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At the Sheikh's Bidding

By:Chantelle Shaw

At the Sheikh's Bidding
Chantelle Shaw

       CHAPTER ONE

The Royal Palace in the desert kingdom of Qubbah.

PRINCE  ZAHIR BIN KAHLID AL MUNTASSIR swept through the palace towards   King  Kahlid's private quarters, the expression on his handsome face so   grimly  forbidding that the guards quickly jumped aside to allow him to   pass.  ‘How is he?' he demanded, when his father's servant A'waan   greeted him  with a bow.

‘Sleeping, sire-the doctor gave him a sedative and  instructed that His   Highness should be allowed to rest,' A'waan  murmured, hovering   anxiously in front of the door leading to the King's  bedroom.

‘It's all right, A'waan, I have no intention of  disturbing him,' Zahir   assured the servant. ‘The news of Prince Faisal's  death has been a   great shock to all of us, but especially to my  father.'

‘His Highness is deeply saddened. He is not properly  recovered from the   virus he contracted recently, and I fear that the  news will prove too   much for him,' A'waan said gravely. ‘Your father's  one glimmer of joy   is the discovery that he has a grandson-a child who  is now an  orphan.'

Zahir's jaw clenched as he fought to control his emotions while A'waan continued.

‘It is His Highness's dearest wish that you should travel to England and bring the child back to Qubbah.'

‘I  am well aware of my father's wishes,' Zahir said tightly. He crossed   to  the window and stared out over the stunning formal gardens and the    ornate fountains that splashed into an azure pool. Within the grounds   of  the palace the desert had been tamed, but beyond the walls of the    twelfth-century fortress it stretched outward in an endless sea of    scorching golden sands.

The setting sun was suspended like a huge  golden orb, the sky around it   streaked with shades of pink and red. He  remembered the times he and   Faisal had raced their horses across the  sands, or released their   falcons and watched them soar across the dense  blue sky. More than   brothers, they had been the best of friends, but the  bond between them   had been broken-and all because they had both fallen  in love with the   same woman. Zahir's brows drew together in a slashing  frown. Love, he   had discovered, was a destructive emotion and he would  never allow it   to rule his heart or mind again.

A'waan spoke  again. ‘As you know, your father always hoped to be   reconciled with his  eldest son, and that, on his death the Prince would   return to Qubbah to  rule. But now Prince Faisal is dead, and there is   unrest in the kingdom  while the people wait for the King to announce   his successor. Forgive me  for my presumption … ' the elderly servant   shifted nervously beneath  Zahir's narrow-eyed stare ‘ … but I know His   Highness longs for you to  appoint a deputy to head your business   interests in America, so that you  can settle permanently in Qubbah-and   take a wife. Now, more than ever,  it is your duty, sire.'

Zahir threw back his head proudly and  glared at the servant. ‘I do not   need lessons from you on my duty,' he  snapped coldly. ‘You forget your   place, A'waan.' He understood only too  well that his brother's death   meant that from now on his life would no  longer be his own. He would   not shirk his responsibility to the kingdom  his family had ruled for   generations-but marriage was a different  matter. ‘If you remember, I   was about to be married six years ago, to a  woman of my father's   choosing-and what a debacle that turned out to be. I  will marry when I   am good and ready.' He swung abruptly away from the  window and strode   across the room, pausing briefly to glance back at the  servant. ‘When   my father wakes, tell him I have gone to England.'

Ingledean House-North Yorkshire Moors


‘Erin!  There's a Gordon Straker here to see you,' announced Alice   Trent, cook  and housekeeper at Ingledean House, when Erin walked into   the kitchen.  ‘He says he's Faisal's solicitor, and he mentioned   something about the  will.'

‘Oh, yes.' Erin nodded. ‘I spoke to him on the phone a couple of days ago and he said he would be travelling up from London.'

‘Well,  he's waiting in the library.' Alice paused in her task of   peeling  potatoes and stared at Erin's dishevelled appearance. ‘What on   earth  have you been doing? You look as though you've been down a coal   mine.'

‘Clearing  out the big spare bedroom.' Erin glanced ruefully at the   streaks of  dust on her jeans. ‘Kazim's nursery is too small to store   all his toys  now that he's sleeping in a proper bed. The spare room   will make a  perfect playroom. I need to keep busy,' she added   defensively, when  Alice's brows lifted.                       
       
           



       

It was fine when Kazim was awake, keeping a  lively three-year-old   entertained took up all her time, but she had  come to dread his   afternoon nap-an hour of peace and solitude that gave  her time to   think.

It was almost three weeks since Faisal's  funeral. His death had been   expected-he had told her a year ago that the  tumour on his brain was   inoperable-and she was glad that he was now at  peace, perhaps reunited   with his beloved Maryam. But he had been her  friend; she missed him,   and she could not stem the feeling of panic that  regularly swept   through her whenever she thought about the future.  Kazim's well-being   was totally her responsibility now, and she was  terrified that she   would somehow let him down.

She turned to  watch the toddler, who had preceded her into the kitchen   and was now  busy pulling open the cupboards and investigating their   contents. Kazim  was singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus', and Erin's heart   clenched at the  sound of his innocent, high-pitched voice. He'd asked   for Faisal a few  times, but had seemed to understand when she'd gently   explained that  Daddy had fallen asleep for ever.

It had been the hardest thing  she had ever had to do in her life, and   the memory of Kazim's grave  little face as he had sat on her knee still   brought tears to her eyes.  But, although he had been a little more   clingy than usual, he seemed to  have accepted the news remarkably   well-perhaps because he was too young  to comprehend that he was now   totally alone in the world.

But he  is not alone, Erin thought fiercely. True, he had no living   relatives,  but he had her, and she would love him and protect him for   as long as he  needed her-just as she had promised his father.

‘I've made some tea.' Alice's voice broke into her thoughts. ‘If you want to take it up, I'll keep an eye on Kazim.'

Erin glanced at the tray. ‘Why have you set out three cups, Alice?'

‘Mr  Straker has brought someone with him. Gave me quite a turn,   actually,  when he walked through the front door-for a moment I thought   he was  Faisal's ghost.' The cook gave a self-conscious laugh. ‘I  expect  it was  just a trick of the light. He's obviously from the  Middle  East-rather  gorgeous; you know, tall, dark and indecently  handsome. And  his features  did remind me of the master,' she added  slowly. ‘Do you  think he could  be a relative?'

An inexplicable feeling of unease settled in the  pit of Erin's stomach.   ‘Faisal had no family,' she explained quickly. ‘I  don't know who this   man is, but he's probably one of Faisal's business  associates. I'd   better go up and meet them,' she said, picking up the  tray.

Alice cast a disparaging look at her old clothes. ‘I would  suggest you   go and change first, but there's no time. It's snowing  again, and I   know Mr Straker is anxious to get back to town before the  weather   closes in.'


Erin hurried out of the kitchen, and as  she crossed the oak-panelled   hall she caught sight of her reflection in  the mirror and grimaced. Her   faded jeans and tee shirt were grubbier  than she'd realised, and her   hair, which she had secured in a long  plait, had worked loose, so that   riotous stray curls were framing her  face. But it was unlikely that   Gordon Straker or his companion would  have any interest in her   appearance, she told herself as she balanced  the tray on one hand and   opened the library door-coming to such an  abrupt halt that the delicate   bone china cups rattled precariously on  their saucers.

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