A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 5

The man was so charismatic, he could probably make an inanimate object feel something.
He led her away from the office down a long, imposing corridor. She’d only seen a handful of staff so far, which added to the surreal sense of the whole palace being in a state of arrested development.
Salim glanced at her when she’d caught up with his long-legged stride and she said, ‘I’m surprised the palace is so quiet. Is there only a skeleton staff because no one has been in residence for so long?’
Sheikh Al-Noury stopped, causing Charlotte to come to a halt too. ‘There is minimal staff today because it’s a national holiday—don’t tell me you missed that in your research?’
She had missed that pertinent detail, and now she felt foolish after spouting off all her qualifications.
‘Don’t worry,’ he drawled, striding off again, ‘I’ll make sure someone attends
to you and brings you food. Tomorrow you’ll be assigned a maid—’
‘That’s really not necessary,’ Charlotte protested as she started after him. She was aware of the customs here, but wasn’t comfortable at the thought of someone waiting on her.
‘It’s how things are done, Ms McQuillan,’ the sheikh pointed out. ‘If you insist on staying then you will abide by our ways.’
Charlotte stopped for a moment, surprised that in this he seemed to be happy that customs were adhered to, but she had to keep going when he showed no signs of slowing down and was about to disappear around a corner. She wouldn’t put it past him to leave her lost in this vast palace. It couldn’t be more obvious that he’d prefer to be putting her on the next flight home.
She longed to be able to stop and explore as they passed intriguing-looking courtyards with colourful mosaics and ornate fountains. They rounded another corner and Charlotte jumped when a peacock appeared in their path, as nonchalant as if they were intruding on its turf, its long and vibrantly coloured tail trailing behind it.
Sheikh Al-Noury stepped around it and kept going. Charlotte felt disorientated. She’d built a picture of this man in her mind that had been based on lurid headlines:
Playboy Sheikh opens new nightclub
in Monte Carlo!
Al-Noury triples fortune overnight by
floating new social media messaging site!
And, while he wasn’t doing much to dispel that image with his appearance or attitude, he didn’t seem as...shallow as Charlotte might have expected.
They came to a set of huge double doors at the end of the corridor. Sheikh Al-Noury opened them and stood back to let her precede him. When Charlotte stepped over the threshold she sucked in a breath. This was a different palace. One that hadn’t been frozen in time and left to crumble to pieces.
It was a suite containing numerous rooms, each one covered in exquisite Persian carpets. The furnishings were sumptuous and sensual—dark reds and purples. A little over the top for her tastes, but effortlessly regal. There was a private dining area, and a living room that led into a palatial en-suite bedroom dominated by a four-poster bed.
She avoided looking at that, acutely aware of the man only feet away and how he might be observing her reaction and somehow judging her. She’d never felt so conscious of being a woman before. And a woman who was lacking.
The room was pleasantly cool, thanks to the air-conditioning, and there were floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors that led out onto a private terrace, complete with a decorative swimming pool.
She turned around to face her reluctant host. ‘These rooms are beautiful, but I’d be quite happy in something less...luxurious.’
He waved a dismissive hand. ‘These are usually reserved for my mother’s use, and they were decorated to her specifications, but as she won’t be visiting any time soon you are welcome to use them.’
There was a distinctly chilly tone to his voice and Charlotte said, ‘Not even for your coronation?’
Sheikh Al-Noury’s face became shuttered. ‘She knows she’s not welcome here while I’m in residence.’
Charlotte couldn’t claim much of a relationship with either of her parents, but the cold tone of Sheikh Al-Noury’s voice shocked her. ‘But isn’t this her homeland?’
He responded curtly. ‘It was.’
He backed away then, and suddenly Charlotte had an irrational fear of being left alone in this seemingly empty palace. In truth, it wasn’t a totally irrational fear because she’d had plenty of experience being left to her own devices, with only a nanny and staff for company in big houses, but she refused to think of her own demons now.
She’d already revealed too much by admitting she had no desire to be at home for Christmas. Not that he’d shown much interest in why that might be. Not that she wanted him to show interest she told herself fervently. So she said nothing.
He was almost at the door when he turned back and said, ‘Please, make yourself comfortable. I’ll instruct someone to bring you some dinner.’