A wife to secure his crown?
Rashid al Kharim must travel to Qajaran with his infant half sister to take his place as sheikh. But before he enters a world of deceit and danger, he seeks oblivion in the arms of a beautiful stranger, just as tormented as he
Nanny Tora Burgess eagerly waits to meet her new bossbut is horrified to discover he's her red-hot, one-night lover! Rashid is cold, distant and has a shocking proposal that will shackle her to the sheikh forever! Tora should say no, but her mouth forms the one word that she can't take backyes!
A passionate read for Christmas nights!
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Read an Excerpt
Rashid al Kharim was done with pacing.
He needed something stronger.
He needed to lose himself. To dull the pain of each and every one of today's revelations, if only for a few precious hours.
To forget about a father who hadn't died thirty years back as he'd always believed, but a scant four weeks ago.
And to forget about a tiny childa sisterwho apparently was now his responsibility
His head full of anger and torment, he let the door of his Sydney hotel suite slam hard behind him as he strode towards the lifts, stabbing the call button with intent, because he knew exactly what he needed right now.
* * *
God, she hated dingy bars. Outside this one had looked like an escape from her anger and despair, but inside it was dark and noisy and there were far too many leering men who looked way too old to be hanging out in a place where the average age of women was probably somewhere around nineteen. Tora upped the demographic just by being there, she figured, not to mention lowered the average heel height by a matter of inches, but it didn't stop the old guys leering at her just the same.
But the bar was only a few steps from her cousin's office and after an hour remonstrating fruitlessly with him, an hour where nothingneither her arguments nor her tearshad made a shred of difference, she'd needed to go somewhere where she could drink something strong and fume a while.
One of the old guys across the bar winked at her. Ugh!
She crossed her legs and pulled her skirt down as she ordered another cocktail.
God, she hated bars.
But right now she hated her financial adviser cousin more.
Financial adviser cheating scumbag of a cousin, she revised as she waited for her drink, wondering how long it would be before the damned alcohol was going to kick in so she might stop feeling so angry.
She really needed to forget about the curl of her cousin's lips when she'd refused to be put off any longer with his excuses and insisted he tell her when she'd be able to access the money she'd been due from her parents' estate.
She needed to forget the pitying look in his cold eyes when he'd finally stopped beating about the bush and told her that it was gone, and that the release she'd signed thinking it was the last formality before receiving a pay-out had actually been a release signing the money over to himonly now there would be no pay-out because he'd 'invested' it all on her behalf, only the investment had turned sour and there was nothing left. Nothing at all left of the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars she'd been counting on. Nothing at all left of the money she'd promised to loan to Sally and Steve.
'You should have read the small print,' he'd said ever so smugly, and she'd never had violent tendencies before but right then she'd really fancied doing someone some serious bodily damage.
'Blood is thicker than water,' her parents had insisted, when they'd chosen their nephew Matthew over the financial planner she'd nominated, the father of a woman she'd known and trusted since primary school. And Tora had shrugged and conceded it was their choice, even if her cousin had been the kind of person who'd rubbed her up the wrong way all her life and never someone she'd choose as a friend, let alone her financial adviser.
For damned fine reason, as it had turned out.
Her cocktail arrived and her fingers curled around the stem of the glass as she studied it.
Now she had to work out a way to tell Sally she wouldn't be getting the promised funds, after assuring herbecause Matt had promisedthat settlement was all on track and that the funds would be coming any day. She felt ill just thinking about it. They'd been counting on hercounting on this money. She shook her head. She would have to find another way, go back to the banks and try again. Try harder.
She lifted the glass to her lips and it was all she could do not to swallow the drink down in a rush, wanting the buzz, hoping for the oblivion it promised.
'Hi there, sweet lips. You look like you needed that. Fancy another?'
She blinked against a sudden flash of strobe and opened her eyes to see one of the leery old guys shouldering his way alongside her at the bar, this one with a decent paunch and a skinny ponytail and with a possessive arm curling its way around the back of her seat. Across the bar his friends were watching and grinning as if this was some kind of spectator sport, and their ponytailed friend might have been right about her needing another drink but not if it meant waking up next to this guy. Suddenly getting a taxi home where there was a half-empty bottle of Riesling in the fridge seemed a far better option than staying here and seeking oblivion amongst this lot. She reached for her bag.
The bar was too noisy. Too dark.
Almost immediately Rashid regretted the impulse that had seen him climb down the stairs to the noisy bar in the basement of the building alongside his hotel.
Because the questions in his mind were still buzzing, and as his eyes skated over a dance floor filled with young women wearing more make-up than clothes he wasn't convinced he was going to find the relief he needed here.
He ground his teeth together, the fingers that had been bound so tightly today already aching to curl once more into fists.
He was wasting his time here. He turned to leave, and that was when he saw the woman sitting by herself at the bar. His eyes narrowed. She was attractive, he guessed, under that bookish exterior, and she sure looked out of place here, standing out in her short-sleeved shirt in a sea of otherwise bare flesh. Too buttoned up with her brown hair pulled back into a tight bun. A glass of milk in a wine bar wouldn't have looked more out of place.
But at least she looked as if she was past puberty. At least she looked like a woman.
He watched her down half her cocktail and scowl into the glass, but not as if she was morose, more as if she was angry. So she was as unimpressed with the world as he was? Perfect. The last thing he needed was someone with stars in their eyes. Maybe they could be angry at the world together.
He was already edging his way through the crowd when a man sidled up to her and slipped his arm around her back.
Rashid suppressed a growl and turned away. He might be angry, but he wasn't about to fight over a woman.
'I'm not actually looking for company,' Tora said to her persistent would-be friend. Sure, someone sympathetic to get the whole sorry cheating-cousin saga off her chest might be therapeutic. Someone to lend her a shoulder and rub her back and say it would all be okay might be nice, but she hadn't come here looking for that and she wasn't about to consider any offers, not if the sympathetic shoulder came packaged like this one.
'Just when we were getting on so well, too,' he said, moving his bulk sideways when he saw her picking up her clutch to block her from getting up from her stool.
'I hadn't noticed,' she said, mentally adding another hate to her growing listleery men in bars who imagined they were God's gift to women, although, to be honest, that one had always been right up there with seedy bars. 'And now if you wouldn't mind getting out of my way?'
'Come on,' he said, curling his arm closer around her back, and breathing beer fumes all over her. 'What's your rush?'
It was when she turned her head to escape the fumes that she saw him. He moved like a shadow in the dark basement, only the burst of coloured lights betraying his movements in the glint of blue-black hair and the whites of his eyes under the lights. He was tall and looked as if he was searching for someone or something, his eyes scanning the room, and, while heads turned in his wake, so far nobody seemed to be laying claim to him.
Surprising, given the way he couldn't help but be noticed if someone was waiting for him.
Not to mention convenient.
'How's about I get you another drink?' the man offered, slurring his words. 'I'm real friendly.'
Yeah, she thought, if only he were sober and could speak clearly and looked a little more like the man who'd just walked in, she might even be interested.
'I'm meeting someone,' she lied, pushing off her stool but making sure it was her shoulder that brushed past his stomach and not her breasts. Her feet hit the ground and even on her sensible heels, she wobbled. Whoa! Maybe those cocktails weren't such a total loss after all.
'He stood you up, eh?' said the man, still refusing to give up on his quarry. Still refusing to believe her. 'Lucky I'm here to rescue you from sitting on the shelf all night.'
'No,' she said, in case Mr Beer Breath decided to argue the point, 'he just walked in,' and she squeezed her way past him determined to prove it.
Half-heartedly Rashid scanned the room one last time, already knowing that he was wasting his time in this place. He turned to leavehe would find no oblivion herewhen someone grabbed his arm.
'At last,' he heard a woman say above the music. 'You're late.'
He was about to say she was mistaken and shrug her off, when her other arm encircled his neck and she drew herself closer. 'Work with me on this,' she said as she pulled his head down to hers.
It was the woman at the barthat was his first surpriseand the only thing that prevented him from pushing her away. The fact Ms Bookish had turned into Ms Bold and Brazen was the second. But she'd saved the best for last, because her kiss was the biggest and the best surprise of all. She tried to get away after a moment but her lips were soft, her breath was warm, and she tasted of fruit and alcohol, summer and citrus, all over warm, lush woman, and she wasn't going anywhere just yet. He ran his arm down her back, from her shoulder to the sweet curve of her behind, his fingers curling as they squeezed, and she arched into him as she gasped in his mouth.
Yes. This was what he needed.
This was what he'd come looking for.
Maybe coming here tonight hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
'Let's go,' she said, purposefully, if a little shakily, as she pulled away, her eyes shot with surprise as she looked from him over her shoulder to where she'd been sitting. He followed her gaze and saw the men lined up at the bar watching her, saw the slap to the back in consolation to the man who'd been talking to her, and he half wondered what the man had said to her that she seemed so shaken now. Not that Rashid really cared, as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and cut through the crowd heading for the stairs and the exit, given he'd ended up exactly where he'd wanted.
Tora's heart was thumping so loud, she was sure it was only the thump-thump of the music in the bar that was drowning it out. She must be more affected by the alcohol than she'd realised.
Why else would she have walked up to a complete stranger and kissed him?
Though it wasn't just the alcohol fuelling her bravado, she knew. It was the anger, first for her cheating cousin, secondly for that meat market of a nightclub and a creep of a man who imagined there was any way in the world she'd want to spend even a moment with his beery self. And it hadn't been enough simply to walk awayshe'd been wanting to show him she wasn't some sad lonely woman who'd be flattered to have his attention. Well, she'd sure shown him well and good.
But a peck on the lips in greeting was all she'd intended. A signal to the men watching that she wasn't alone. She hadn't expected that man to be so willing to join in her game. Nor had she expected to be sideswiped by a stranger's taste and touch in the process, leaving her dazed and confused. And the way her skin tingled and sparked when their bodies brushed as they walked side by sidewell, that was interesting, too.
She willed the itching fingers on the hand she'd wrapped around his waist to be still, but, God, it wasn't easy, not when he felt so hard, so lean. Oh, wow She needed to get outside and let the night air cool her heated skin. She needed the oxygen so she could think straight. She needed to say thank you to this stranger and get herself a taxi and go home, before she did anything else crazy tonight.
Because tonight was shaping up to be all kinds of crazy and the way this man felt, she wasn't sure she could trust herself.
And then they were out on the street and the nightclub door closed behind them and she never got a chance to say thank you because he was pulling her into the shadows of a nearby doorway and kissing her all over again and she was letting him and suddenly it wasn't the alcohol or her anger that was affecting herit was one hundred per cent him.
Madness, she thought as his masterful lips coaxed open hers. She should put a stop to this, she thought as his tongue danced with hers. She didn't do things like this. They might be in the shadows but they were on a public street after all. What if Matt saw her on his way home?
And then her anger kicked in and she thought, damn Matt, why would she care what he thought? Let him see. And she pressed herself closer.
A moment later she stopped caring about anything but for the hot mouth trailing kisses up her throat to her mouth, his hands holding her tight to him so they were joined from their knees to their lips and every place in between felt like an erogenous zone.
'Spend the night with me,' he whispered, drawing back to whisper against her ear, his breath fanning her hair, fanning the growing flames inside her in the process, and she almost found herself wishing he'd said nothing but carted her off to his cave so she didn't have to think about being responsible. Crazy. She didn't meet strangers in bars and spend the night with them.
'I don't even know your name.' Her words were breathless, but it was the best she could manage when her mind was shell-shocked and every other part of her body was busy screaming yes.