A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 8

‘Yes, Miss McQuillan. We thought you’d enjoy the view. This is a well-known spot for travellers to stop and seek refreshment. I hope you don’t think it’s too basic...’
Charlotte was about to respond not at all but then suddenly Kdal disappeared from her eyeline and Charlotte looked down to see him prostrated at her feet. She was about to bend down and see if he’d fainted when she heard a sound behind her, and turned to see a mythically huge black stallion on top of which sat a man with a turban covering his head and face. He wore a long robe.
It was so reminiscent of her dreams that Charlotte wondered if she was suffering from sunstroke—and then the man swung his leg over and stepped gracefully off the horse, which snorted and gave a shake of its massive head.
All Charlotte could see, though, was the bright flash of blue eyes. Far too familiar blue eyes. Sheikh Al-Noury. Her pulse tripped and galloped at double-time.
He pulled down the material covering his mouth and said with a glint in his eye, ‘You don’t look very enthusiastic to have me join you for lunch.’
It was him. She wasn’t dreaming.
A man appeared, seemingly from out of thin air, to lead the sheikh’s stallion away, and she saw a sleek blacked out four-by-four vehicle purring to a stop nearby, presumably carrying his security detail.
Charlotte called on all her skills to recover, and said as equably as she could, ‘Well, if you recall, you told me that you believed my presence would be a nuisance and that you intended for us to stay out of each other’s way—hardly leading me to suspect that you’d seek out my company.’
He didn’t look remotely repentant. He looked breathtakingly gorgeous as he lazily pulled the turban off his head. Dark hair curled wildly from where it had been confined under his turban, and his jaw was even more stubbled than she remembered. He was wearing the jodhpurs again, and the long tunic did little to disguise the sheer masculine power of his body.
Charlotte hat
ed that she was wearing pretty much the same outfit she’d been wearing the first time she’d seen him.
As if reading her mind, his gaze slipped down from her face and he asked, ‘Do you own a similar shirt in every colour of the rainbow, Miss McQuillan?’
Defensively Charlotte answered, ‘No, actually. But I find that in my line of work it’s prudent to be smartly dressed at all times, and I’m mindful of not offending anyone by wearing anything too casual or revealing.’
His eyes met hers, and she could have sworn his mouth twitched.
‘No, that wouldn’t do at all.’
He gestured to the table behind them, and when she turned she saw that it was now miraculously set for two, with gleaming silverware and sparkling glasses on a white tablecloth. Kdal had disappeared, the little traitor.
‘Please sit, Miss McQuillan.’
She sat down, feeling on edge, cursing Kdal for not warning her to expect the sheikh, who sat down opposite her. Even though they were out in the open air it suddenly felt claustrophobic.
Muted sounds came from the direction of the small cluster of buildings. There was an air of urgency that hadn’t been there a few minutes before. The sheikh had clearly injected the wadi staff with adrenalin.
He took a sip of water and said, ‘I’m sure you’ve noticed a change in the palace since the first day you arrived.’
Charlotte looked at him and had to admit, ‘It’s like a different place.’
When she’d woken up on her first morning and gone for an exploratory walk the place had gone from being eerily empty to buzzing with activity.
She said, ‘I didn’t realise the national holiday was to commemorate the anniversary of your grandfather’s death. I’m sorry.’
The sheikh shrugged. ‘Don’t be. I hardly knew him. He died when I was a teenager.’
‘So there’s been a caretaker government here since then, until your father passed away?’
He nodded, and just then a waiter materialised, dressed in a pristine white tunic. The sheikh issued a stream of Arabic too fast for Charlotte to understand, and when the waiter had left he turned back to her.
‘I hope you don’t mind—I’ve ordered a few local delicacies.’
Charlotte narrowed her eyes at him across the table, suspecting strongly that this man would ride roughshod over anyone who let him. ‘Actually, I prefer to order for myself, but I’m not a fussy eater.’
He sat back, that twitch at the corner of his mouth more obvious now.
‘Duly noted, Miss McQuillan. Tell me, is that a Scottish name?’