Tilda was regretting her short-lived romance with Rashad, the crown prince of Bakhar.
Now, with her impoverished family indebted to him, Rashad was blackmailing Tilda by insisting she pay up, as his concubine! Soon Tilda was the arrogant sheikh’s captive in his faraway desert kingdom. Then Rashad publicly acknowledged her as his woman and under the law of Bakhar they were now bound together forever as husband and wife!
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‘HAVE I met anyone whom I would like to marry?’ Rashad, Crown Prince of Bakhar almost laughed out loud as he considered his father’s gently voiced question. Engrained good manners, however, restrained such a blunt response. ‘No, I fear not.’
King Hazar surveyed his son and heir with concealed disquiet. His guilty conscience was pricked by the truth that he had been blessed by Rashad’s birth, for his son was everything a future monarch should be. His sterling qualities had shone like a beacon during those dark days when Bakhar had suffered under the despotic rule of Sadiq, Hazar’s uncle. In the eyes of the people, Rashad could do no wrong; he had endured many cruelties, but had still emerged a hero from the war that had restored the legitimate line to the throne. Even the rumours that the Crown Prince was regarded as a notorious womaniser abroad barely raised a brow, since it was accepted that he had earned the right to enjoy his liberty.
‘There comes a time when a man must settle down,’ King Hazar remarked with all the awkwardness of one who had never been anything other than settled in his habits. ‘And put aside more worldly pursuits.’
His lean and darkly handsome features grim, Rashad stared stonily out at the exquisite gardens that were his father’s pride and joy. Maybe when he was older he too would get a thrill out of pruning topiary, he reflected wryly. Although he had a great affection for the older man, father and son were not close. How could they have been? Rashad had been only four years old when he’d been torn from his mother’s arms and denied all further contact with his parents. In the following two decades, he had learned to trust nobody and keep his own counsel. By the time he had been reunited with his family, he had been an adult, a survivor and a battle-hardened soldier, trained to put duty and discipline above all other virtues. But on this particular issue he was not prepared to meet his father’s expectations.‘
I don’t want to get married,’ Rashad declared levelly.
King Hazar was unprepared for that bold response, which offered neither apology nor the possibility of compromise. Assuming that he had broached the subject clumsily, he said earnestly, ‘I believe that marriage will greatly add to your happiness.’
Rashad almost winced at that simplistic assurance. He had no such expectation. Only once had a woman made Rashad happy, but almost as quickly he had discovered that he was living in a fool’s paradise. He had never forgotten the lesson. He liked his freedom and he liked sex. In short he enjoyed women, but there was only one space for a woman to fill in his private life and that was in his bed. And just as, when it came to food, he preferred a varied diet, he had no desire to have any woman foisted on him on a permanent basis. ‘I’m afraid I cannot agree with you on that issue.’
The older man ignored the decided chill that laced the atmosphere and suppressed a sigh. He wished that he’d had the opportunity to acquire just a smidgeon of his son’s superior education and sophistication so that they might talk on more equal terms. Most of all he longed for the ability to deal with the son he loved with a wholly clear conscience, but unhappily that was not possible. ‘I have never known us to be at odds. I must have expressed my hopes badly. Or perhaps I took you too much by surprise.’
Rashad folded his wide sensual mouth. ‘Nothing you could say will change my mind. I have no desire for a wife.’
‘Rashad…’ His royal father was aghast at the stubborn inflexibility of that refusal, for his son was not known for his changeability. ‘You are so popular with our people that I believe you could marry any woman you chose. Perhaps you are concerned about the type of woman you might be expected to marry. It is my belief that even a foreigner would be acceptable.’
Brilliant dark eyes veiled and grim, Rashad had fallen very still at that reference to the possibility of a foreign bride. He wondered if the older man was recalling his son’s disastrous infatuation with an Englishwoman five years ago. The very suspicion of that stung Rashad’s ferocious pride. He and his father had buried the ill-fated episode without ever discussing it.
‘We live in a modern world. Yet you believe that I must behave exactly as you and my forefathers behaved and marry young to produce a son and heir,’ Rashad delivered with cool, crisp diction. ‘I do not believe that such sacrifice is necessary. I have three older sisters with a string of healthy sons between them. In the future, one of those boys might stand as my heir’.
‘But none of them have a royal father. One day, you will be king. Will you disappoint our people? What have you got against marriage?’ the older man demanded in bewilderment. ‘You have so much to offer.’
Everything but a heart and faith in womankind, Rashad affixed with inward impatience. ‘I have nothing against the institution of marriage. It was right for you but it would not be right for me.’
‘At least reflect on what I have said,’ King Hazar urged. ‘We will talk about this again.’