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The sheikh's chosen wife

By:Michelle Reid

The sheikh's chosen wife
Michelle Reid


Dressed to go riding, in knee-length black leather boots, buff pants, a  white shirt and a white gutrah held to his dark head by a plain black  agal, Sheikh Hassan ben Khalifa Al-Qadim stepped into his private office  and closed the door behind him. In his hand he held a newly delivered  letter from England. On his desk lay three more. Walking across the  room, he tossed the new letter onto the top of the other three then went  to stand by the griued window, fixing his eyes on a spot beyond the  Al-Qadim Oasis, where reclaimed dry scrubland had been turned into miles  of lush green fig groves.

Beyond the figs rose the sand-dunes. Majestic and proud, they claimed  the horizon with a warning statement. Come any closer with your  irrigation and expect retaliation, they said. One serious sandstorm, and  years of hard labour could be turned back into arid wasteland.

A sigh eased itself from his body. Hassan knew all about the laws of the  desert. He respected its power and its driving passion, its right to be  master of its own destiny. And what he would really have liked to do at  this very moment was to saddle up his horse, Zandor, then take off for  those sand-dunes and allow them to dictate his future for him.

But he knew the idea was pure fantasy. For behind him lay four letters,  all of which demanded he make those decisions for himself. And beyond  the relative sanctuary of the four walls surrounding him lay a palace in  waiting; his father, his half-brother, plus a thousand and one other  people, all of whom believed they owned a piece of his so-called  destiny.

So Zandor would have to stay in his stable. His beloved sand-dunes would  have to wait a while to swallow him up. Making a half-turn, he stared  grimly at the letters. Only one had been opened: the first one, which he  had tossed aside with the contempt it had deserved. Since then he had  left the others sealed on his desk and had tried very hard to ignore.

But the time for burying his head in the sand was over.

A knock on the door diverted his attention. It would be his most trusted  aide, Faysal. Hassan recognised the lightness of the knock. Sure enough  the door opened and a short, fine-boned man wearing the traditional  white and pale blue robes of their Arabian birthright appeared in its  arched aperture, where he paused and bowed his head, waiting to be  invited in or told to go.

'Come in, Faysal,' Hassan instructed a trifle impatiently. Sometimes  Faysal's rigid adherence to so-called protocol set his teeth on edge.

With another deferential bow, Faysal moved to his master's bidding.  Stepping into the room, he closed the door behind him then used some  rarely utilised initiative by walking across the room to come to a halt  several feet from the desk on the priceless carpet that covered, in  part, the expanse of polished blue marble between the desk and the door.

Hassan found himself staring at the carpet. His wife had ordered it to  be placed there, claiming the room's spartan appearance invited no one  to cross its austere threshold. The fact that this was supposed to be  the whole point had made absolutely no difference to Leona. She had  simply carried on regardless, bringing many items into the room besides  the carpet. Such as the pictures now adorning the walls and the  beautiful ceramics and sculptures scattered around, all of which had  been produced by gifted artists native to the small Gulf state of  Rahman. Hassan had soon found he could no longer lift his eyes without  having them settle on an example of local enterprise.

Yet it was towards the only western pieces Leona had brought into the  room that his eyes now drifted. The low table and two overstuffed easy  chairs had been placed by the other window, where she would insist on  making him sit with her several times a day to enjoy the view while they  drank tea and talked and touched occasionally as lovers do.

Dragging the gutrah from his head with almost angry fingers Hassan  tossed it aside then went to sit down in the chair behind his desk.  'Okay,' he said. 'What have you to tell me?"

'It is not good news, sir.' Faysal began with a warning. 'Sheikh Abdul  is entertaining certain...factions at his summer palace. Our man on the  inside confirms that the tone of their conversation warrants your most  urgent attention.'

Hassan made no comment, but his expression hardened fractionally. 'And my wife?' he asked next.

'The Sheikha still resides in Spain, sir,' Faysal informed him, 'working  with her father at the new resort of San Esteban, overseeing the  furnishing of several villas about to be released for sale.'

Doing what she did best, Hassan thought grimly-and did not need to  glance back at the two stuffed chairs to conjure up a vision of long  silken hair the colour of a desert sunset, framing a porcelain smooth  face with laughing green eyes and a smile that dared him to complain  about her invasion of his private space. 'Trust me,' he could hear her  say. 'It is my job to give great empty spaces a little soul and their  own heartbeat.'                       


Well, the heartbeat had gone out of this room when she'd left it, and as for the soul...

Another sigh escaped him. 'How long do you think we have before they make their move?'

The slight tensing in Faysal's stance warned Hassan that he was not  going to like what was coming. 'If you will forgive me for saying so,  sir,' his aide apologised, 'with Mr Ethan Hayes also residing at her  father's property, I would say that the matter has become most seriously  urgent indeed.'

Since this was complete news to Hassan it took a moment for the full  impact of this information to really sink in. Then he was suddenly on  his feet and was swinging tensely away to glare at the sand-dunes again.  Was she mad? he was thinking angrily. Did she have a death wish? Was  she so indifferent to his feelings that she could behave like this?

Ethan Hayes. His teeth gritted together as an old familiar jealousy  began mixing with his anger to form a much more volatile substance. He  swung back to face Faysal. 'How long has Mr Hayes been in residence in  San Esteban?'

Faysal made a nervous clearing of his throat. "These seven days past,' he replied.

'And who else knows about this...? Sheikh Abdul?"

'It was discussed,' Faysal confirmed.

With a tight shifting of his long lean body, Hassan returned to his  seat. 'Cancel all my appointments for the rest of the month,' he  instructed, drawing his appointments diary towards him to begin scoring  hard lines through the same busy pages. 'My yacht is berthed at Cadiz.  Have it moved to San Est6ban. Check that my plane is ready for an  immediate take-off and ask Rafiq to come to me."

The cold quality of the commands did nothing to dilute their grim  purpose. 'If asked,' Faysal prompted, 'what reason do I give for your  sudden decision to cancel your appoint-

'I am about to indulge in a much needed holiday cruising the  Mediterranean with my nice new toy,' Sheikh Hassan replied, and the bite  in his tone made a complete mockery of the words spoken, for they both  knew that the next few weeks promised to be no holiday. 'And Faysal...'  Hassan stalled his aide as he was about to take his leave '... if anyone  so much as whispers the word adultery in the same breath as my wife's  name, they will not breathe again-you understand me?'

The other man went perfectly still, recognising the responsibility that was being laid squarely upon him. 'Yes, sir.' He bowed.

Hassan's grim nod was a dismissal. Left alone again, he leaned back in  his chair and began frowning while he tried to decide how best to tackle  this. His gaze fell on the small stack of letters. Reaching out with  long fingers, he drew them towards him, picked out the only envelope  with a broken seal and removed the single sheet of paper from inside.  The content of the letter he ignored with the same dismissive contempt  he had always applied to it. His interest lay only in the telephone  number printed beneath the business logo. With an expression that said  he resented having his hand forced like this, he took a brief glance at  his watch, then was lifting up the telephone, fairly sure that his  wife's lawyer would be in his London office at this time of the day.

The ensuing conversation was not a pleasant one, and the following  conversation with his father-in-law even less so. He had just replaced  the receiver and was frowning darkly over what Victor Frayne had said to  him, when another knock sounded at the door. Hard eyes lanced towards  it as the door swung open and Rafiq stepped into the room.

Though he was dressed in much the same clothes as Faysal was wearing,  there the similarity between the two men ended. For where Faysal was  short and thin and annoyingly effacing, Rafiq was a giant of a man who  rarely kowtowed to anyone. Hassan warranted only a polite nod of the  head, yet he knew Rafiq would willingly die for him if he was called  upon to do so.

'Come in, shut the door, then tell me how you would feel smoothly intoned.