Read an Excerpt
'Sheikh King Emir has agreed that he will speak with you.'
Amy looked up as Fatima, one of the servants, entered the nursery where Amy was feeding the young Princesses their dinner. 'Thank you for letting me know. What time?'
'He is ready for you now,' Fatima interrupted, impatience evident in her voice at Amy's lack of haste, for Amy continued to feed the twins.
'They're just having their dinner ' Amy started, but didn't bother to continueafter all, what would the King know about his daughters' routines? Emir barely saw the twins and, quite simply, it was breaking Amy's heart.
What would he know about how clingy they had become lately and how fussy they were with their food? It was one of the reasons Amy had requested a meeting with himtomorrow they were to be handed over to the Bedouins. First they would be immersed in the desert oasis and then they would be handed over to strangers for the night. It was a tradition that dated back centuries, Fatima had told her, and it was a tradition that could not be challenged.
Well, Amy would see about that!
The little girls had lost their mother when they were just two weeks old, and since his wife's death Emir had hardly seen them. It was Amy they relied on. Amy who was with them day in and day out. Amy they trusted. She would not simply hand them over to strangers without a fight on their behalf.
'I will look after the twins and give them dinner,' Fatima said. 'You need to make yourself presentable for your audience with the King.' She ran disapproving eyes over Amy's pale blue robe, which was the uniform of the Royal Nanny. It had been fresh on that morning, but now it wore the telltale signs that she had been finger-painting with Clemira and Nakia this afternoon. Surely Emir should not care about the neatness of her robe? He should expect that if the nanny was doing her job properly she would be less than immaculate in appearance. But, again, what would Emir know about the goings-on in the nursery? He hadn't been in to visit his daughters for weeks.
Amy changed into a fresh robe and retied her shoulder-length blonde hair into a neat ponytail. Then she covered her hair with a length of darker blue silk, arranging the cloth around her neck and leaving the end to trail over her shoulder. She wore no make-up but, as routinely as most women might check their lipstick, Amy checked to see that the scar low on her neck was covered by the silk. She hated how, in any conversation, eyes were often drawn to it, and more than that she hated the inevitable questions that followed.
The accident and its aftermath were something she would far rather forget than discuss.
'They are too fussy with their food,' Fatima said as Amy walked back into the nursery.
Amy suppressed a smile as Clemira pulled a face and then grabbed at the spoon Fatima was offering and threw it to the floor.
'They just need to be cajoled,' Amy explained. 'They haven't eaten this before.'
'They need to know how to behave!' Fatima said. 'There will be eyes on them when they are out in public, and tomorrow they leave to go to the desertthere they must eat only fruit, and the desert people will not be impressed by two spoiled princesses spitting out their food.' She looked Amy up and down. 'Remember to bow your head when you enter, and to keep it bowed until the King speaks. And you are to thank him for any suggestions that he makes.'
Amy bit down on a smart retort. It would be wasted on Fatima and, after all, she might do better to save her responses for Emir. As she turned to go, Clemira, only now realising that she was being left with Fatima, called out to Amy.
'Ummi!' her little voice wailed. 'Ummi!'
She called again and Fatima stared in horror as Clemira used the Arabic word for mother.
'Is this what she calls you?'
'She doesn't mean it,' Amy said quickly, but Fatima was standing now, the twins' dinner forgotten, fury evident on her face.
'What have you been teaching her?' Fatima accused.
'I have not been teaching her to say it,' Amy said in panic. 'I've been trying to stop her.'
She had been. Over and over she had repeated her name these past few days, but the twins had discovered a new version. Clemira must have picked it up from the stories she had heard Amy tell, and from the small gatherings they attended with other children who naturally called out to their mothers. No matter how often she was corrected, Clemira persisted with her new word.
'It's a similar sound,' Amy explained. But just as she thought she had perhaps rectified the situation, Nakia, as always, copied her sister.
'Ummi,' Nakia joined in with the tearful protest.
'Amy!' Amy corrected, but she could feel the disgust emanating from Fatima.
'If the King ever hears of this there will be trouble!' Fatima warned. 'Serious trouble.'
'I know!' Amy bit back on tears as she left the nursery. She tried to block out the cries that followed her down the long corridor as she made her way deep into the palace.
This meeting with the King was necessary, Amy told herself, as nerves started to catch up with her. Something had to be said.
Still, even if she had requested this audience, she was not relishing the prospect. Sheikh King Emir of Alzan was not exactly open to conversationat least not since the death of Hannah. The walls were lined with paintings of previous rulers, all dark and imposing men, but since the death of Emir's wife, none was more imposing than Emirand in a moment she must face him.
Must face him, Amy told herself as she saw the guards standing outside his door. As difficult as this conversation might be, there were things that needed to be said and she wanted to say them before she headed into the desert with the King and his daughtersfor this was a discussion that must take place well away from tender ears.
Amy halted at the heavy, intricately carved doors and waited until finally the guards nodded and the doors were opened. She saw an office that reminded her of a courtroom. Emir sat at a large desk, dressed in black robes and wearing a kafeya. He took centre stage and the aides and elders sat around him. Somehow she must find the courage to state her case.
'Head down!' she was brusquely reminded by a guard.
Amy did as she was told and stepped in. She was not allowed to look at the King yet, but could feel his dark eyes drift over her as a rapid introduction was made in Arabic by his senior aide, Patel. Amy stood with her head bowed, as instructed, until finally Emir spoke.
'You have been requesting to see me for some days now, yet I am told the twins are not unwell.'
His voice was deep and rich with accent. Amy had not heard him speak in English for so very longhis visits to the nursery were always brief, and when there he spoke just a few words in Arabic to his daughters before leaving. Standing there, hearing him speak again, Amy realised with a nervous jolt how much she had missed hearing his voice.
She remembered those precious days after the twins had been born and how approachable he'd been then. Emir had been a harried king, if there was such a thing, and like any new father to twinsespecially with a sick wife. He had been grateful for any suggestion she'd made to help with the tiny babiesso much so that Amy had often forgotten that he was King and they had been on first-name terms. It was hard to imagine that he had ever been so approachable now, but she held on to that image as she lifted her head and faced him, determined to reach the father he was rather than the King.
'Clemira and Nakia are fine,' Amy started. 'Well, physically they are fine ' She watched as his haughty face moved to a frown. 'I wanted to speak to you about their progress, and also about the tradition that they'
'Tomorrow we fly out to the desert,' Emir interrupted. 'We will be there for twenty-four hours. I am sure there will be ample time then to discuss their progress.'
'But I want to speak about this well away from the twins. It might upset them to hear what I have to say.'
'They are turning one,' Emir stated. 'It's hardly as if they can understand what we are discussing.'
'They might be able to.'
Amy felt as if she were chokingcould feel the scar beneath the silk around her neck inflame. For she knew how it felt to lie silent, knew how it felt to hear and not be able to respond. She knew exactly what it was like to have your life discussed around you and not be able to partake in the conversation. She simply would not let this happen to the twins. Even if there was only a slight chance that they might understand what was being said, Amy would not take that risk. Anyway, she was here for more than simply to discuss their progress.
'Fatima told me that the twins are to spend the night with the Bedouins.'
'I don't think that is such a good idea,' Amy went on. 'They are very clingy at the moment. They get upset if I even leave the room.'
'Which is the whole point of the separation.' Emir was unmoved. 'All royals must spend time each year with the desert people.'
'But they are so young!'
'It is the way things have long been done. It is a rule in both Alzan and Alzirz and it is not open for discussion.'
It hurt, but she had no choice but to accept that, Amy realised, for this was a land where rules and traditions were strictly followed. All she could do was make the separation as easy as possible on the twins.
'There are other things I need to speak with you about.' Amy glanced around the roomalthough she was unsure how many of the guards and aides spoke English, she knew that Patel did. 'It might be better if we speak in private?' Amy suggested.
'Private?' Emir questioned. His irritation made it clear that there was nothing Amy could possibly say that might merit clearing the room. 'There is no need for that. Just say what you came to.'
'Just say it!'
He did not shout, but there was anger and impatience in his voice, and Emir's eyes held a challenge. Quite simply, Amy did not recognise himor rather she did not recognise him as the man she had known a year ago. Oh, he had been a fierce king then, and a stern ruler, but he had also been a man sensitive to his sick wife's needs, a man who had put duty and protocol aside to look after his ailing wife and their new babies. But today there was no mistaking it. Amy was speaking not with the husband and father she had first met, but to the King of Alzan.
'The children so rarely see you,' Amy attempted, in front of this most critical audience. 'They miss seeing you.'
'They have told you this, have they?' His beautiful mouth was sullied as it moved to a smirk. 'I was not aware that they had such an advanced vocabulary.'
A small murmur of laughter came from Patel before he stepped forward. 'The King does not need to hear this,' Patel said. Aware that this was her only chance to speak with him before they set off tomorrow, Amy pushed on.
'Perhaps not, but the children do need their father. They need'
'There is nothing to discuss.' It was Emir who terminated the conversation. Barely a minute into their meeting he ended it with a flick of his hand and Amy was dismissed. The guards opened the door and Patel indicated that she should leave. But instead of following the silent order to bow her head meekly and depart, Amy stood her ground.
'On the contrarythere's an awful lot that we need to discuss!'
She heard the shocked gasp from the aides, felt the rise in tension from everyone present in the room, for no one in this land would dare argue with the Kingand certainly not a mere nanny.
'I apologise, Your Highness.' Patel came over to where Amy stood and addressed the King in a reverential voice. That voice was only for the Kingwhen he spoke to Amy Patel was stern, suggesting in no uncertain terms that she leave the room this very moment.
'I need to be heard!'
'The King has finished speaking with you,' Patel warned her.
'Well, I haven't finished speaking with him!' Amy's voice rose, and as it did so, it waveredbut only slightly. Her blue eyes blinked, perhaps a little rapidly, but she met the King's black stare as she dared to confront him. Yes, she was nervousterrified, in factbut she had come this far and she simply could not stay quiet for a moment longer.
'Your Highness, I really do need to speak with you about your daughters before we go to the desert. As you know, I have been requesting an audience with you for days now. On my contract it states that I will meet regularly with the parents of the twins to discuss any concerns.'
It appalled her that she even had to request an appointment with him for such a thing, and that when he finally deigned to see her he could so rapidly dismiss her. He didn't even have the courtesy to hear her out, to find out what she had to say about his children. Amy was incensed.
'When I accepted the role of Royal Nanny it was on the understanding that I was to assist in the raising of the twins and that when they turned four ' Her voice trailed off as once again Emir ignored her. He had turned to Patel and was speaking in Arabic. Amy stood quietly fuming as a filepresumably her filewas placed in front of Emir and he took a moment to read through it.
'You signed a four-year contract,' Emir stated. 'You will be here till the twins leave for London to pursue their education and then we will readdress the terms, that is what was agreed.'
'So am I expected to wait another three years before we discuss the children?' Amy forgot then that he was a kingforgot her surrounds entirely. She was so angry with him that she was at her caustic best. 'I'm expected to wait another three years before we address any issues? If you want to talk about the contract, then finewe will! The fact is the contract we both signed isn't being adhered to from your end!' Amy flared. 'You can't just pick and choose which clauses you keep to.'
It was Patel who responded. He would not let his King be bothered with such trivialities. He summoned the guard to drag her out if required, but as the guard unceremoniously took her arm to escort her out, Amy stood firm. The veil covering her hair slithered from its position as she tried to shake the guard off.
It was Emir who halted this rather undignified exit. He did not need a guard to deal with this woman and he put up his hand to stop him, said something that was presumably an instruction to release her, because suddenly the guard let go his grip on her arm.