At the Sheikh's Bidding

By: 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.’

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