The Sheikh's Bargain Bride (Desert Kings)

By: Diana Fraser


Sheikh Zahir al-Zaman narrowed his eyes against the glare of the sun-bleached stony plains and focussed on the slowly materializing dark speck. Within minutes the helicopter’s low rhythmic thrum filled the overcast spring sky like an angry locust intent on devastation.

She hadn’t wasted any time. But then he’d made sure she couldn’t refuse his invitation. He banished a flicker of discomfort with practiced ease. Sometimes you had to lure the prey to you. Sometimes, in a way that wasn’t palatable.

But the ends always justified the means. She would be his and he was prepared to do whatever it took to make it happen.

He watched the helicopter alight in a cloud of dust before the palace. The pilot lifted out a small case and began to open the door before it was pushed open abruptly from within and two long, jean-clad legs emerged. A tall blonde jumped down and looked around the palace, her head twisting and turning impatiently.

She’d changed. She was thinner, her hair longer, her face no longer sun-kissed but as pale as the desert under moonlight. Still, his body responded the same to her now, as it did when she visited him in his dreams.

He’d lived with his obsession with her for four long years: cursing and nurturing the anger at her deceit and betrayal while still longing to relive the passion of their one night together. But his brother’s death meant he no longer had to live with the madness.

Then, with an imperceptible movement of her head, she looked up and caught his gaze. Zahir frowned and his breath caught unexpectedly in his chest. Ice blue eyes stared at him, challenging him, demanding an explanation from him. How could eyes so cool and northern spark such fire? She turned away suddenly and slid the door of the helicopter shut with a force that belied her fragility. The metallic crash echoed around the palace, destroying its peace and order.

He’d get what he wanted but he knew, without a doubt, that it wasn’t going to be easy.

“You are to wait here. The sheikh is busy at present but he will see you when he is free.”

“No way!” Anna threw down her bag onto the nearest chair. “I don’t care if he’s with the President of the United States. Tell him I’m here and tell him I will see him immediately.”

The Bedu servant simply nodded and withdrew from the room.

Anna strode across the vast, stone-flagged reception hall, threw open the wooden shutters of the nearest window and looked out, searching for any signs of her son in the tiled courtyard below. There were none.

She turned her gaze up to the lofty ceiling, its ornately carved pillars and beams shrouded in shadows, and tried to hold back the despair and grief that filled her.

Zahir, you bastard, where’s my son?

He knew she’d arrived. She’d seen him watching her from above. She had a sixth sense where he was concerned, where anyone was concerned if they threatened her liberty.

She raked her hair back into a fresh ponytail and smoothed down her shirt. As much to give her trembling hands something to do as to prepare herself for the meeting.

But her hands continued to shake as her body readied itself for a confrontation. She sat down in the nearest chair and gathered her anger to her. It had been anger that had stopped the grief from taking over. And she needed it now.

A month without her son and now so near but still she couldn’t get to him. She could scream with frustration and something else that she tried to ignore. It made her skin prickle, it made her feel sick to her stomach. She dropped her head in her hands and took a deep breath in order to control it. But despite her best efforts it would not be beaten. Fear was like that.

The smooth slide of soft leather sandals alerted her to the return of the servant. She looked up into the weathered face of the old Bedu expectantly.

“This way madam.”

Her booted footsteps rang loudly on the ancient stone corridors, worn smooth by the footsteps of generations of the al-Zaman dynasty. They walked for what seemed like an age through beautifully proportioned rooms that unfolded one on to another, down echoing colonnaded walkways that skirted magnificent gardens, past perfumed courtyards and mysterious corridors that seemed to disappear directly into the rocky hillside upon which the palace was built.

At last the Bedu servant opened a heavy set of dark teak doors.

“You may wait here.”

She stepped into the room and looked around, awed despite herself.

The room was obviously part of the less formal wing of the palace. While it bore the same marks of antiquity as the grand reception hall, it possessed none of its austerity. Here, light from high clerestory windows warmed the sandstone rock and imbued the amber and creams of the tiled wall with a magical glow. She could hear the splash of a fountain coming from the courtyard beyond the open windows and she could smell sweet jasmine.

It was furnished for comfort too, with simple, over-sized suede sofas in neutral tones grouped around a huge wooden table, glowing with a patina created from years of care.

She sat down wearily and looked around. It was a room designed to appeal to the senses: a seductive room. God help her.

She dropped her bag and her hand instinctively caressed the geometric inlay that edged the wooden table. It was smooth, worn by generations of hands, seeking to engage with its beauty. But even as her fingers sought the same engagement, her eyes searched the shadows.