Former soldier and diamond dynasty heir Tyr Skavanga has finally returned to the cold north. Haunted by the terrors of war, he's cut himself off and hardened his heart. But now one person has managed to defy his defenses, and she's the last
person he expected.
is the only woman he wants!
The exotically beautiful, innocent Princess Jasmina of Kareshi is strictly off-limits. Like Tyr, she has a reputation to protect, but denying their electrifying connection could prove to be the toughest challenge they have ever faced .
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TYR SKAVANGA IS HOME!
The headline blared at him. His sister Britt had placed the newspaper on her desk, where she knew he couldn't fail to see it. Britt was trying to tell him in her usual no-nonsense way how much he'd been missed, and how words could never express his three sisters' happiness now he'd returned. The photograph beneath the headline showed Britt, Eva and Leila, hugging each other, their faces wreathed in smiles ofjoy. Because of him.
Turning, he went to stare out of Britt's office window, where snow drifted from a black sky like frozen sighs. Everything outside the building was pristine white and unspoiled, while inside, reflected in the window, was a killer's face, his face, and he couldn't hide from that.
He had no wish to, Tyr thought grimly. He was back in Skavanga, the small mining town that bore his family's name, to reboot himself amongst people he loved. He'd stayed away for too long after leaving the army, to protect his sisters and friends from a man who was vastly changed. Britt, his eldest sister, had never given up on him, never ceased trying to contact him whether he replied to her messages or not. Not being the usual response from him. Britt was one of the few people who could reach him through her husband, Sheikh Sharif. Sharif was one of Tyr's closest friends and had remained loyal throughout, refusing to reveal Tyr's whereabouts, or what he was doing while he was away, even to his wife, Britt.
In the end it was a child who had pricked his conscience and brought him back. He had carried the little girl from the war zone to reunite her with her family in a refugee camp, and when the tears of joy subsided she had turned to him to ask, with all the concern a child of seven who'd seen too much could muster:
'Don't you have a family, Mr Tyr?'
The little girl's question had shamed him, shattered him. It had broken through his armour, forcing him to think about those he'd left behind. Yes, he had a family and he loved them very much, he had explained to her. No one in the girl's family had commented when his eyes filled with tears. They'd seen everything. They were reunited. They were alive. That was all they asked for. When he'd left the camp to return to the desert to begin rebuilding, he'd worked until his strength gave out, and all the time he was there the little girl's comment about his family nagged at him, made him realise how lucky he was to have people who loved him. He knew then he had to go home, though he had dreaded confronting his sisters, who would see through the shell in an instant to this new and much changed man.
He had been of inestimable value to Special Forces, a senior officer had told him as he pinned a medal on Tyr's chest, but that wasn't something Tyr wanted carved on his tombstone. He wanted to be remembered for what he'd built, and not for what he'd destroyed. He'd encountered three types of soldier in battle: those who enjoyed their job, those who went about their duty with unfailing courage and loyalty to comrades and country, and those who would never recover from what they'd seen, physically, mentally, or both. He had no excuse. He was strong. He had the love of a good family, and somehow he had managed, not just to stay alive, but to remain relatively unharmed, at least outwardly. And now it was up to him to complete the healing process so he could be of some use to those less fortunate than himself. 'Tyr!'
'Britt.' He swung round just in time for his beautiful sister to throw herself into his arms. Britt's face was ecstatic, but she was full of questions. Flight good? Journey good?
'You look great, Tyr.'
His mouth quirked. 'Liar.'
His eldest sister took a step back to take a proper look at him. 'Okay, so your clothes look great.'
'Better,' he said dryly as they shared a laugh. 'I stopped off in Milan, knowing if I was coming to a party hosted by my glamorous sisters, I had better look the part.'
Britt's face grew concerned. 'You know, you don't have to do anything you don't want to, Tyr.'
'But I want to be here. I wanted to come home and see you.'
'So, you're ready to face the music?' Britt enquired, glancing across the road to the town's smartest hotel, where she had arranged a welcome home party for him.
'I am if you are.'
'I only wish we had longer to talk, but you've never been one to ease yourself into a situation by degrees, have you, Tyr?'
'Full immersion,' he confirmed, determined to keep the tone upbeat. 'It's the only way I know.'
Britt gave a disbelieving hum. 'If you say so.'
'I do say so.' He gestured towards the hotel, where they could see cars arriving. 'And thank you for going to all this trouble for me.'
She laughed. 'It's nice to have the chance. And if I can't welcome the town's hero home '
'Just welcome your brother home. That's all I want.'
'I'd go to the ends of the earth for you, Tyrand almost had to,' Britt reminded him wryly.
'Those emails kept coming,' he agreed.
'And you kept ignoring them.'
'But I saved you a trip in the end,' he pointed out.
'Tyr, you never change.' Britt was laughing but her eyes were sad behind the fixed smile because they both knew that was a lie. He'd changed a whole lot.
'This quiet time in my office has been good for you, though, hasn't it, Tyr?'
'This quiet time has been perfect. Thank you, Britt.'
Aside from shopping for some essentials, which meant ditching the desert boots and safari shirts in favour of city clothes, Tyr hadn't suffered any human contact since leaving the sandbox. After the silence of the desert even street noise was deafening. But when could Britt not face anything that came her way? he reflected as he gazed into the eyes of a most admirable woman. Even if she hadn't been his sister, he would have placed Britt on a pedestal a mile high.
'Well, you've had your moment,' she told him briskly. 'I want a few words alone with you, and then we'll go.'
He frowned. 'This sounds serious.'
'There's a lot to tell you, Tyr. You've been away for such a long time. Leila's had twins'
'This I knowyou already told me.'
'I told you when they were born,' Britt agreed. 'They're practically school age now, yet you still haven't seen them.'
He acknowledged this with a regretful dip of his head. 'And Leila's pregnant again' 'What?' This was news to him. 'Raffa doesn't waste any time.'
'Stop with the dinosaur spiel. Those two adore each other. They want a football team, according to Leila. And if you will go off radar the world isn't going to stand still until you decide to come back.'
Where he'd been there was no communication with the outside worldnot until he set that communication up and moved on, leaving others to go about the business of contacting loved ones. For a long time he'd been too beat up inside to even think about inflicting himself on his sisters.
'You're not going to tell me where you were, are you, Tyr?'
'Need-to-know basis only.' He made light of it and shrugged. His work was important to him. It was the only way he knew to make reparation. He didn't want to talk about that work to anyone, not even to Britt. He didn't want praise for putting right the wrong he'd done. He just wanted to get on with the job.
Britt shook her head at him. 'Well, I give up. But just wait until you see Leila. She looks'
'Huge?' he suggested, ducking as Britt aimed a swipe at him.
And just like that they were back to the happy days, the carefree days. 'So, what else is going on I should know about?'
'Jazz is here.'
Electricity coursed through him. 'Jazz. I haven't seen Jazz for years.' Just the mention of Sharif's younger sister's name took him back to wild school holidays, when he could ride himself into the ground and swim until his arms ached, and think of nothing more but the next harmless adventure with his two friends from Kareshi. But beneath Britt's matter-of-fact tone, he sensed something more. 'So?' He shrugged. 'What's happening with Jazz?' He was fairly confident Sharif would have told him if anything serious had happened to his JazzPrincess Jasmina of Kareshi, as Jazz was better known to the world. 'Jazz is okay, isn't she?' 'Of course she is.'
'But?' He played it down, but his heart had stopped at the thought of harm coming to Jazz. They'd known each other since Sharif had first invited Tyr to spend his school holidays in Kareshi, where Jazz teased him unmercifully for his lack of desert lore. He'd shrugged the irritating kid sister off, but surprised himself by always being pleased to see her. A type of camaraderie had grown between them, and the thought of Jazz sick, or injured His stomach churned. He'd seen too much of that.
'But nothing, Tyr,' Britt insisted. 'I'd tell you if there was anything wrong.'
He searched Britt's eyes, knowing that wasn't the whole story.
'She's coming tonight, Tyr.'
'Great.' It would be good to see Jazz, though Sharif's sister could see through everyone, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that.
'She's changed, Tyr,' Britt said quietly.
He looked up.
'Like the rest of us, Tyr, Jazz has grown up.' What was his sister trying to tell him? He shrugged, picturing Jazz with braces and pigtails. How much could one person change? He glanced at his reflection in the window, where he got his answer to that. 'What's wrong, Tyr?'
He slanted a smile. 'Nothing. Absolutely nothing's wrong.'
'We've all changed,' Britt said, reading him easily, 'but at least you're smiling now. Thinking of Jazz?'
He hummed and shrugged Britt's question off, but he was thinking about Jazz, who, all those years back, had used to refer to him as the guy from the frozen north with the funny name. Sharif, Jazz and he had been an oddball team. Jazz started out the most unwanted member of that team, but she was also the most determined, and could ride him and Sharif into the ground. And she knew the shifting patterns of the desert like the back of her hand. There had been no getting away from Jazz Kareshi, so in the end they'd given up.
'Don't look so worried, Britt. I can handle Jazz,' he said with confidence.
'Just don't tease her, Tyr.'
'Don't tease Jazz?' He frowned. Jazz had always been the butt of their humour, and Jazz had always given back as good as she got.
'Jazz has only agreed to come tonight because this is such a big family occasion. And I'm here to chaper-one her,' Britt added with a meaningful look. 'Me and Sharif, that is.'
He frowned. 'This is all sounding terribly formal and not a bit like Jazz.'
'Like I said, Tyr, Jazz is all grown up, and unmarried sisters of the ruling sheikh in Kareshi don't share our freedoms.'
'Is Sharif penning her in?'
'Don't be silly. You know Sharif is a big advocate for progress. This is Jazz's decision, and we have to respect her for her beliefs. It shows a quiet strength and lots of courage, in my opinion. Jazz has stood by Sharif's side throughout as he's coaxed Kareshi into the twenty-first century, and now she doesn't want to do anything to rock the boat, let alone give the traditionalists in Kareshi an excuse to criticise Sharif for implementing progress too quickly.'
'So Jazz sacrifices herself?' he demanded, outraged. 'Jazz shuts herself away?'
'Not exactly, but Jazz has become quite conservative, so for her sake, Tyr, just tone it down when you see her, okay?'
'What do you think I'm going to do? We've been friends for most of our lives, Britt. I'm hardly going to leap on her.'
'Just cool the friendship, and stay clear of Jazz, except for the most perfunctory greeting. Okay?'
He raked his hair. 'I can't believe you're serious. Is anyone allowed to approach the royal presence?'
'Don't mock her, Tyr. Of course they are.' Britt fired a warning glance across his bows for making light of something that was obviously a great concern to her. 'Jazz lives a near normal life in Kareshi. Sharif broke all the traditionalists' rules by giving Jazz a job at his racing stables, where she's excelled in management, but, more importantly, this has opened the floodgates for all the women of Kareshi to work, if they choose to do so.'
'But?' he prompted, homing in on Britt's brief hesitation.
'But it's made Jazz more determined than ever to uphold tradition in other areas of her life, so that no one can find fault with Sharif's decision to allow her to work.'
'What does "upholding tradition" mean exactly?'
'It means that Jazz believes Kareshi can only take one small step at a time, and if by staying in the shadows it means every woman in Kareshi has the right to work, she's prepared to do that. We should admire her for that sacrifice.'
'Kareshi has to be coaxed, not bullied, Tyr. Jazz understands this as I do. Freedom for women to work is the first big step. Freedom for unmarried women to mix openly with men without being shunned by society is the next. Kareshi will take that step, but Jazz is devoted to her people, and I think we can safely trust Jazz to know what's best in this instance.'
'To know what's best for her, or for Kareshi?'
'Don't get so heated, Tyr. For both, of course. And please don't scowl at me like that.'
'You're right, and I apologise.' Britt had done too much for him for him to sound off at her like that. 'I'm still trying to get my head around the feisty girl I knew becoming some sort of reclusive woman.'
'So you didn't shut yourself away from those who loved you?'
Trust Britt to point that out. He forced a smile over his concern for Jazz. 'Point taken.'
'Be happy for her, Tyr. Jazz is a wonderful young woman with the strongest sense of duty where Kareshi is concerned, something I know you can relate to. It makes sense that she doesn't want to cause ripples on the pond.'
'It makes sense to you maybe,' he agreed, 'but Jazz is my friend, and I'm going to see a lot of friends tonight and I'm going to treat them all the same.'
'Then there's nothing to worry about, is there?' Taking his face between her hands, Britt stood on tiptoes to kiss him on both cheeks. 'Now, there are some people outside that door who have waited a long time to give you a big, sloppy welcome without the rest of the world looking on.'
His spirits soared with expectation. 'Eva and Leila are here?'
'With their husbandsI didn't think you'd mind, seeing as Roman and Raffa are your closest friends?'
'I don't mind at all.' He was looking forward to it, and his cynical self reassured him that if he kept it light they wouldn't see anything in his eyes except the happiness a reunion like this would bring.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had to force myself to finish this book. The characters were boring and the story dragged. There was no chemistry whatsoever.