The Princess of Surhaadi is desperate to escape a life lived in the shadows of her family's past. One misguided night of rebellion later and Leila's world comes crashing down thanks to two little blue lines on the pregnancy test!
When James Chatsfieldworld-renowned bad boy and soon-to-be father hears the shocking news, he knows he needs to act, and fast! He'll propose to protect his heir, but will Leila ever believe he sees her as more than just the mother of his child?
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'I wish that it had been you!'
Princess Leila Al-Ahmar of Surhaadi froze as finally Queen Farrah voiced her truth.
Deep down Leila had always known that her mother would have preferred for it to be Leila, rather than her sister, Jasmine, who had died on that terrible night. Having it verified though, hearing her mother say the words that no parent ever should, felt like an arrow was right now being shot through Leila's heart and caused an agony that even she hadn't properly anticipated.
Not that Leila showed it to the woman who was now staring her down.
Only at night, only in sleep, did Leila cry for a love she had never been shown.
The absence of love in her life had made Leila resilient though, so she stood, unflinching, as her mother poured boiling oil onto already raw wounds. Only it wasn't just resilience that made Leila stand proud and silentquite simply she was too stunned to react.
For all of her twenty-four years Leila had done everything she could to avoid this moment, but she had finally stopped running from the truth tonight.
After dinner, instead of heading to her suite, instead of disappearing, Leila had taken up her beloved qanuna small harp that was so much more than an instrument to Leila. It was both her friend and her companion. It was gentle and pure and wild at times too, and when she played it Leila knew for sure that love existed.
Even if she had never known it from her parents.
Farrah loathed that her daughter adored music so.
Jasmine had played better apparently, Farrah said as she took up her embroidery. It was the same tapestry that she had been working on for more than sixteen years.
Night after night she unpicked the threads and re-sewed, going over and over it and refusing to finish as Leila's father sat silent in the chair.
No, she hadn'tplayed better than me, Leila wanted to scream, for she knew that was not true.
Jasmine, her mother goaded, had held a note until doves lined the palace windows just to hear her play.
Tension had been building for years, yet on this night Leila had refused to give in and obey her mother's silent command to remove herself. Instead she had continued to playplucking the qanun's strings, refusing to be quiet, as was the unspoken rule in the palace.
Had her older brother, Zayn, been here he would have, by now, defused the situation. Zayn would have diverted their mother somehow.
But Zayn wasn't here tonight.
Soon he would marry the woman whom he had been betrothed to since childhood, Leila thought.
Even though she was twenty-four Leila's marriage had not yet been arrangedit upset her mother too much to get around to it, for Jasmine would have been such a beautiful bride, Jasmine would have had such adorable babies.
Jasmine, Jasmine, Jasmine.
She would be a spinster forever, Leila thought. She would be here alone in this palace with them until the day that she died.
Night after night spent hiding in her suite would be her life and so she brought things to a head tonight in the only way she knew how.
Leila said with her fingers, with each pluck of the strings, what could not be voiced by her mouth.
They told the truth.
The harmony that she created was not a peaceful one.
It spoke of the night sixteen years ago when Jasmine had died.
Leila had been only eight at the time but she remembered it well and, as an adult, she understood more clearly what had happened.
The music she made spoke of a young woman going off the rails. It spoke of drugs and drink and hips that had provocatively swayed as she'd danced with Zayn's best friend at that time. The music spoke of things that, even now, Leila didn't properly understand for she was, and had always tried to be, a good girl. Yet tonight her fingers spoke of sex and forbidden fruits and a young girl taking a dance with the devil himself.
'Leila ' Her mother spat. 'Enough!'
But still Leila's fingers strummed on.
Deep into her music she went. Exploring Zayn's fury and anger when he had found out how his friend had betrayed him with his sister.
Leila recalled some of the furious words that had poured from her brother, things that even now Leila could not really comprehendhow men like Jasmine's lover used women, that it was only the thrill of the chase that had them keen. How, now that he had had her, soon he would not want her.
Zayn had thrown Jasmine's lover out into the night and Jasmine had made the decision to follow him. Their mother, to this day, had Zayn almost eaten alive with guilt over the repercussions.
Leila's fingers revealed the screams that had filled the palace when the terrible news had hit that a car accident had left the young princess and her lover dead.
With not a word uttered, Leila exposed the truth of that night, with her musical talent.
'Khalas!' Her mother stood and screamed for her daughter to stop; she screamed for salvation. Farrah grabbed at the harp and sent it clattering to the floor, and as Leila's stood to retrieve her most beloved possession, it was then that her mother said it'I wish that it had been you!'
Leila's golden eyes met the furious gaze of her mother's, willing her to retract, silently begging Farrah to break down and take back what she had just said, but instead her mother clarified her words past the point of no return.
'I wish it had been you who died that night, Leila.'
Now Leila drew in a breath, now she fought back.
'You fail to surprise me, for you have wished me dead from the moment that I was born.' Leila's voice did not waver nor did it betray the agony of the truth behind each word that she spoke. 'You have never wanted me. Even as I nursed at your breast your milk tasted sour from your resentment.' Leila knew that might sound an illogical statement, but as far back as she could remember Leila had known that she wasn't wanted.
'It was the maids who fed you,' her mother, blameless to the last, said. 'It must have been one of their milk that was sour with resentment. They always complained you were such a greedy baby.'
Leila wished there was no gravity; she just wanted to leave the earth, to be lifted to space, to disappear.
Yet her feet stayed on the ground.
As she somehow must.
'Sadly for you, Mother, I didn't die that night. I'm alive. I have a life and I have already wasted far too much of it trying to win your love. Well, no more.'
Her mother said nothing and Leila turned on her heel and walked past her father, who sat with his head in his hands. It hurt that he had done nothing to intervene. Yes, Leila understood that his brain was still addled with grief even all these years after Jasmine's death, but his silence in this argument spoke volumes.
Her jewelled slippers made no sound on the marble floor as Leila swiftly walked and there was a notable absence of her mother's footsteps running behind her.
Hurt heaped on top of hurt as her mother made no attempt to follow her youngest daughter and try to take back those cruel words. Leila wanted her mother to tell her that she was mistaken, that she was loved.
Leila passed the family portraits in the long hallway as she made her way to her suite. Always she walked quickly at this point, always she did her best not to look at the paintings that hurt so very much, but surely nothing more could hurt her now.
Leila slowed down and came to a halt and turned.
There on the walls of the palace was her history. There, for all to see, was the truth that Leila had always known and tonight had been cruelly confirmed.
The first painting that she examined was a large family portrait. Her parents were sitting in far happier times; her mother was holding Zayn and smiling as she gazed at the baby who would one day be king.
Leila adored her older brother. Zayn loathed injustice and had stepped in over and over for Leila. Growing up he had done all he could to shield her, and his protectiveness towards his youngest sister had only increased since Jasmine's death.
Her mother blamed Zayn for what had happened to Jasmine too.
He carried not just the grief of losing his sister, whom he had been closer in age with than Leila, but he carried the blame for her death. Leila's heart broke for him too.
Did she wish that Zayn was here tonight though?
For there was nothing that Zayn could do to protect her from this.
He could not force their mother to love.
Leila's eyes moved to the next portrait and there was Jasminewearing her famous cheeky smile that her mother so often spoke about.
It wasn't a cheeky smile, Leila thought with a shiver; it was manipulative, for she had been on the receiving end of it often.
Jasmine has been everything that Leila wasn't. Jasmine was pretty and funny and charming too.
Leila was serious and diligentand as she looked at a portrait that had all three children in it, Leila's heart ached for that child with confusion in her eyes.
Leila's hair was cut short and, unlike Jasmine, she had been chubby and plain, but far more unforgivable than that she had been born a girl.
A long and difficult birth had assured that there would be no more babies for the queen. Oh, how Leila had tried to be everything that her parents wantedshe had tried so hard to be as brave and fearless as Zayn and had begged to go out hunting with their father, only to have the queen mock her.
Leila stood there remembering the morning that she had taken scissors from the palace kitchen and smuggled them up to her bathroom. She had cut her long black hair, hoping that if she looked like a boy, then maybe she would be loved.
'You were such a good girl,' Leila said to the image, recalling her tears when her mother had found her in the bathroom with her hair beside her on the floor and how badly she had been spanked and shamed.
Her hair had grown back, the puppy fat had long since faded and a serious beauty had emerged.
Rather than cry, she walked to her suite.
'Dismissed,' she said to the maid who sat outside but did not move to Leila's command, and so she reiterated. 'You are dismissed for the night.'
'But you might need me.'
'I don't need anyone,' Leila said. She knew the maids thought her arroganther mother did toobut arrogance was her shield and she wore it well now.
'Dismissed!' Leila hissed, and she waited till the confused woman had left before going into her suite.
Leila headed straight for her dressing room. It was filled with the most exquisite robes that had been handmade by the skilled palace seamstresses, then beaded and embroidered by Surhaadi women. It was not the gowns that held her interest though. Leila dropped to her knees and crawled behind them, reaching into the dark corner and dragging out a huge jewelled chest.
She found the key that was hidden in the pocket of one of her robes, but as she knelt to open the chest, Leila's hands were shaking and it was as if Jasmine was here with her again, for she could hear her voice.
'You have to hide these things for me. If anybody found them I would get into so much trouble.'
'But what if they find them in my room?' Leila had asked.
'As if they would ever think to look through your things.' Jasmine had laughed at the very thought. 'The only thing that they'd expect to find are books and more books. Just hide these for me, Leila, please.'
Jasmine had smiled that smile and given Leila a small cuddle, a little bit of contact that Leila craved. 'Please, Leila, do it for me?'
Leila had agreed.
Here was the proof that Jasmine had been far from perfect, Leila thought as she opened the trunk that had stayed locked for years. She wanted to run back to her parents, to hold the contraband up at them, to tell them once and for all that their memory of Jasmine was wrong.
Jasmine wasn't, nor ever had been, perfect. Even Zayn, who carried so much guilt over the death of his younger sister, didn't know the full extent of Jasmine's wild ways.
Yes, she had been far from perfect, Leila thought, looking at a short black dress that was scooped low at the front. There were high black heeled shoes too amongst other things and Leila examined them all now. She opened a bottle of vodka and sniffed it.
She would tell her parents; she would show them. Yet, even now, Leila knew that she couldn't do that to her sister.
Even when she had died, still Leila had played her part in protecting Jasmine's reputationa day after the funeral a package from overseas had arrived at the palace addressed to Jasmine and Leila had smuggled it back up to her suite and had thrown it in the trunk unopened.
She picked up the package and Leila's slender fingers tore at the paper, wondering what might be inside. There was a small cellophane packet and she pulled out the contents. There was a velvet bra in the deepest red and as she opened it up a tiny pair of panties fell out. Leila ran the soft fabric through her fingers. It was decadent, it was provocative and it was sexy. It was everything that a young princess should not be.
It was, Leila thought, terribly beautiful too.
Leila picked up a packet of tablets and though naive and innocent, she knew it was the pill. She knew that if you took it each day you could have sex without consequence.
Leila tossed the packet back in the trunk and took out a lipstick. She read the labelPride. What an inappropriate name, Leila thought as she opened it and saw that it was the same deep red as the underwear.
It should be called Shame.
It was she, Leila, who lived a life of shame.
Jasmine, even if her life had been cut short, had known fun. She had at least had her parents' love and must have known the bliss of being held in another's arms.
Her eyes were drawn again to the pills and Leila picked up the packet and punched one out.
Sin lay in the palm of her hand.
Oh, to be held by another, for even a moment.
Imagine how it must feel to be kissed?
Leila lowered her head, her tongue taking up the pill, and she swallowed it down.
She took out a small case that she used when travelling for official engagements. Her maids took care of her luggage but this was the one she would take on the royal plane. Leila had a credit cardshe used it to purchase books and music sheets online.
Could she use it to purchase a flight?
She was running away, Leila realised as she went in her dresser and took out her passport.
But to where?
Leila picked up the package that had contained the underwear and she looked at the address. New York, New York.
Excitement licked at her stomach, yet it was laced with fear and Leila knew she could never do it. Jasmine could have. Jasmine would have.
Leila dressed in a gold robe and put on her veils and packed Jasmine's contents in the case and then walked back through the palace, past the portraits, past the lounge where her parents sat, no doubt speaking about Jasmine.
She wondered if they'd even notice that she had gone.
Leila told a servant to ring for a driver.
'Yalla!' Leila snapped, ordering him to hurry, and when a driver arrived she told him to take her to the airport.
Leila ordered a first-class ticket and held her breath as she handed over the card. It worked.
It should have been a comfortable flight, but Leila could not relax and she declined when the steward offered to make up her bed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed plot. Good story line.
I hated this book. It was horrible. The characters were unlikable -all of them! There was no chemistry, no conflict resolution, nothing. The heroine is so pathetic that i would question her even raising a child. The hero is lazy and has no real job. I don't know how this book ever got published! Save your time and money.