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Not real dynamite but something equally explosive, and Lara's fingers trembled as she looked down at the letter.
Above her head, the magnificent and ornate chandeliers of the Maraban Embassy threw glittering diamonds of light down onto the sheet of paper, and Lara stared at it, knowing that this letter held information which could change the lives of so many.
If it was true.
Lara swallowed, wondering if she should have opened it in the first place - but wasn't that part of her job, as demanded by her temporary role as secretary, to open the post? A job which up until about ten minutes ago had seemed as perfect as a fill-in job could possibly be. Her recent appointment had been a blessing for the Embassy, because their usual employee was off sick, and a blessing for her, too - since work hadn't exactly been thick on the ground recently. As a model and actress she had been 'resting' so much that lately she'd wondered why she even bothered getting out of bed in the morning.
The letter was written in a slightly wavery style, though whether that was due to the age of its author or to the emotional impact of the contents, Lara didn't know. The letter was also dated over two years ago, but somebody had obviously only recently posted itfor it to have arrived just this morning.
Could it be a forgery? She supposed it could.
She read it again, slowly, taking in each incredible word.
To whom it may concern.
I wish to inform you that my son, Darian Wildman, is the progeny of the late Sheikh Makim, Monarch of Maraban. The Sheikh was unaware that he had a child outside wedlock, and indeed Darian himself has no idea of the identity of his true father. By the time you read this I will be dead, but I could not go to my grave taking with me a secret as powerful as this.
Below is my son's address. I therefore give you this information with my blessing, to do with what you will.
Beneath the woman's signature was the name 'Darian Wildman', and beneath that an address. A business address in London.
Shakily, Lara put the piece of paper back into the envelope. This was dramatic stuff. But then she had learned that drama and intrigue were part and parcel of anything to do with Maraban. Her best friend Rose had married Prince Khalim of Maraban, and through her Lara had caught glimpses of a life so very different from her own.
If someone else had opened such a letter what might they have done? Destroyed it and then forgotten about it? For didn't the existence of an unknown brother pose a threat to Khalim and his country? He might be older than Khalim and try to overthrow him.
Even thinking such thoughts they sounded far-fetched inside her own head, but they were not - they were true. For the mountain kingdom of Maraban inspired deep and dark passions which went hand in hand with its beauty and its turbulent history.
Slowly Lara rose to her feet, startled by her reflection in the beautiful looking-glass which hung over the huge fireplace. She looked so pale. Almost frightened. As if she had seen a ghost. But in a way maybe she had. Not seen a ghost, but learned about one.
Prince Khalim had a brother!
Oh, why hadn't someone else opened the letter? Then she would not have found herself in this awful dilemma of having information and not knowing what to do with it.
It would be so simple if the Prince wasn't married to Rose, but he was. Whether or not she liked it, she was involved, and that involvement had begun the moment her startled blue eyes had alighted on the stark words contained in the letter.
Lara stared out at the grey autumnal day, at the London traffic which moved slowly by, its sound muted by the thick bullet-proof windows, and thought once more about her friend.
Sometimes it still seemed incredible that Rose was now a princess and living in Maraban, with Khalim ruling at her side. Rose had been an ordinary girl, just like Lara herself - and yet look what had happened to her. Even now it still seemed like a fairy story that hadn't really happened.
Except that it had happened.
Just as this letter had been written and Lara had opened it.
It could be a lie. It could be a forgery. The author of the letter could be completely mad. A blackmailer. A potential assassin. Anything.
So what did she do?
Did she get on the phone to Rose and tell her that her husband could have an illegitimate brother?
But Rose was pregnant again. Think what the shock might do to her.
Should she go to the Ambassador? But surely that would amount to the same thing - the first thing he would do would be to contact Khalim and tell him.
Still the thoughts continued to spin round and round in her head, unchecked until a solution occurred to her which was so blindingly simple she wondered why it had taken her so long to think of it.
What if she - Lara - went and found this Darian Wildman and sussed him out for herself? Almost as if she were sounding out the suitability of a would-be boyfriend.
Lara tucked the envelope into her handbag. If he was a good man then she would feel duty-bound to tell Rose and Khalim about him.
And if he wasn't?
Then she could destroy the letter and no one would be any the wiser.
Her heart pounded. Maybe she was being too simplistic, and playing God with information which had fallen into her hands quite by chance. And yet Khalim himself always said that nothing in life happened by chance, that everything happened for a reason. Only he called it something else. Lara racked her brain while she tried to remember what it was, and then she nodded.
Predestination. Yes, that was it. Predestination. Perhaps she had been meant to open the letter and to take the matter into her own hands.
Her mind drifted over the name. Darian Wildman. An intriguing name and an intriguing situation. She would find him. And see for herself just what kind of man he was.
But Lara's heart was beating very fast as she picked up the telephone and asked for Directory Enquiries.
Her thoughts were still reeling when she let herself into her apartment that evening to find Jake, her flatmate, cooking a fiery-looking concoction of curry.
He looked up and smiled as she walked into the sitting room and threw her coat down on the sofa. "I was about to ask if you'd had a hard day at the Embassy," he joked. "But judging from the look on your face I'd say it was a pretty redundant question. What's up, Lara? Has someone threatened to overthrow the Prince?"
"Shut up, Jake!" Lara bit her lip as the tight knot of tension somewhere in the pit of her stomach made itself known. "Any chance of a drink?"
"Coming up - though I must say it's a little early for you, isn't it?" He slopped red wine into two glasses and handed her one, a slight frown creasing his brow. "So what's up really?"
Excerpted from The Desert Prince's Mistress by Sharon Kendrick Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Kendrick. Excerpted by permission.
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