Catherine Taylor, no stranger to life’s school of hard knocks, at 18 leaves her dysfunctional family behind, striking out on her own to embrace her passion for art. Years of hard work has given her a degree of acclaim. When offered the opportunity to work in the middle eastern country of Bashir to create the defining mural for the new children's critical care ward, Catherine embraces the chance to meld her love of children and her love of art. What she doesn’t think she is ready for is the blatant and instant passion she feels the moment she meets the successful country’s crown prince, Malik.
Malik al-Hakim has been raised with the sole purpose of someday becoming the king of Bashir. Years of careful preparation by his loving family has him ready to take the yoke from his father one day, but nothing could prepare him for the instant lust he feels the moment he sees Catherine. Never one to let an opportunity slip by, Malik pursues Catherine, convincing her to explore their desire. But when political intrigue places Catherine in danger, Malik soon realizes lust has evolved to love and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep the woman of his dreams safely by his side, no matter how hard she tries to fight their fate.
Read an Excerpt
Catherine Taylor stretched her sore muscles and blew out a breath. It was a long flight from London to the tiny Middle Eastern country of Bashir, and a smooth one at that. But she hated flying; well, not flying itself, just takeoffs and landings. Now, all she had to do was collect her luggage and drag herself to a taxi.
On her way to baggage claim, she noticed the art on the walls, her artist eyes intrigued by the images of the desert and animals painted there. One wall showed dune after dune of desert sand and the sun sparkling against them. The next wall had a den of sand foxes, cacti, and flowers. She couldn't wait to start her mural at the local hospital for the new children's wing.
While she waited for her luggage, she powered up her cell phone. There were two text messages waiting for her. One from her manager, letting her know a car had been sent for her, and another from her best friend, Sara.
Catherine texted Sara back, letting her know she'd arrived and she'd call her later. She slid her phone back into her carry-on bag. Within minutes, she had her battered, bright blue suitcase in hand and followed the signs to customs. Thanks to the employment letter from the ruler of Bashir, customs would be a piece of cake.
Exiting the customs door, she glanced around at the people waiting. She didn't see anyone holding a sign with her name. Maybe they were late or waiting outside at pickup.
Halfway to the arrival area, the noise of a large group of men shouting questions at a man walking in her direction caused her to pause. Her attention centered primarily on the man.
His raven hair was disheveled as if some woman had run her fingers through it, and his broad shoulders were straight, adding to his height and his features. His dark brown skin made her think he was of Middle Eastern descent. The man was beyond handsome, an artist's vision, and her fingers itched to pull out her pad and begin sketching. If only she could see his downcast eyes.
The men around him shouted questions in English. Subtle lines appeared around his mouth, and his lips slightly tightened. Something wasn't right. Then he glanced up at her.
Catherine couldn't explain it, but the impact of his stare caused her to lose her breath. Fire flared to life in his dark eyes. His entire concentration was on her now. A shiver of desire ran through her body at the combination of his dark eyes, strong chin, high cheekbones, and full lips.
Someone jostled her, breaking the contact. With a shake of her head, she breathed and tried to focus her attention away from the man.
It was only then she took note of the people around him. Most of them were reporters with cameras and recording devices. Inside, she cringed and took a deep breath, deciding she needed to avoid that group as much as possible. The pain from Jamie's death didn't hurt as much as before, but she still blamed the paparazzi for hounding her after his death.
Gnawing her lip, she walked on, scanning for a way around the group. But as she moved closer, she couldn't resist looking at the man once more.
He was watching her. Her stomach fluttered along with her pulse as their gazes connected. To her astonishment, he pushed through the crowd and strode straight to her. Her heart pounded. Who was this hot-looking guy? And why was he so interested in her?
"Darling." His husky voice sent shivers up and down her spine. He closed his very masculine hands over her shoulders, stopping her forward progress.
"Excuse me?" Flashes went off, and she barely prevented herself from flinching.
"I'm sorry I'm so late." He tugged her into his embrace. "Please," he whispered, "play along. I'm begging you."
His breath brushed her ear and every nerve in her body went on alert. Jamie had begged her too, and she'd paid dearly for giving in. Her heart pounded. "Who are you?" she whispered. Her mind whirled with the sudden turn of events. Was she going to give into this man? This stranger?
"Later. Trust me, please." He pulled back and framed her face with his palms.
Heat singed her skin, from her cheeks all the way to her toes. Catherine forgot about everyone else except this man. Her feminine side roared to life. Here was a dominant male asking for her help. His straight raven hair begged for her touch, his equally dark eyes gleamed with mischief and desire. And darn if he didn't smell of fresh air and desert.
"I've missed you," he said.
Her jaw almost dropped open at his blatant sensual tone, then she remembered this was all an act. What did he want? More camera flashes went off, and she fought the urge to run away. No, she wasn't a coward anymore, at least she wanted to believe that. He didn't seem to know who she was. Was that a good thing? Yes, she decided it was. The less she was recognized, the better she would feel playing this game.
Her stomach fluttered as she made the decision to help him. The man tapped an index finger against her cheek, and she realized he was waiting for her to play her part in this little vignette.
"I've missed you, too." Releasing her suitcase handle, she slipped her arms around his neck. It was a game she was familiar with; how many times had she and Jamie played it with the paparazzi? Not that Jamie was anything like this man.
An air of danger hung around him, and her body thrummed in response to that danger. "It's been way too long," she murmured, dropping her voice to a whisper.
Hunger flashed in his eyes, and Catherine wondered what the heck she was doing. But then heat from his body — shimmering, smoldering — hit her full force, threatening to blaze her into oblivion. Oh, God, she barely stopped herself from sinking her body against his.
"Way too long," he whispered before he lowered his lips to hers.
The second his mouth touched hers, Catherine realized it was a mistake. His lips were firm, strong, and too tasty. Mint and coffee teased her taste buds. His tongue ran over her lips. She didn't even think, her lips parted instantly for him. He smiled against her mouth before his tongue delved in.
She stiffened, then relaxed as she reminded herself this was all for show. But her body had missed the memo. Her core tingled and heat filled her veins. She hadn't been this romantically close to a man in more than two years. Catherine melted against him and kissed him back.
His hands moved from her cheeks; one grasped the back of her neck, and the other curved around her waist and drew her closer. Yes, her body cried out. Their tongues continued their intricate dance. Electric pulses shot between her core and her breasts, and her nipples tightened.
A flash brought her back to earth with a jolt. Catherine pulled back, but only as far as his arms would let her. His dark eyes were fixed on her face. Up close, she found his eyes weren't as dark as they'd first appeared. They were actually a deep, deep rich brown with gold in them. The gold was molten now, glittering with emotion and lust.
"Umm ..." She didn't have a clue what to say. What could she say? She'd never kissed a stranger like that; hell, she hadn't even kissed Jamie with that much passion. And it didn't help that this glorious, sensual man kept staring at her with a hint of a grin, as if to say he wanted to kiss her again.
He started to lower his head, then froze as another camera flash went off. A frown marred his features for a moment before he smiled. "Let's go."
Before she could utter a single word, he grabbed her luggage, and with his arm around her waist, guided her down the concourse. The reporters trailed behind them, and the click of their shutters sounded like crickets in her ears. She wanted to ask him who he was, but he was moving at a fast pace.
The second they stepped outside, a rush of hot air hit her, disorienting her. She didn't have time to process her environment as the man was already pulling her toward an expensive sedan parked near the taxi stand.
The driver snapped up from his lounging position against the vehicle. "Sir?" He frowned at the reporters behind them. "May I be of service?"
"Yes." The stranger handed the driver her luggage and led her over to the open door before he gestured for her to get in.
She hesitated. "But I don't know you."
"Please," he whispered. "I promise you will be safe."
Maybe it was the honesty shining in his eyes, but Catherine slipped into the cool interior as the driver took his seat. The stranger leaned inside the car, away from the people following them.
"Take the lady wherever she wishes to go, Samir," he said to the driver before turning his gaze to her. "Thank you for saving me."
"But I didn't do much," she said.
"You did enough." He brushed his thumb over her cheek. "Thank you for understanding, darling. I shouldn't be more than an hour." The last was said loud enough for the reporters behind him to hear. Then he straightened and shut the door.
Catherine turned to look out the rear window as the vehicle slid away from the curb. The reporters scrambled to get to their own vehicles, and her stranger was gone.
Still feeling off balance, she rested her fingers on her lips. Did they look as swollen as they felt? His taste lingered, along with the pressure of his mouth against hers. A shiver swept up her spine.
She wanted to taste him again. Sighing, she glanced at the road behind them, and realized the reporters were following her. That was what she'd wanted to avoid, and here she was thrown right into the middle of it. Well, not quite thrown. When he'd kissed her, she'd gone along with it.
Why? What had she been thinking? She hadn't, and that was the problem. When would she learn not to be tempted by a magnetic man? Catherine gave a small sigh of regret. She'd never see the stranger again; she had no idea of who he was, and he didn't even have her name. No, it was better this way.
"Where are you going, ma'am?" the driver asked.
Gathering her scattered thoughts, she said, "Please take me to the royal palace."
"Yes. Trust me, I'm expected." She was sure he'd heard it all before, but in her case, it was true.
"Of course, ma'am." The driver smiled and then said quietly, "This is quite unexpected indeed."
* * *
Malik al-Hakim strode down the concourse, his mind on the woman he'd placed into his personal vehicle. He regretted putting the paparazzi on her tail, but he didn't have a choice. Too much depended on his being able to meet with the prime minister of Shara in private, and she was the perfect decoy.
Guilt tugged at him, causing his gut to clench. He'd promised himself years ago he'd never let another woman close enough for the press to go after her. Not after such disastrous results the last time. But he had to admit, the woman had been a good sport to play along with him as she had. He was impressed by her performance.
And he hadn't minded kissing her at all. Nor had he minded the softness of her lips, the way her mouth had parted to allow him to taste her, and the way her arms had wound around his neck as if they belonged there.
He'd ask Samir later where he'd taken her. The least Malik could do was to send her flowers with a thank-you card, and he'd include a pass to one of the local spas to make up for all the trouble the press was sure to cause. Hopefully, their interest wouldn't last long. He expected she was a tourist visiting his country, and within a day or two the paparazzi would get tired, especially when he didn't show up to see her.
While he waited for the security doors to open, his mind went back to the embrace he'd shared with her. He'd expected a light, fun kiss, and that's how it had started, but it had quickly turned into something more. Even now he felt her soft lips against his and remembered the slight taste of chocolate from her mouth.
Her pale blue eyes reminded him of the morning sky as he rode through the desert with the sun crested on the horizon. His cock twitched, wondering if her eyes would darken in the throes of passion.
The metal doors swishing open brought Malik out of his musings. Pushing all thoughts about the woman he'd briefly held in his arms out of his mind, he walked into the room.
"Prime minister," Malik greeted, executing a deep bow in respect. Shara was a neighboring country and a country Malik wanted to keep as an ally. The prime minister's dark hair was uncovered. He wore a traditional robe but no hair covering. This was good, as it indicated the prime minister wasn't a traditionalist as Malik had been led to believe. He smiled at Malik, his green eyes gleaming with interest and curiosity.
"Prince Malik, I'm so pleased we could meet privately. Come sit down and we will discuss the issue at hand."CHAPTER 2
Catherine struggled to concentrate on the spectacular sights of the city on the way to the palace, but her mind kept wandering back to the man at the airport. What was it about him that fascinated her? His great bone structure? She shook her head. That was the artist in her, but her emotions told her it was something else.
Oh, hell, her body was still tingling from his embrace. She remembered again his lips firm against hers, his hold strong, and the heat from his body calling to her. Her core tightened.
His mouth had been soft, teasing, and yet questing for more. And she'd kissed him back. But that was a public display, staged for the paparazzi. What would it be like in private, with no one watching? The honking of a horn brought her out of her musings in time to see two men on a moped keeping pace next to the car, one trying to take her picture.
Instinctively, she shrank back, making herself as small as she could. She didn't need this. The paparazzi were not among her favorite people; to say she despised them was putting it mildly. Even with all her exposure as an artist, she kept away from most of the reporters. Her manager was constantly after her to suck up to the press, but she refused. She'd had enough of the press when she was growing up and with Jamie.
Her heart skipped a beat. How Jamie would have loved to have been here with her. He'd found inspiration for his music from the simplest things, and here in Bashir, a city rich with history, Jamie would have had a ball.
She could picture him in one of the open-air plazas with his guitar, a wide smile on his face, alight with happiness while he sang.
A camera flash startled her, and she fought against cringing. If she exposed too much of her fear, they'd exploit it. She was stronger than this, wasn't she? All she could think of was the times Jamie and she were out and the press constantly harassed them, shouting out questions and taking pictures.
"Can you lose them?" she asked the driver. It wouldn't be fair to bring the paparazzi to the king and queen's front door, regardless of whether or not they were used to it. Anger flowed through her, all directed at the stranger at the airport. Why did he send the press after her? He couldn't have dealt with them without involving her? But then she remembered his pleading voice and his eyes as he whispered please, and her body tingled with awareness like it never had before.
She sighed. At this rate, she'd never get him out of her head.
"It may be a bit tricky, ma'am, but I'll get rid of them before we get to the palace."
"Thank you." Catherine leaned her head back and closed her eyes, and the driver executed several quick turns.
She caught a few snatches of phrases in Arabic. Probably checking in with his dispatcher. Then she heard sirens.
Opening her eyes, she saw several police vehicles maneuver around them. "What's going on?"
"The authorities will take care of the paparazzi. They know the rules about following anyone." He gave her a smile in the rearview mirror, his brown eyes twinkling. "Now, we can proceed unhampered to the palace."
Catherine let out a breath as she realized the Arabic she'd heard was the driver calling the authorities. His quick thinking eased the knot in her stomach.
The taxi turned, leaving behind the police and the paparazzi. After several more turns, her breath caught in her throat at the sight in front of her.
The palace, looking like something straight out of the Arabian Nights, loomed in the background. A large golden gate stood closed, as if protecting the palace and its inhabitants from the world. And in a way, it did. Her fingers itched to sketch the scene before her, but she'd have time later.
The driver pulled up and rolled down his window. A guard in a deep red and gold uniform stepped out of a small guard station. A quick conversation took place in Arabic. Catherine regretted she hadn't had more time to learn the language before she left home. But she caught the words "guest" and "woman" before the gate opened.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Her Desert Prince"
Copyright © 2018 Marie Tuhart.
Excerpted by permission of Trifecta Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.