Wanted: royal bride and mother
For Sheikh Tariq of Al-Sharath, one miserable marriage was enough. With a kingdom to rule, he has no timeor wishto find a bride, but his children need a mother.
Could Princess Samira of Jazeer be the answer? Samira has sampled passion, and it left a bad taste. With the knowledge she can't have the children she's always wanted, Samira steps into Tariq's ready-made family. Her only condition? No sex!
Samira thought royal duties and her love for Tariq's children would fill the hole in her heart, but a craving is building that only the sheikh's touch can cure
About the Author
Annie has devoted her life to an intensive study of charismatic heroes who cause the best kind of trouble in the lives of their heroines. As a sideline she researches locations for romance, from vibrant cities to desert encampments and fairytale castles. Annie lives in eastern Australia with her hero husband, between sandy beaches and gorgeous wine country. She finds writing the perfect excuse to postpone housework. To contact her or join her newsletter, visit www.annie-west.com
Read an Excerpt
The dark-haired tots playing on the far side of the sumptuous hotel lounge held Samira's gaze. They weren't loud or boisterous, the middle-aged woman with them saw to that. They were just a pair of ordinary toddlers.
Yet Samira couldn't drag her eyes away from them. She watched the progress of one little boy as he walked the length of a sofa, his fingers splayed on the silk upholstery for support. He gurgled his delight and grinned at his companion who wobbled along behind him.
Samira swallowed. That hollow feeling was back, worse now, turning into a twisting stab of hurt that knifed all the way from her womb up high under her ribs.
She tried to focus on Celeste's animated chatter about a new restaurant. Apparently it had unrivalled rooftop views of the Eiffel Tower as well as several Michelin stars and was the new place to eat and be seen.
Samira's stomach rebelled at the mention of food.
Or maybe it was something else that made her insides clench so hard.
The second toddler landed on his bottom, arms waving, and the womangrandmother? Nanny?gathered him up. Samira's arms twitched then fell, lax and empty, into her lap.
She blinked and turned away.
Empty. That was exactly how she felt.
She would never have a child of her own to hold. The doctor had made that clear.
She'd tried so hard to regroup these past four years, and she'd come so far, but nothing could erase that searing, hollow ache within.
Tm so pleased you can attend tonight's charity auction in person.' Celeste leaned across their porcelain teacups and Samira swung her gaze back to the pretty Parisienne. 'Bidders will adore the chance to meet the talented princess behind the gorgeous fashions. Your donation to the auction is sure to fetch a huge price.'
Samira fixed on a practised smile and refused to cringe at yet another reference to her royal status.
As daughter of, and now sister to, the Sultan of Jazeer, she knew all too well that royal rank didn't guarantee happiness.
Her heart lurched but she kept her gaze on her companion, not letting it stray to the other side of the opulent room.
She reminded herself she was a pragmatist. Her successful design business benefited from the cachet of her aristocratic name. Designs by Samira had taken off these last few years. Her clientele, among the globe's ultrawealthy, appreciated working with someone who understood their world, who promised absolute exclusivity and confidentiality. She had far more than many women dreamed of: independence, success, wealth.
What right had she to yearn for more?
Yet still that bone-deep ache persisted, no matter how often she reminded herself how lucky she was. For what did the trappings of success mean when deep at the heart of you there was nothing?
Samira bit her lip. She would conquer this. She would!
'I'm looking forward to it, Celeste.' Samira wrenched her thoughts back to tonight's gala. 'You and your team have done a marvellous job pulling it all together. How, exactly, will the auction work? What do you want me to do?'
Celeste launched into an explanation of the auction, the exclusive invitation list and the business opportunities tonight's event would present.
Yet, businesswoman though she was, Samira couldn't conjure answering enthusiasm. Perhaps because, having been born to status and privilege, mixing with the stratosphere of European society held no thrill for her.
Was this all there was? Long days of work followed by an endless round of society events where she'd mix business, pleasure and occasional philanthropy, and leave feeling alone and empty?
Samira blinked and gave herself a mental shake, refusing to linger on the maudlin thoughts that had edged her consciousness for so long.
She leaned back in her chair, nodding as Celeste emphasised a point, letting her weary body relax for the first time, it felt, in days.
That was it. She was exhausted. No wonder her attention strayed. She'd been in consultation with a new first lady in South America yesterday about a gown for an inauguration ball, then had stopped off in New York to see another client, only arriving in Paris an hour ago.
When she rested she'd be herself, eager to be caught up once more in the challenges of business, and especially the joy of designing.
Movement caught her eye. A tall figure in a dark suit moved through the perfectly arranged seating with a long, quick stride that made her think of her dressmaker's shears cutting through rich velvet.
She told herself it was a ridiculous comparison but when she turned to focus on him she realised it was apt. Though dressed with the formidable elegance of the best bespoke tailoring, some indefinable air proclaimed he didn't belong in the luxury of Paris's finest hotel. He belonged somewhere more vital, where crystal chandeliers and dainty side tables were unnecessary fripperies.
A good head taller than every other man in the vicinity, his shoulders the broadest Samira had ever seen, he nevertheless moved with a fluid, athletic grace that spoke to her designer's eye.
A squeal of excitement froze her in the act of turning back to Celeste. One of the little, chubby-cheeked boys had spotted him and was scrambling across the sofa towards him.
A low, rumbling chuckle reached her ears as the man bent and scooped up both children, one in each arm, as easily as she'd pick up a couple of cushions. He lifted them high, making them giggle with delight, and held them close as he ducked his head and murmured to each of them in turn. Tiny starfish hands planted on his shoulders and hair in their eagerness to get close and she heard him laugh again, the sound a ribbon of warmth channelling through the chill emptiness inside her.
Just like that, without any fanfare or warning, Samira's world contracted to the cold void of her barren body and the devastating vignette of a happy family on the other side of the room.
The dividing line excluding her from them had never been more real, or more unbreakable.
Pain juddered through her, making her clench her jaw and grab at the arms of her lounge chair.
There would be no family for her, no children. As for finding a life partner to love The air hissed between her teeth at the impossibility of that particular fantasy.
'Samira. Is anything wrong?'
'Nothing at all.' Samira turned to Celeste with a dazzling smile that only years of practice in the public eye could muster. Surreptitiously she breathed in through her nose, filling lungs that seemed to have cramped shut. 'It sounds like tonight will be a huge success. With luck you'll attract far more than your fund-raising target.'
'Thanks to you.' At Samira's raised brow she shrugged and smiled. 'And to the rest of the donors.' She paused, glancing across the lounge. 'Speak of the devil, there's one of them now.' Celeste sat straighter, swiftly smoothing her short skirt and flicking her blonde hair from her face.
She leaned close to Samira and whispered, 'If only we could auction off a night in his bed we'd make a fortune. I'd bid for that myself and, believe me, I wouldn't let anyone outbid me.'
Surprised at the change in her companion, Samira turned. Yet she knew which man Celeste referred to. It could only be the hunky father of two who wore his elegant clothes with such casual panache that even her long-dormant libido sat up and slavered.
Yet she wasn't prepared for the shock that slammed into her solar plexus as she saw him again. For this time he'd turned and she saw his broad, high brow, defined cheekbones and the rough-cut jaw that looked dangerous and sexy at the same time. A long, harsh blade of a nose somehow melded those too-strong features into a whole that was boldly, outrageously attractive.
Samira's breath hissed sharply as she recognised the man she hadn't seen in years. The man who'd once been almost as dear to her as her brother, Asim.
A tumble of emotions bubbled inside. Excitement and pleasure, regret and pain, and finally a sharp tang of something that tasted like desire, raw and real for the first time in four years. Amazement at that instantaneous response spiralled through her.
'Oh, I'd forgotten you must know him, your country and his being in the same neighbourhood.' Celeste sounded eager. 'Sexy Sheikh Tariq of Al Sarath.' She sighed gustily. 'I'd even consider taking on a couple of kids for the sake of a man like that. Not that I'll get the chance. They say he hasn't looked at another woman seriously since he lost his wife. They try but none of them last. Apparently he was devoted to her.'
With one final, lingering look at Tariq and his sons, Samira swung round, putting her back to them, letting Celeste's chatter wash over her.
She'd once thought Tariq her friend. She'd looked up to him and trusted him. He'd been as much a part of her life as her brother, Asim. But that friendship had been a mirage, as fragile as the shimmer of water on hot desert sands. He'd turned his back on her years ago with a suddenness that had mystified her, making her wonder what she'd done to alienate him or whether he'd just forgotten her in the press of responsibilities when he'd become Sheikh. When she'd been through hell four years previously she'd not heard a word from him.
Strange how much that still hurt.
Tariq had been in the crowded banqueting hall just three minutes when his sixth sense, the one that always twitched at a hint of trouble, switched into overdrive.
Casually he turned, keenly surveying the glamorous throng even as he returned greetings. He'd been plagued by a sense that something wasn't quite right all afternoon, since he returned to the hotel, but to his annoyance couldn't pinpoint any tangible reason. Just a disturbing sense that he'd missed something important.
It wasn't a sensation he liked. Tariq liked to be in control of his world.
The crowd shifted and through a gap he saw a sliver of deep scarlet. His gaze snagged. Another shift and the scarlet became a long dress, a beacon drawing his eyes to the sultry swell of feminine hips and a deliciously rounded bottom. The woman's skin, displayed by the low scoop of material at her back, was a soft gold, like the desert at first light. A drift of gleaming dark hair was caught up in an artfully casual arrangement that had probably taken hours to achieve. It was worth it, for it revealed the slender perfection of her elegant neck.
Tariq's body tightened, every tendon and muscle stiffening in a response that was profound, instinctive and utterly unexpected.
Light played on the sheen of her dress, lovingly detailing each curve.
He swallowed, realising suddenly that his mouth was dry. His blood flowed hot and fast, his heartbeat tripping to a new, urgent rhythm.
It was a rhythm he hadn't felt in years. Tariq frowned.
The woman turned and he took in the fitted dress that covered her from neck to toe. It enticed a man's imagination to wander over the slim frame and bounteous curves beneath the fabric.
He'd taken half a pace towards her when his eyes lifted to her face and he slammed to a stop, an invisible brick wall smashing into him, tearing the air from his lungs.
Tariq heaved in a breath so deep it made his ribs ache.
He breathed out, almost tasting the memories on his tongue.
But this wasn't Samira as he'd last seen her. This was a different woman: confident, sexy and experienced. A woman who was making her mark on the world.
For a moment he paused, drawn despite himself. Then his brain kicked into gear as he remembered all the reasons she wasn't for him, despite the tight ache gripping his lower body. He turned to the pretty blonde at his right who was half-wearing a gold sequinned dress. She looked up with wide, hopeful eyes that brimmed with excitement when he smiled down at her.
Minutes later she was leaning into him, her pale hand clutching his sleeve possessively, her eyes issuing an invitation as old as time.
Tariq made himself smile again, wondering if she realised or cared that his attention was elsewhere.
Samira watched him from the back of the crowd. Tariq was the obvious choice of speaker for the children's charity. He was a natural leader, holding the audience in the palm of his hand. Confident, articulate and witty, he effortlessly drew all eyes. Around her men nodded and women salivated and Samira had to repress indignation as they ate him up hungrily.
He was all she remembered: thoughtful, capable and caring, using his speech to reinforce the plight of the children they were here to help, yet keeping the tone just right to loosen the wallets of wealthy patrons.
She remembered a lanky youth who'd always been gentle with her, his friend's little sister. This Tariq was charismatic, with an aura of assured authority that he'd no doubt acquired from ruling his sheikhdom. She couldn't drag her eyes from his tall frame and the way it filled out his tuxedo with solid muscle and bone.
Samira gulped, disorientated at the sudden blast of longing that swamped her.
She blinked and looked up at his bold, handsome face, the glint of humour in his eyes, and remembered the way he'd been with his boys: gentle, loving and patient.
In that moment recognition hit. Recognition of what she wanted.
What she needed.
The family she longed for. Children to nurture and love. A partner she could respect and trust to share her life.
Eyes fixed on Tariq, she realised there was a way she could become part of a family. It was the perfect solution to her untenable situation. A solution not just for her, but potentially a win-win for all concerned. If she had the courage to pursue it.
The idea was so sudden, so outrageous, she swayed on her delicate heels, her heart thumping high in her throat, her stomach twisting hard and sharp.
'Are you sure you're all right?' Celeste grabbed her elbow as if afraid she'd topple over. 'You weren't yourself this afternoon either.'
'I'm ' Samira gulped, swallowing shock at the revelation confronting her. 'I'm okay, thanks. Just a little tired.'
Celeste nodded and turned back to Tariq. 'He's a little overwhelming, isn't he? Especially in formal dress. I swear, if he wasn't a king someone would snap him up as a model.'
Samira pressed her hand against her churning stomach, only half-listening.
She stared at the powerful figure on the podium and the voice of self-doubt, the voice that had ruled the first twenty-five years of her life, told her she was crazy. Crazy to think about wanting what she could never have. After all, she and Tariq hadn't been friends for years. There was no guarantee he'd even listen to her.
But another part of her applauded. The part that had grown stronger in the last four years, nurtured by her family and her determination to drag herself out of the mire of despair and make something of her life. The voice of the survivor she'd become.
She knew what she wanted.
Why not go for it?
Yet instinctively she shied away from such an action.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it. But here's a correction the copy editor missed. You used the word "candelabras." There is no such word. The singular is "candelabrum." The plural is "candelabra."
Sheikh Tariq of Al-Sarath is a powerful ruler and an honorable man. He loves his boys and knows they need a woman in their life. Samira asks him to marry her so that she can take care of his toddlers, he's shocked. He always cared for this alluring woman. He can't believe that she wants a marriage of convenience. Where will this arrangement take them? I loved the heated sexual tension between Tariq and Samira. She's a feisty woman who has vowed never to give her heart to an uncaring man. She knows the pain of betrayal. The Sheikh doesn't want to commit to a woman when he can't give her his heart. He feels guilt that he never loved Jasmin. Not in the way he cares for Samira. The attraction between these two is very sensual. The lush desert kingdom and the witty dialogue create a perfect setting for this passionate romance. I loved this story. It appealed to my heart and mind. Annie West wrote a love story that was filled with well written characters that drew me in. When I finished reading The Sheikh's Princess Bride, I was happy that these lovers were together.
The Sheikh’s Harem Bride is the second in Annie West’s Desert Vows series, following The Sultan’s Harem Bride. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Somehow I forgot or didn’t realize that this was a sequel, so imagine my delight when it dawned on me that I would be spending a little more time with Jacqui and Asim (who are of course living happily ever after) and now in this book get a closer look at Samira. It’s a wonder she survived the terrible childhood she and Asim had. And then when she gave her heart and love and body to a man who professed to love her, he treated her shabbily and left her shattered and determined never to risk love again. Jacqui and Asim helped her to get back on her feet, but I wanted to know if she was really doing as well as it seemed at the end of The Sultan’s Harem Bride. And the answer is no, she’s not. As for Tariq, no time is wasted making you see how stunningly charismatic he is and to want to know him better. When I read of his slow smile with a sexy groove down one cheek I had an OMG moment. His long, quick strike that made her think of her dressmaker’s shears cutting through rich velvet put the perfect picture in my mind. He was raised to be a king, taught that love has no place. But he is very haunted by his first wife’s death. Tariq and Asim were boyhood friends in neighboring kingdoms, and little sister Samira was right there. So Samira knows him and feels - and hopes - she can trust him to give her the peace and the family she craves – but under her conditions. The electricity starts crackling between them right away, but you aren’t sure just what is behind it and if it will be good or bad for their future. She is a princess so knows how to be a queen, she loves and wants children so she will be a wonderful mother, but the wife part, not so sure about that. This is just a joyous story to read. It’s oh so sexy but oh so sweet at the same time. Tariq and Samira are both so honorable and trying so hard to care for and honor the other, but to protect themselves from their pasts as well. They are each certain they know what the other is thinking and wants, and therefore become almost frozen in their attempts to do the right thing. From the reader’s perspective what Tariq and Samira should do seems simple and obvious, but to them it’s not, and that’s the charm of it. This was a great read and I strongly recommend it. In fact, you should read all of Annie West’s books, but especially this one. Once you start it will be too good to put down. And when I looked at the back of the book and saw “Category – Passion” I thought no kidding.