With this ring…
When naive Polly Dixon lands in the desert kingdom of Dharia clutching an ornate ring – the only link to her hidden past – she never expected to be arrested and deposited at the feet of the country’s formidable ruler! I thee blackmail! King Rashad is suspicious of desirable Polly but her possession of the ring has caught the imagination of his country. They believe that Polly is the bride he’s been waiting for, so Rashad begins a fiery sensual onslaught to melt away Polly’s resolve and have her begging to walk down the aisle!
KING RASHAD EL-AMIN QUARAISHI studied the photos spread across his office desk. Six feet three inches tall, he dominated most gatherings, having inherited his grandfather’s unusual height. Black-haired and possessed of long-lashed dark eyes, he had also inherited the perfect bone structure that had made his mother a renowned beauty in the Middle East. Indeed, his smouldering dark good looks continually inspired admiring comments on social media and he was greatly embarrassed by the fact.
‘A cornucopia of feminine perfection,’ his chief adviser, Hakim, remarked with fervour. ‘A new reign, a new queen and, we trust, a new dynasty! Truthfully, fortune will smile now on the fortunes of Dharia.’
Although his royal employer appeared somewhat less enthusiastic, he did not disagree. But then Rashad had always known that it was his duty to marry and father a child. Unfortunately it was not a project that inspired him. After all, he had married before and at a very young age and he knew the pitfalls. Living with a woman with whom he might not have the smallest thing in common would be stressful. Misunderstandings and personality clashes would abound in such a relationship and if the desired conception did not occur in record time the stress would multiply and the unhappiness and dissatisfaction would settle in.
No, marriage held very little appeal for Rashad. The best he could hope for in a future bride was that she would have sufficient sense and practicality to enable them to live their separate lives in relative peace. He did not expect much in the way of support from a wife because his first wife had clung to him like superglue. Nor was he likely to forget his parents’ famously stormy marriage. Regardless, he also understood and accepted that the very stability of his country rested on his capacity to act as a respected role model for his people.
Over the past twenty-odd years the population of Dharia had suffered a great deal and change and innovation were no longer welcome because in the desire for peace everybody had rushed to re-embrace the traditional relaxed Dharian outlook and customs. The heady years of his father’s extravagance and his blind determination to force Western ways on an extremely traditional country had resulted in a government that became increasingly tyrannical and inevitably clashed with the army, who acted to defend the constitution with the support of the people. The history of that popular revolution was etched in the ruins of the former dictator’s palace in the city of Kashan and in the prompt restoration of the monarchy.
Tragically, a car bomb had killed off almost all of Rashad’s family. In the aftermath his uncle had hidden him in the desert to keep him safe. He had only been six years old, a frightened little boy more attached to his English nanny than to the distant parents he rarely saw and in the turmoil following the bomb and the instigation of martial law even his nanny had vanished. The palace had been looted, their loyal staff dispersed and life as Rashad had come to know it had changed out of all recognition.
‘Your Majesty, may I make a suggestion?’ Hakim asked.
Rashad thought for an instant that his adviser was going to suggest that he flung all the photos of potentially suitable brides into a lucky dip and chose blind. It would be a random form of selection and very disrespectful of the candidates, he acknowledged wryly, but he was cynically convinced that his chances of a happy union would be just as good with that method as with any other. Marriage, after all, was a very risky game of chance.
His wide sensual mouth compressed. ‘Please…’ he urged.
Hakim smiled and withdrew the file he carried below his arm to open it and extend it to show off a highly detailed picture of an item of jewellery. ‘I have taken the liberty of asking the royal jeweller if he could reproduce the Hope of Dharia…’
Rashad stared at him in astonishment. ‘But it is lost. How can it be reproduced?’
‘What harm would there be in having a replacement ring created? It is a powerful symbol of the monarchy. It was the family’s most important heirloom but after this long there is very little likelihood that the original ring will ever be found,’ Hakim pointed out seriously. ‘I feel that this is the optimum time to do this. Our people feel safer when old traditions are upheld—’
‘Our people would prefer a fairy tale to the reality that my late father was a rotten ruler, who put together a corrupt and power-hungry government,’ Rashad interposed with the bluntness that was his trademark and which never failed to horrify the more diplomatic Hakim.
While consternation at such frankness froze the older man’s bearded face, Rashad walked over to the window, which overlooked the gardens being industriously watered by the palace’s army of staff.
He was thinking about the ring superstitiously nicknamed the Hope of Dharia by the Dharian people. The ring had been a gorgeous fire opal of fiery hue, always worn by the King at ceremonial events. Set in gold and inscribed with holy words, the ring had acquired an almost mystical aura after being brought into the family by his saintly great-grandmother, whose devotion to charitable enterprises had ensured that she was adored throughout the kingdom. In other countries a king might wear a crown or wield a sceptre but in Dharia the monarchy’s strength and authority had rested historically and emotionally in that ancient ring. It had vanished after the palace had been looted and, in spite of intensive searches, no indication of the opal’s whereabouts had ever been established. No, the ring was gone for good and Rashad could see Hakim’s point: a well-designed replacement would undeniably be better than nothing.
‘Order the ring,’ he instructed ruefully.
A fake ring for a fake king, he reflected with innate cynicism. He could never shake off the knowledge that he had not been born to sit on the throne of Dharia. The youngest of three sons, he had been an afterthought until his brothers died along with his parents. He had been left at home that day because he was an excessively energetic and noisy little boy and that reality had saved his life. Rashad’s massive popularity with the public still shook him even while it persuaded him to bend his own ideals to become the man his country needed him to be.
Once he had wanted to fall in love and then he had got married. Love had been glorious for all of five minutes and then it had died slowly and painfully. No, he wasn’t in the market for that experience again. Yet he had also once believed that lust was wrong until he fell in lust many times over while he was finishing his education at a British university. Whatever, he was still grateful to have enjoyed that fleeting period of sexual freedom before he had to return home to take up his duties. And unfortunately home signified the rigid court protocols that ensured that Rashad was forced to live in a little gilded soap bubble of perceived perfection as a figurehead that inspired the most ridiculous awe. Yes, his people would enjoy the restoration of the ring and all the hoopla of dreams and expectations that went with it…but he would not.