A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 39

Salim had just looked at her with a small smile playing around his mouth. ‘Charlotte, please don’t take this as a criticism of your ability, which is commendable, but even you would have to admit that your professional services haven’t exactly been exercised for the past couple of weeks.’
‘No,’ she said hotly, tucking her hair up as best she could, acutely aware of the royal entourage lining up outside the plane. ‘Because for one thing you wouldn’t let me do my job, and for another you proved to be far more of a natural diplomat than you’d ever like to admit.’
And distracting!
If she’d hoped to provoke a reaction it hadn’t worked. Salim had just coolly stood up and watched as she’d tucked herself in.
Now, a man who was undoubtedly Salim’s brother stood with a stunningly beautiful woman at the bottom of the steps.
King Zafir was of the same height and build as Salim, but where Salim’s eyes were blue Zafir’s were dark grey and deep-set. He had a more austere demeanour than Salim, and she could feel the tension snap between the two men as they greeted one another with the traditional clasping of the shoulders.
Queen Kat had been one of the world’s most famous supermodels until she’d disappeared off the scene almost two years before. It had since transpired that she’d suffered a cataclysmic trauma when she’d been involved in an accident and had had to have her lower left leg amputated.
Not that you would know it now, as she stood tall and regal beside her husband, with a warm but concerned look in her mesmerising golden eyes as she took in the exchange between the brothers.
Then King Zafir put out his hand towards Charlotte. ‘Miss McQuillan, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, and it’s even more of a pleasure to see that my brother has availed himself of your considerable services and professionalism.’
Charlotte felt her face get mortifyingly hot. She sensed Salim’s mocking look in her direction and took King Zafir’s hand, willing down the heat. ‘It’s lovely to meet you too. Call me Charlotte, please.’
Queen Kat stepped forward then, and Charlotte couldn’t help but be dazzled by her beauty and the very obviously happy glow of the recently married couple.
‘Charlotte, how lovely to meet you—welcome to Jahor.’
Her smile was genuine and Charlotte couldn’t fail to respond in kind.
Charlotte noticed that Salim greeted his new sister-in-law with polite civility, but not much warmth. It didn’t take a clairvoyant to sense that he wanted to be anywhere but here. It had been evident from his growing tension on the plane as soon as they’d entered Jandor airspace.
He said now, to his brother, ‘You really didn’t need to come all the way out here to meet us.’
King Zafir’s jaw tightened and Charlotte felt breathless for a second at how similar the men were.
‘I haven’t seen you since our father’s funeral. A trip to greet you at the airport was not a chore, brother.’
Salim flushed. He obviously knew he was being rude, and Charlotte had an instinct to put her hand into his, offering silent support but of course she couldn’t.
Queen Kat took her by the arm. ‘Come on, let’s go to the palace. I’m sure you could do with some refreshment.’
Charlotte smiled and let herself be led away to the first in a fleet of cars. It appeared that she was to travel with Kat and that the brothers would travel together in the car behind. She saw that King Zafir had got into the driver’s seat and Salim into the passenger one, looking stony-faced. Charlotte wondered why there was such a schism between them—surely their adverse relationship with their parents should have bonded them?
Kat chatted easily in the back of their car, and Charlotte found herself relaxing as they wound their way up the narrow streets to the palace.
She said shyly, ‘Congratulations on your wedding.’
Kat smiled radiantly. ‘Thank you. Sometimes I still can’t believe it myself. My life has changed so utterly, and I won’t lie and say that becoming queen doesn’t intimidate me every day!’ She scrunched up her nose. ‘But, not wanting to sound too corny about it, with Zafir by my side I feel capable of pretty much anything. I just want to make him proud—and Jandor.’
It shook Charlotte to see this evidence of their loving bond up close, and she didn’t think it was just newly wedded bliss. From what she recalled, the couple had been together before, but had split up before Kat’s catastrophic accident and had since reunited. A little dart of what felt like envy gripped her down low in her belly, at the sight of such devotion.
They were pulling into the palace forecourt now, and Kat put a hand on Charlotte’s arm, saying with a pointed look at her blouse, ‘You might want to redo your buttons before we get out.’
Charlotte looked down and gasped when she realised her shirt buttons were done up haphazardly. She rectified the situation with a flaming face, and vowed silently to kill Salim for not warning her. But then she caught Kat’s eye again, and saw that the woman had a sympathetic but amused look on her face.
‘Don’t worry, it’s not that obvious. But I do know what it’s like to fall for an Al-Noury man.’
Charlotte shook her head, and opened her mouth to deny it automatically—but then shut it again when words wouldn’t come. A feeling of dread mixed with exhilaration infused her whole body. And a very stark revelation. She was falling for Salim.
It took her a second to focus on the woman looking at her so sympathetically, as if she knew exactly what had just gone through Charlotte’s head.
Stunned and feeling winded, Charlotte asked, ‘Is it that obvious?’