A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 7

Then she cursed her naivety as a wave of embarrassment made her feel hot. He had surely not denied himself the pleasures of a mistress. A man like that? He’d left his life of excess in Europe and the States, to return to take up his rightful place, but he’d hardly have denied himself his base comforts, and sex and women were one of his most well-documented pastimes. And only the most beautiful women at that—albeit never for long.
Charlotte shook her head and stood up, returning to her suite. She told herself firmly that she couldn’t care less if Sheikh Salim was entertaining a harem of mistresses right now as long as he was discreet about it.
The fact that it took her ages to fall asleep in the huge bed, only for her dreams to be populated by a mysteriously masked and robed man on a huge stallion cantering across vast desert sands, was a pure coincidence. And not disturbing in the slightest.
Not even when she had to concede when she woke the following morning that he hadn’t really been mysterious at all. Not with those blue eyes.
A week later
‘Sire, we are so grateful that you are here, finally. There is so much work to do in two weeks! And then, once you are king—’
Salim turned around abruptly from where he’d been trying to tune out his chief aide, stopping the man’s words. They caused a sensation not unlike panic in his chest and Salim did not panic.
His aide—an old man who had known his grandfather—looked at him expectantly. Salim said tightly, ‘Do whatever it is that you deem necessary, Rafa. You know more about this place than me, after all.’
The slightest flare of something in those old eyes was the only hint that his aide was not impressed that it had taken Salim so long to take up his role, or that he’d spent most of the last week out of Tabat.
Salim told himself that part of his motivation for leaving Tabat behind for a few days hadn’t had anything to do with Charlotte McQuillan and her big green eyes looking at him so incisively. Not unlike the way Rafa was looking at him right now.
It had actually had to do with the secret meetings he’d set up with his legal team, and a close friend who ruled a nearby sultanate, to discuss who best to approach to take over from him as king once he’d abdicated.
The meetings hadn’t gone well. The one person he and his team had identified as a suitable prospective king had turned them down flat. A distant cousin of Salim’s, Riad Arnaud.
The man was a billionaire and a respected businessman. He had ancestral links to this world and had inherited a tiny uninhabited Sheikhdom on the borders of Tabat and Jandor—a mining hub that workers commuted in and out of from nearby Jandor.
But, he was also a single father with a young daughter and he was adamant that he didn’t want to turn his life upside down, thrusting her into a life of duty and service and taking her away from her home in France, where they lived.
Salim of all people had to respect his cousin’s decision, after all, he knew the consequences of having choice taken away from you.
His friend Sultan Sadiq of Al-Omar had borne the brunt of Salim’s frustration once his team had left.
When he’d finished extolling the potential virtues of Tabat that would be enjoyed by its next king his friend had just looked at him with an arched brow and asked mockingly, ‘If it’s such a hidden jewel then why are you so eager to pass it up?’
The fact that his friend’s question had caused Salim to stop momentarily was not something he wanted to dwell on. Nor was the fact that it had made him recall Charlotte McQuillan’s assessment that Tabat had potential. This was not his destiny and he would not be swayed.
In a bid to deflect his mind from that incident and from his conscience, which was proving to be dismayingly persistent, Salim asked, ‘Miss McQuillan...where is she now?’
Rafa’s eyes lit up. He was clearly anticipating that Salim was finally ready to seek advice on becoming a good king. But Salim had far more carnal urges on his mind than discussions of diplomacy and he didn’t like it. She wasn’t his type.
Even with a vast desert between them he’d found the image of her green eyes staying with him, along with the provocative image of that damned silk bow tied so primly at her throat.
Rafa interrupted Salim’s thoughts when he answered, ‘She wanted to go sightseeing today, so I sent one of my junior assistants with her. They’ve gone to the wadi just outside the city limits.’
Salim frowned, his irritation increasing for no good reason. ‘Which junior assistant went with her?’
Rafa looked nervous. ‘Kdal, sire. He’s one of my most trusted assistants—I assure you he’ll take care of her.’
Picturing the young man’s prettily handsome face and obsequious manner in his mind’s eye, Salim found himself saying, ‘Instruct the groom to get my horse ready.’
* * *
Charlotte was doing her best not to stand with her mouth hanging open, but it was hard in such a jaw-droppingly beautiful location. The wadi was just outside Tabat City—a deep river valley carved out of the earth. A sheer high wall of rock was on one side, dotted with palm trees at the base. The other side was flat and verdant, and obviously a popular beauty spot, although it was quiet today.
Kdal, her attentive guide, had explained that this wadi was always full of water due to the underground streams. The water looked green and all too inviting in the blazing midday heat.
Kdal was now guiding her over to where a makeshift table had been set up, under a tent that offered some much needed shade.
‘We’re having lunch here?’ she asked, charmed by the idea, and also by the delicious smells coming from where a small cluster of rustic buildings stood.