The explosive passion between Prince Malik and Abbie could turn a marriage of convenience into one of Eastern promise.
But neither Abbie nor Malik knows the other's real identity. Can their marriage survive once the truth is revealed?
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IT WAS the outriders that Abbie saw first. Big powerful men on big powerful motorbikes, engines purring, chrome and black gleaming in the sunlight. In spite of the heat, their muscled bodies were encased snugly in supple black leather, their heads concealed in helmets. But then of course these men were the bodyguards of a man who ruled a country far away. A desert country where the sun beat down day after day, building to temperatures far higher than the moderate heat of an English summer's afternoon.
The man who was in the car behind them.
The convoy swept down the drive in a roar of engines, swirling to a halt outside the main door and waiting, bodyguards sitting taut and tense on their machines, unseen eyes clearly darting everywhere, watching, observing. Their job was to protect the occupant of the vehicle that followed them. That big, sleek car with smoked glass windows behind which she could just detect the form of Sheikh Malik bin Rashid Al'Qaim. The car also had a small flag on the bonnet.
The flag of Barakhara.
Abbie drew in a deep breath and felt it tremble all the way into her lungs.
So he was here. It was really happening. This was not a dream. It was absolutely, totally real. And that reality turned it into the biggest nightmare she had ever known. Her grey eyes blurred briefly with tears and she blinked them away hurriedly, pushing trembling hands over the blonde smoothness of her hair as she fought for control.
He was early. They hadn't been expecting him for another half an hour or so. That was why she was still tidying the room, her white blouse and neat skirt covered by the ridiculous cotton apron, splashed all over with big colourful flowers, borrowed from the housekeeper to keep herself clean.
"Dad!" she called, her voice as shaken as her breathing. "They're here."
But her father was already aware, already heading out of the room, hurrying into the hall, pulling open the big front door. Abbie saw him pause to draw breath for a moment, brush his hands down his sides to ease their dampness and her heart constricted in fear.
If her father, a man who had always seemed able to handle anything, felt nervous then the worries that had kept her awake at night ever since the news had broken were even more justified than she had feared.
"Good luck!" she called, knowing he would need more than luck.
The whole family would do everything—anything they could—to help Andy. But when her younger brother's fate was in the hands of an absolute ruler of a foreign land, the sheikh of an Arabian country... She had no idea at all what he might demand of them.
He might listen to pleas for leniency, they had been told. Then again, he might refuse to do any such thing. No one, it seemed, could predict the way he might jump. But today, after three weeks of careful negotiation and diplomacy, somehow they had prevailed on this man, this sheikh, at least to discuss the matter with them.
And he was the man inside the car. The man who...
Abbie's thoughts stopped dead as the uniformed chauffeur now came to the rear car door, opening it smoothly and stepping back, head up, spine stiffened as if at attention. He didn't actually salute, but his whole stance was one of respect and formality as he held the door so that the occupant of the limousine could emerge.
It was all she could manage. The single syllable escaped from her on a long breathy sigh, pushed out on a wave of shock and pure disbelief. If a sleek black panther had uncoiled itself from a sitting position and prowled out of the car and on to the gravel driveway leading to the house, she couldn't have been more stunned.
Or more afraid.
This man was every bit as big and dark and sleek and powerful as a hunting cat. His long body held a controlled strength that was belied by his easy stride, every lithe movement smooth and relaxed.
But his face was anything but relaxed.
Just looking at his expression sent a cold shiver of dread slipping down Abbie's spine. It was not a pretty face, nor even one that she could describe as handsome. It was too strongly carved for that, all angles and hollows. High, slanting cheekbones defined the forceful lines of his features, emphasising the lean planes of his cheeks, the power of his jaw. There was an aquiline slash of a nose and under straight black brows were the deepest, darkest eyes that Abbie had ever seen.
It was a strong face—a harsh and imposing face. And it was very definitely an unyielding sort of face. Which wasn't something that held out any chance of hope for the help that they needed right now. He was younger than she had anticipated too—closer to thirty than the fifty she had somehow expected. Though whether that was good or bad—a point in their favour or against it—she had no way of guessing.
"I thought he was a sheikh!" a young voice said from close at hand and looking down, she saw that her youngest brother, George, had come to stand beside her, staring out of the window at the important arrival.
"He is, love. The Sheikh of Barakhara." 'But he's not wearing the right sort of clothes!" 'No..."
A faint smile touched Abbie's mouth, warming and easing a little of the anxiety from her grey eyes. At just twelve, George was still young enough to think in the simplest terms. Their imposing visitor was a sheikh and, as such, he should be wearing the flowing robes that were the traditional dress of men from his country. Instead, this sheikh was dressed in an immaculate steel-grey silk suit, superbly tailored, hugging the width of straight shoulders that had no need of extra padding to make them, or the chest beneath them, look broad and strong. The fine material slid over the powerful muscles of long, long legs, clung to the lean line of his hips, as he moved forward to where her father now stood on the doorstep, waiting to greet him. Under the afternoon sun, hair black as a raven's wing gleamed glossily sleek and the hand that he lifted to brush it back from his wide forehead had the same smoothly golden bronzed tone as the skin on that devastating face.
"So he's not a real sheikh?" 'Yes—yes, he is, sweetheart. But I think he only wears those robes in his own country."
"In the desert—when he's riding on his camel?" 'Yes, I expect so."
Another wider smile curved her lips at her young brother's innocent questions.
"So he is a real sheikh—and he can help Andy?" Abbie's smile vanished, evaporating rapidly at this reminder of just why the Sheikh was here, and the seriousness of the situation that had brought about his visit.
"Yes, George. I hope so. I really hope so." 'Daddy will talk to him," George asserted. "Daddy will talk to him," Abbie echoed.
But her voice didn't have the conviction she wished for. Her shadowed eyes were watching the scene beyond the window, seeing the way that the Sheikh strolled towards the door, handsome head held arrogantly high, keen dark eyes scanning his surroundings assessingly.
He held out his hand to her father courteously enough and the clasp seemed firm and sure. But watching James Cavanaugh intently, sensitive to every move, every change of expression, Abbie saw the way the older man almost bowed, instinctively inclining his head in respect for his royal visitor. The gesture worried her. It made her fear that her father had been overawed by this much younger man. She didn't want to think about the possible implications of that.
They needed her father to be fully in control of the situation. He had to be able to cope, to discuss the matter calmly and confidently. Andy's future depended on it.
The thought of her brother, only just nineteen, alone and afraid, locked away in one of Barakhara's darkest, most secure jails made her shiver in fear, her nerves tying themselves into tight, cruel knots in her stomach. Andy had been foolish, stupid, totally irresponsible—but he wasn't bad. He'd made a mistake—a very serious one, admittedly, but a mistake was all it was. And if he was given a second chance...
He had to be given a second chance! After all, that was why the Sheikh was here.
Surely he wouldn't have travelled all this way just to tell them that he wasn't prepared to show her brother any leniency?
Leaning forward a little, she tugged slightly at the fall of the elderly lace curtain that shielded the window, twitching it aside so that she could see more clearly. Then froze as the small movement caught the corner of the Sheikh's eye, causing him to turn his head sharply, narrowed eyes hunting the source of the distraction. In a heart-stopping second the black, black gaze locked with silver-grey—and held.
"Oh, help!" Abbie couldn't hold back the exclamation of something close to horror.
If she had been a small scurrying mouse that had suddenly looked up and found itself the centre of the concentrated attention of some hunting hawk the shiver of apprehension that raced through her couldn't have been any more fearful. Abbie felt her throat close on a spasm of pure panic and her nerveless fingers let the curtain drop as she stepped back sharply, dodging out of the firing line of that laser-like scrutiny as quickly as she could.
But even so she felt the burn of his gaze hot on her skin, the sense of shock and bewilderment lingering as the net curtain fell back into place, shielding her once again from those sharp, assessing eyes.
Dear God, please let these negotiations be over and done with soon, she prayed silently. For no logical reason whatsoever, she was suddenly assailed by the feeling that she would not be safe while this man was in the house.
She just wanted him to go—be on his way—and out of her life for good.
And yet...she admitted as she stepped back as far out of sight as possible.
And yet she had never seen a man like him in her life. In spite of her fears, she knew that she would find it impossible to erase the image of his stunning features that was etched onto her mind.
If only they could have met some other time, in some other way.
Who the devil was that?
Sheikh Malik bin Rashid Al'Qaim wasn't a man easily distracted from his purpose. If an issue demanded his attention, it got it—wholeheartedly. And the subject he had to discuss with James Cavanaugh was one that needed wholesale concentration. But, just for a moment, the sudden flash of movement, the twitch of a net curtain over to his left had caught his eye. He had turned...
And found himself transfixed, his gaze caught and held by the blonde who was staring at him in open curiosity from the ground floor window.
A stunning blonde. Tall and slim, with sleek, smooth hair and a figure shapely enough to distract his attention even further just for a moment. Even the ridiculously old-fashioned and unflattering cotton apron wrapped around her and tied tightly at her slender waist couldn't disguise the very sensual appeal of the feminine curves it covered.
Curves he would like a closer look at. Very much closer. But even as the thought crossed his mind the blonde's eyes widened in something like embarrassment and she stepped back hastily, letting the lace curtain drop between them once again, concealing her from him.
Malik crushed down the sudden twist of disappointment, the murmur of protest from senses that had been woken by the swift glimpse of the unknown blonde. He had more important matters on his mind. The woman—clearly a maid or some other home help that the Cavanaughs employed— would keep.
"Would you care for something to drink—some refreshment after your journey?"
Swiftly Malik turned his attention back to what James Cavanaugh—Sir James Cavanaugh, he reminded himself— was saying.
"That would be very welcome," he acknowledged and allowed himself to be escorted into the cool shade of the big oak-panelled hall, their footsteps echoing on the ornately tiled floor, his bodyguards following behind him.
He would much rather state his business and get the whole thing out into the open so that they each knew where they stood, he reflected as he followed the older man through a door on the left and into a large bay-windowed room. A room that had obviously once been elegant and luxurious, but which now showed every sign of the sort of neglect and decay into shabbiness that came from a lack of ready cash to put things right.
He had spotted these indications of disrepair everywhere on the approach to this house. The ornate wrought iron gates had not had a coat of paint in years and were rusting and falling into decay, the fountain in the courtyard was coated in green moss and the flower beds were obviously unweeded and uncultivated.
The house itself might be huge and elegant, showing the way that this family had once held power and status in English society, but clearly the upkeep of their stately home was now beyond the means of the very limited income they possessed.
Which would make his task easier, he decided, watching his host fuss over his comfort in a way that did little to conceal the way that James was clearly a bundle of nerves. They would have little choice but to accept the offer he was here to make, and be grateful for it.
Malik just wished they didn't have to go though this pantomime of welcome and polite small talk first. The friendliness his host was now displaying would vanish soon enough. James Cavanaugh was not going to like what he had to say— not one little bit.
But if James wanted to see his son again this side of young Andrew's fortieth birthday then he would have no alternative but to agree to the conditions he was being offered.
Whether his daughter would go along with them was quite another matter.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At first glance they are lost.........Malik the sheikh and beautiful proud Abbie who wants her brother out of jail. They see each other from afar and immediately there is lust, desire and tension. Malik is regal, sexy, stern, determined.... all of the characteristics one would expect of royal blood and a sheikh. He has come to England to meet with Abbie's father concerning the release of her brother from a Barakhara jail. Neither knows the truth about each other until one evening the truth is revealed and Abbie's hopes are shattered. Malik has come to England to offer pardon if Abbie marries his brother, the Sheikh of Barakhara (his half brother). Abbie is so sexually and passionately drawn to Malik that she isn't herself. The events are turbulent; an interesting mix to the storyline. Abbie's desire for Malik, her pending marriage to his half brother and then a country in turmoil plus seeing Malik again after weeks of trying to forget him. This love story is as hot as the burning desert sun! Kate Walker has yet again penned a powerful and promising love story full of passion, tension and drama set in the desert sun. Their love story will grip your heart and provide hours of reading enjoyment.
Waste of money