists, Salim would never know hatred, brutality, nor quiet contempt.
Tariq had vowed never to become his father and yet as Melanie had so bluntly reminded him, he had become a tyrant. He had spent a childhood marinated in trauma. He lifted his hands to the soft toy of Simba which had been rescued from the car-wreck and now lay ever watchful, at the foot of Salim’s bed. He lifted his paw and in a moment of punching clarity, he vowed he would dedicate his life to ensuring the boy’s life roared with love.
He propped the toy back into a protective stance, his paws outstretched toward the child, his long, powerful body splayed toward Salim. Tariq reached over and gently, tenderly, softly pressed his lips to the child’s cheek. He felt his eyes water and before he could control the flow of raw emotion a tear, shaped like a diamond, plopped upon Salim’s lips. But, unlike a fairytale miracle, his sleeping beauty did not wake.
Tears fell like a floodgate he was unable to stop, as though a valve in his garden had wedged itself open. Tariq watched transfixed as a finger of light from the setting sun anointed the tear in a prism of light.
How could he reach the boy? How could he save him?
He ran his hand across his chin, then leaned down and opened the musical case which lay beneath the child’s bed. What had the doctors said? Sometimes music had the power to heal.
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