Wife–by royal declaration!
Language teacher Molly Carlisle is furious when she is kidnapped by an impulsive young sheikh and taken to the kingdom of Djalia. Until she meets her abductor’s brother, and his commanding charisma sends a shock wave of need through her… King Azrael fights hard to resist the temptation of Molly’s bountiful curves, especially when a sandstorm strands them overnight in the desert. To protect her reputation from scandal, Azrael declares them secretly married, only to discover his tactical announcement is legally binding–Molly is now his queen! And Azrael is determined to claim his wedding night…
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KING AZRAEL AL-SHARIF OF DJALIA studied the British newspaper headline with scorchingly angry dark golden eyes, his wide sensual mouth set in a harsh line. Long, luxuriant black hair fanned round his set bronzed features as he sprang upright.
‘I do not think you should concern yourself with such trivia, Your Majesty,’ his right-hand man, Butrus, assured him. ‘What does it matter to us what other countries think? We know the truth. We are not backward. It is merely that Djalia’s infrastructure was neglected while the dictator was in power.’
What infrastructure? Azrael almost asked, because his tiny oil-rich country was suffering from a sustained half-century of neglect. Hashem had been a cruel potentate of legendary excess, as fond of torture and killing as he had been of spending. A newly enthroned monarch, painfully aware of the trusting expectations of a people who had suffered greatly under Hashem’s rule, Azrael sometimes felt weighed down by the amount of responsibility that he carried. But he was downright enraged when other countries laughed at Djalia through the offices of their media.
The newspaper showed a cart and oxen travelling down the main road of Jovan, their single city, and asked if Djalia was the most backward country in Arabia. Azrael was willing to admit that anyone looking for skyscrapers or shopping malls or fancy hotels would be disappointed because, except for a showpiece airport and an imposing motorway to the former dictator’s palace, there was nothing contemporary anywhere else in the country. But given time, Djalia would move out of the Dark Ages and into the twenty-first century.
Mercifully Djalia had the wealth to power that transformation and Djalian citizens from all over the globe, medical staff, engineers and teachers, were already flooding back home to help in that Herculean task. Azrael, whose besetting sin was a serious nature that lent him a forbidding aspect beyond his thirty years of age, thought with relief about all those people coming home to help rebuild the country that he loved more than his own life. People like him who believed in religious tolerance and female equality and who desired to live in a modern, enlightened society where all had access to education and healthcare.
‘You are right, Butrus. I will not concern myself with such nonsense,’ Azrael acknowledged briskly. ‘We must have faith in the future.’
Relieved to have lifted his monarch’s mood, Butrus departed, having decided not to mention another possible problem. According to the staff at the newly opened embassy in London, Tahir, the King’s younger half-brother, was infatuated with a sexy redhead. Another piece of trivia, Butrus decided loftily, for boys chased girls and that was life, although for Tahir, who had grown up in the much more restricted society of the neighbouring country of Quarein, it was undoubtedly a novelty to even be allowed to speak to an unmarried woman.
Azrael studied the walls of his twelfth-century office and then studied his desk instead. He lived and worked in a castle. He was a very fortunate man, he told himself nobly. He had refused to take up residence in the late dictator’s vulgar gilded palace, which was currently being converted into an opulent and very much-needed hotel. He would not think about the reality that that palace had enjoyed an Internet connection and many other contemporary enhancements.
But he could live without those soft unnecessary extras, he assured himself. They were not necessary to a man who had spent a great deal of his life in a nomadic tent and an equal amount of it as a soldier in the desert. He was tough. He did not need such comforts. He had also known that his people did not want to see him occupying Hashem’s palace, which was a symbol of both suffering and selfish extravagance. He had to show that he was different despite the blood in his veins, the blood that he fortunately also shared with his heroic father, Sharif, who had been executed for his opposition to Hashem.
A knock on the door was swiftly followed by its noisy opening, framing Butrus, who was pale as death and sporting an aghast expression. ‘I am so sorry to enter in such a rude way, Your Majesty, but I’m afraid that your brother has done something very shocking…very shocking indeed. A huge scandal will break over our heads if we cannot find a remedy.’
* * *
A mere day before King Azrael’s faith in his family’s intelligence was destroyed by his brother’s act of insanity, Molly remained in blissful ignorance of the storm clouds of threat gathering around her.
In fact, Molly was happy. Small and curvy, her eye-catching fall of long coppery ringlets dancing on her slim shoulders, her green eyes sparkling, she was visiting the care home where her grandfather was lodged. The home was awash with seasonal bustle and carol singers and some very tasty mince pies and the residents were thoroughly enjoying the entertainment. She gripped Maurice Devlin’s gnarled hand and smiled when he mistook her for her late mother, Louise, and made no attempt to correct him. Her grandfather had dementia and his hold on faces, dates and events had slipped, allowing only brief little windows of comprehension. As he recounted a memory of some long-ago Christmas when he had chopped down a tree for his little daughter’s benefit, Molly was simply delighted that he had recognised her as a relative and that he was enjoying himself.
Winterwood was a very good residential home where Maurice had received the very best of care for the past two years. Unfortunately it cost a lot of money to keep her grandfather there but Molly was very conscious that it was in the old man’s best interests to keep him in familiar surroundings. A sudden change of accommodation and new faces would plunge him into severe confusion. For that reason, Molly had done everything she could to ensure that Maurice could continue to stay at Winterwood but, as she sat there holding his frail hand, she was anxiously aware that the proceeds from the sale of her mother’s last piece of jewellery were almost used up. Sadly, even working night and day, she couldn’t make enough cash to both live and support the top-up fees due to the care home every month.
Something would come up, she told herself optimistically, because agonising over the possibility that something might not was unproductive and Molly was a very practical young woman. As it was, Molly currently had three jobs.
During the day she worked as a waitress. At least two evenings a week she worked a cleaning shift at an office block for Jan, the friend who owned the cleaning business. And last but definitely not least, on weekends Molly was giving English lessons to an Arab prince at the Djalian Embassy, lessons for which she was being paid far more than all the rest of her work combined. Maybe she would suggest an extra lesson, she reasoned, but she winced at the prospect of exposing herself to spending more time with Tahir.
Although, at the same time, she reckoned she needed to be fair to Prince Tahir because he wasn’t harassing her. When she had told him that the flowers and the gifts he was sending her were inappropriate and unwelcome he had stopped. He had also accepted the return of the gifts and apologised profusely. He had never tried to touch her either, but his flirtatious manner and the way he studied her still unnerved her a little and it had been a relief when he’d acceded to her request that one of the embassy staff sit in on their sessions with them.
Of course, Molly would have been the first to admit that she had very little experience with men and was probably judging the young Prince too harshly. She had had to drop out of her first year on a university business course to come home and look after her grandfather and, during the subsequent four years, life as regards dating, aside of one forgettable boyfriend, had pretty much passed her by. Even so, during that period she had still contrived to pass her Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualification. Nevertheless she had no regrets about the sacrifices she had made for her grandfather because she was painfully aware that, during one of the unhappiest periods of her own life, Maurice had come to her rescue and had disrupted his peaceful retirement to take care of her.