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The Sheikh's Prize

By:Lynne Graham

The Sheikh's Prize
Lynne Graham

       CHAPTER ONE



ZAHIR RA'IF QUARISHI, hereditary king of the gulf state of Maraban,   leapt up from behind his desk when his younger brother, Akram, literally   burst into his office.

'What has happened?' Zahir demanded urgently, straightening to his full   six feet three inches of height, his lean powerful body tensing like  the  army officer he had been into immediate battle readiness.

His face unusually flushed, Akram came to an abrupt halt to execute a   jerky bow as he belatedly recalled the niceties of court etiquette.' My   apologies for the interruption, Your Majesty-'

'I assume there's a good reason,' Zahir conceded, his rigidity easing as   he read Akram's troubled expression and recognised that something of a   more private and personal nature had precipitated his impulsive entry  to  one of the very few places in which Zahir could usually depend on   receiving the peace he required to work.

Akram stiffened, embarrassment claiming his open good-natured face. 'I don't know how to tell you this-'

'Sit down and take a deep breath,' Zahir advised calmly, his innate   natural assurance taking over as he settled his big frame down into an   armchair in the corner of the room and rested his piercing dark-as-night   eyes on the younger man while moving a graceful hand to urge him to  sit  down as well. 'There's nothing we can't discuss. I will never be as   intimidating as our late father.'

At that reminder, Akram turned deadly pale, for their late and   unlamented parent had been as much of a tyrant and a bully in the royal   palace with his family as he was in his role as a ruler over what had   once been one of the most backward countries in the Middle East. While   Fareed the Magnificent, as he had insisted on being called, had been in   power, Maraban's oil wealth had flowed only one way into the royal   coffers while their people continued to live in the Dark Ages, denied   education, modern technology and adequate medical support. It had been   three years since Zahir took the throne and the changes he had   immediately instigated still remained a massive undertaking. Angrily   conscious that his brother worked just about every hour of the day in   his determination to improve the lives of his subjects, Akram suddenly   dreaded giving Zahir the news he had learned. Zahir never mentioned his   first marriage. It was too controversial a topic, Akram acknowledged   awkwardly. How could it not be? His brother had paid a high price for   defying their late father and marrying a foreigner from a different   culture. That he had done so for a woman clearly unworthy of his faith   could only be an additional source of aggravation.

'Akram...?' Zahir prompted impatiently. 'I have a meeting in thirty minutes.'

'It's...her! That woman you married!' Akram recovered his tongue   abruptly. 'She's out there in the streets of our capital city shaming   you even as we speak!'

Zahir froze and frowned, his spectacular bone structure tightening   beneath taut skin the colour of honey, his wide sensual mouth   compressing hard. 'What the hell are you talking about?'

'Sapphire's here filming some television commercial for cosmetics!'   Akram told him in fierce condemnation, resenting what he saw as an   inexcusable insult to his elder brother.

Zahir's lean strong hands clenched into fists. 'Here?' he repeated in   thunderous disbelief. 'Sapphire is filming here in Maraban?'

'Wakil told me,' his brother told him, referring to one of Zahir's   former bodyguards. 'He couldn't believe his eyes when he recognised her!   It's lucky that our father refused to announce your marriage to our   people-I never thought we'd live to be grateful for that...'

Zahir was stunned at the idea that his ex-wife could have dared to set a   single foot within the borders of his country. Rage and bitterness   flamed through his taut powerful frame and he sprang restively upright   again. He had tried not to be bitter, he had tried even harder to forget   his failed marriage...only that was a little hard to do when your ex   became an internationally famous supermodel, featuring in countless   magazines and newspapers and even once in a giant advertising hoarding   over Times Square. In truth a mere five years ago he had been a sitting   duck of a target for a cunning schemer of Sapphire Marshall's ilk and   that lowering awareness had left an indelible stain on his masculine   ego. At twenty-five years of age he had, thanks to his father's   oppression, still been a virgin, ignorant of the West and Western women,   but although he hadn't had a clue he had at least tried to make his   marriage work. His bride, on the other hand, had refused to make the   smallest effort to sort out their problems. He had fought hard to keep a   wife who didn't want to be his wife, indeed who couldn't even bear for   him to touch her.                       
       
           



       

More fool him, he reflected with hard cynicism, for he was no longer an   innocent when it came to women. The explanation for Sapphire's   extraordinary behaviour had become clear as crystal to him once he shed   his idealistic assumptions about his wife's honour: his bride had only   married him because he was wealthy beyond avarice and a prince, not   because she cared about him. Unpardonably, her goal in marrying him had   simply been the rich pay-off that would follow their divorce. He had   married a woman with all the heart of a cash register and she had, not   only, ripped him off but also got away scot free while he had paid in   spades. At that reflection, his even white teeth ground together, tiny   gold flames igniting in his fierce eyes. If only he had been dealing   with her in the present as a male who now knew the score, he would have   known exactly how to handle her.

'I'm sorry, Zahir,' Akram muttered in the seething silence, ill at ease   with the rare dark fury that had flared in his brother's face. 'I   thought you had a right to know that she'd had the cheek to come here.'

'It's five years since I divorced her,' Zahir pointed out harshly, his   lean strong face impassive. 'Why should I care what she does?'

'Because she's an embarrassment!' Akram rushed to declare. 'Imagine how   you would feel if the media found out that she was once your wife! She   must be shameless and without conscience to come to Maraban to make her   stupid commercial!'

'This is all very emotive stuff, Akram,' Zahir countered, reluctantly   touched by his brother's concern on his behalf. 'I'm grateful you told   me but what do you expect me to do?'

'Throw her and her film crew out of Maraban!' his brother told him instantly.

'You are still young and impetuous, my brother,' Zahir replied drily.   'The paparazzi follow my ex-wife everywhere she goes. Try to picture the   likely consequences of deporting a world-famous celebrity. Why would I   want to create headlines to alert the world's media to a past that is   more wisely left buried?'

When Akram had finally departed, still incredulous that his brother had   failed to express a desire for retribution, Zahir made several phone   calls that would have astonished the younger man. It was a supreme irony   but Zahir's coolly astute brain was perpetually at all-out war with  the  volatile passion of his temperament. While it made no logical sense   whatsoever he wanted the chance to see Sapphire in the flesh again.  Did  that desire imply that he still had some lingering need for closure   where she was concerned? Or was it simple and natural curiosity  because  he was currently facing the prospect of having to take another  wife?  Once, in a desperate search for a solution to his seemingly  incurable  problems with Sapphire, Zahir had read books about all sorts  of strange  subjects before he finally accepted that the simplest  explanation of the  apparently inexplicable was usually the closest to  the truth. Since  then events in his ex-wife's life had suggested that  his sceptical  convictions about her true character were spot-on. He had  wed a  gold-digging social climber with not an atom of true feeling for  him.  After all, he was well aware that Sapphire was now cosily  ensconced in a  live-in relationship with the award-winning Scottish  wildlife  photographer, Cameron McDonald. Presumably she wasn't having  any  difficulty bedding him... Zahir's dark eyes burned afresh like  golden  flames at that incendiary thought.

* * *

Saffy dutifully angled her hot face into the flow of air gushing from   the wind machine so that her mane of blonde hair wafted back in a cloud   over her shoulders. Not an atom of her growing irritation and  discomfort  showed on her flawless features. Saffy was never less than  professional  when she was working. But how many times had her make-up  already needed  retouched in the stifling heat? It was simply melting  off her face. How  many times had the set security had to interrupt  filming to make the  crowd of over-excited spectators back away to give  her colleagues the  space to work? Coming to Maraban to film the Desert  Ice cosmetics  commercial had been a foolish mistake. The support  systems the film crew  took for granted were non-existent.

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