Prince Nadir's brief liaison with virginal Moulin Rouge dancer Imogen Reid was over almost before it began. And Imogen fled carrying something very precious to Nadir. Now he's found her again and he has a plan:
Step 1: Take Imogen and their daughter back to Bakaan.
Step 2: Ignore his body's betraying desire for the woman he never forgot.
Step 3: Marry Imogen, thus securing his heir and stabilizing his desert kingdom.
But step two proves increasingly difficult to execute, especially when it's clear he's not the only one struggling. So now it's time for plan B finish what they started in Paris!
About the Author
Michelle lives in Australia, and when she isn’t busy plotting she loves to read, ride horses, travel and practise yoga. Visit Michelle: www.michelleconder.com
Read an Excerpt
Some days started out well and stayed that way. Others started out well and rapidly deteriorated.
This day, Nadir Zaman Al-Darkhan, Crown Prince of Bakaan, decided as he stared at a very large and very ugly statue squatting in the corner of his London office, was rapidly sliding towards the latter. 'What the hell is that?'
He glanced over his shoulder at his new PA, who blinked back at him like a newly hatched owl transfixed by a wicked wolf. She'd been recommended by his old PA, whose recently acquired husband had taken offence at the seventeen-hour work-days Nadir habitually kept, and he wasn't sure how she was going to work out.
In general people either treated him with deference or fear. According to his brother, it had something to do with the vibe he gave off. Apparently he emanated an aura of power and ruthless determination that didn't bode well for his personal relationships, which was why he didn't have many. Nadir had merely shrugged when Zach had delivered that piece of news. Personal relationships ranked well down below work, exercise, sex and sleep.
Not always, a sneaky voice whispered in his ear and he frowned as that voice conjured up an image of a woman he had once briefly dated over a year ago and had never seen since.
'I believe it's a golden stag, sir,' his PA all but stuttered, definitely falling into the fearful category.
Applying some of that ruthlessness his brother had mentioned, Nadir banished the image of the blonde dancer from his mind and turned back to the statue. He could see it was a stag and he only hoped it hadn't once been alive. 'I got that, Miss Fenton. What I should have said iswhat the hell is it doing in my office?'
'It's a gift from the Sultan of Astiv.'
Ah, just what he neededanother gift from some world leader he didn't know, offering commiserations over the death of his father two weeks ago. He'd only been back in Europe a day since the funeral and he was, frankly, tired of the reminders which always brought up the fact that he felt nothing for the man who had sired him.
Annoyed, he strode across to his desk and sat down. His PA stopped in his doorway with her iPad clutched to her chest.
'Tell me, Miss Fenton. Should a person feel badly that their father has just passed away?'
His PA's eyes slowly widened as if he'd just raised a gun to her head. 'I couldn't quite say, sir.'
Meaning she didn't want to say. Which didn't surprise him. It wasn't as if he was known for seeking out the personal opinion of those who worked for him. Not on private matters anyway.
Still, he couldn't quite contain his frustration as his PA shuffled into his office and perched on the edge of an office chair. Between fear and awe he'd go with awe every time but his new PA looked as if she was waiting for him to attack her with a blunt instrument, which could have something to do with the whole host of unwanted emotions and memories his father's death had stirred up in him. He knew a shrink would tell him that was a good thing. As far as Nadir was concerned, long buried emotions and memories were long buried for a very good reason.
'What else have you got for me, Miss Fenton?'
She flashed him a relieved look that he had turned his mind to work. 'Miss Orla Kincaid left a message.'
Nadir already regretted calling up an old mistress to see if she was free for dinner. Earlier, when it had crossed his mind, he'd been bored by a group of business executives who couldn't give away a cold beer to a dying man in the desert let alone convince him to shell out millions to invest in a product they were trying to manufacture on the cheap. 'Let's have it.'
His PA shifted uncomfortably. 'She saidand I quote"I'm only interested if he's going to take our relationship seriously this time"unquote.'
Rolling his eyes, Nadir told her to strike that one. 'What else?'
'Your brother rang and wants you to call him ASAP.'
Maybe Zachim had received a giant stag as well. But more likely he wanted to know how Nadir was going with his plan to help haul their Arabic homeland into the twenty-first century. With a spaceship, Nadir thought wryly, or maybe a really big frontend loader. His father had ruled Bakaan with an iron fist and now that he was dead it was supposed to be Nadir's job to lead the country into the future. Something he had no intention of doing.
Years ago he had made a promise to his father that he would never return to rule Bakaan and Nadir always kept his promises. Fortunately, Zachim had been groomed in his stead and had agreed to take on the position as the next King of Bakaan. Poor bastard. 'Get him on the phone.'
'I have other messages,' she said, balancing her iPad with one hand.
'Email them to my palm pilot.'
Moments later his palm pilot beeped right after his land-line. His new PA was efficient; he'd give her that at least.
'If you're going to hassle me over the business proposal to reinvent the Bakaani banking system I'd like to remind you that I do have an international business to run,' Nadir grouched good-naturedly. Despite the fact that they were only half-brothers, Zachim was the only person Nadir would call a true friend and they caught up whenever their work paths crossed.
'I wish it was only that.' His brother's tone was grim. 'You need to get back here right away.'
'Ten hours in that place was ten hours too long,' Nadir drawled. Before that he hadn't been back to Bakaan for twenty years and he'd be happy to make it another twenty. The memories his homeland conjured up in him were better left buried and it had been more of a battle to keep them at bay yesterday than he'd be willing to share with anyone. In fact the only way he'd succeeded was to call up images of that exotic dancer and he hadn't much liked thinking about her either. Especially with the way things had ended between them. And here he was thinking about her again. He scrubbed a hand across his freshly shaven jaw.
'Yeah, well, you hotfooted it out of here before you heard the news,' his brother said.
Nadir lounged in his seat with a relaxed feline grace and propped his feet on his desk. 'What news?'
'Father named you the next in line to the throne. You're to be King and you better get your sorry arse back here quick smart. Some of the insurgent mountain tribes are making moves to cause instability in the region and Bakaan needs a show of leadership.'
'Hold up.' Nadir's chair slammed forward as his feet dropped to the floor. 'Father named you the heir.'
'Verbally.' The frustration in Zach's voice was clear. 'It seems that doesn't hold much sway with the council.'
'That's what happens when you die of a heart attack without putting the paperwork in order.'
Nadir forced himself to relax and sucked in a deep breath. 'You know it makes sense that you become the next Sultan. Not only do you run the army but you've lived there most of your life.'
He heard his brother's weary sigh and hoped another lecture wasn't coming about how Nadir was the oldest and how it was his birthright. They'd discussed this ad nauseam for years but it was only yesterday that he'd realised Zach had always believed that he'd one day return to Bakaan and take over. 'I think you're making a mistake but you'll need to officially renounce your position to the council.'
'Fine. I'll send them an email.'
Nadir swore. 'That's ridiculous. This is the twenty-first century.'
'And, as you know, Bakaan is labouring somewhere around the mid-nineteenth.'
Nadir ground his jaw and picked up the stress ball on his desk, tossing it through the basketball hoop set up beside the Matisse on his wall. His father might not have planned to die when he had but he would have known the succession protocol. Was this his way of trying to control him from the grave? If it was, it wouldn't work. Once, when Nadir was a child, they might have had a close relationship but that had ended when Nadir realised how manipulative and self-centred his father was. 'Set it up for tomorrow.'
He rang off and stared into space. That was what you got for not tying up loose ends at the right time. Twenty years ago he'd left Bakaan after his father had refused to give his mother and twin sister a state funeral after a fatal car accident. They had shamed him, his father had said, when they had tried to flee the country to start a new life. It didn't matter to his father that they had not lived as man and wife for years or that his mother and sister were desperately unhappy with their exiled life in Bakaan. It only mattered that they continued to live where his father had placed them. When Nadir had stood up for their honour his father had basically said it was either his way or the highway.
So Nadir had chosen the highway and his father had disowned him. It was one of his old man's specialitiesturning his back on anyone who displeased himand Nadir had said sayonara and left to make his own way in the world. And it had been a relief because it helped him forget the role he'd inadvertently played in his mother and sister's deaths. It was also the last time he'd let his father manipulate him. Nadir had no doubt that not changing his will to reflect Zachim as the next leader had been a deliberate move on his father's part. But he wouldn't win.
Memories surged and Nadir cursed and rocked to his feet. He stared out of the window as a stream of sunlight broke through the clouds, casting a golden hue on the Houses of Parliament. The colour reminded him of Imogen Reid's long silky hair and his mood headed further south as he thought of her once more. She was another loose end he had yet to tie up, but at least with that one he had tried.
Frustrated with the way the day was turning out, Nadir thumbed through the messages his PA had sent to his palm pilot, his eyes snagging on one from his head of security.
A sixth senseor more a sick sensetold him his day was not about to take an upward swing just yet.
'Boss-man.' His head of security spoke in a soft Bosto-nian drawl. 'You know that woman you asked me to track down fourteen months ago?'
Damn, he'd been right and every muscle in his body tensed. 'Yes.'
'I'm pretty sure we found her. I've just sent through an image to your handheld for you to check.'
Gut churning, Nadir pulled the phone from his ear and watched as the face of the beautiful Australian dancer who had haunted his thoughts for fourteen long months materialised on the screen. Fifteen months ago he'd met her at the Moulin Rouge after he and Zach had found themselves in Paris at the same time.
His brother had claimed he could do with seeing something pretty so they'd headed to the famous dance hall as a lark. Nadir had taken one look at the statuesque dancer with hair the colour of wheat and eyes the colour of a freshly mown lawn on a summer day and four hours later he'd had her up against the wall in his Parisian apartment with her incredible legs tightly wrapped around his lean hips. Then he'd had her on his dining room table, under his shower, and eventually in his bed. Their affair had been as hot as the Bakaani sun in August. Passionate. Intense. All-consuming.
He'd never felt such a strong pull to a woman before and even though his brain had warned him to back away he'd still made four consecutive unscheduled weekend trips to Paris just to be with her. Right then he should have known that she was trouble. That their affair was unlikely to end well. Little had he known it would end with him finding out she was pregnant and her claiming the child was his. Little did he know that she would then disappear before he'd have a chance to do anything about it.
Likely she'd disappeared because she hadn't been carrying his baby at all but still, the thought that he had fathered a child somewhere out in the world and didn't know about it ate away at him. A flush of heat stole over him. He didn't know what her game had been back then but there was no question that she had played him. He just wanted to know how muchand why. 'That's her. Where is she?' he bit out harshly.
'Turns out she's in London. Been here the whole time.'
'Any sign of a child?'
'None. Should I ask? I'm sitting inside the café she works at now.'
'No.' A welcome shot of rage pumped through Nadir's bloodstream, priming his muscles. It looked as if today was the day he was being given a chance to rid himself of all the irritating issues in his life and now that he thought about it that could only be a positive thing. A faint smile twisted his lips. 'That pleasure will be mine. Text me your location.'
'That guy looking at you is giving me the creeps.'
Tired from lack of sleep due to her teething five-month-old daughter, Imogen stifled a yawn and didn't bother turning towards the back of the room even though she knew who Jenny was referring to. He was giving her the creeps as well and not just because of his hard looks. She recognised him from somewhere but couldn't think where.
She folded a paper napkin at her station at the bar and darted another quick glance outside the café window to see if her housemate Minh had turned up. Her shift had already ended but she'd stayed back to help tidy up until he arrived.
Jenny elbowed her. 'I think he wants to ask you out.'
'It's the blonde hair. He probably thinks I'm easy.' Fifteen months ago she'd had an equally imposing male think the same thing of her but he'd been wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit and had completely charmed her. He'd also been a billionaire playboy with the attention span of a single-celled amoeba. She wasn't so gullible when it came to men now. And, anyway, this guy looked as if he belonged to the secret service or something. Which only made her feel more uneasy. The little retro café where she waitressed didn't usually attract the kind of clientele who required personal security, and she knew that the playboy in the three-thousand-dollar suit used to have his own detail. Was that where she had seen this guy before? With Nadir? It seemed impossible but, before she could dart another quick glance his way, Jenny nudged her.
'No need to worry now. I think I spot your boyfriend outside.'
Heat shot through Imogen's face and her head came up as for a split second she thought Jenny was referring to the playboy she'd never be able to forget, no matter how much she tried.
When she caught sight of Minh waving to her through the café window a whoosh of air left her lungs in relief. Boy, but she was jittery all of a sudden.
'I've never seen him before,' Jenny continued. 'And he looks so gorgeous carrying your little girl in that sling.' She sighed. 'I wish I could meet a man who was a looker and also a caring dad.'
Heart still pumping, Imogen waved to her friend and infant daughter. She guessed Minh was a looker with his exotic Eurasian tanned features and he was certainly one of the nicest men she had ever met in her life but she'd never seen him as anything other than a friend. And not just because he was gay but because Prince Nadir Zaman Al-Darkhan had not only left her with a baby to take care of but he'd also left her with a phobia about falling in love.