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Harlequin Presents
ISBN: 0373133979
December 2015
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Mills & Boon
ISBN: 0263249409
December 2015
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Excerpt from Destined for the Desert King

CHAPTER ONE

'HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!'

Nabil bin Rashid Al Sharifa sheikh of Rhastaan, raised the glass in his hand high in a gesture of congratulations and celebration and angled it in the direction of the two honoured guests at the party. The couple who were celebrating today and who, in spite of everything in the past, were now his two greatest friends.

'Congratulations on ten years together. Ten happy years. '

It was the last three words that caught in his throat and almost closed it off, choking them back from his tongue. Ten happy years they had been for his friends, but if he was given the chance there was no way he would want to live through the past decade over again.

'To Clemmie and Karim,' he tried again.

The elegant dark haired woman, regal as the Queen she truly was in the scarlet robe, heavily embroidered in gold, turned a warm, generous smile in his direction while at her side, Sheikh Karim al Khalifa , like Nabil, more sombrely but equally magnificently attired in the flowing robes and headdress of his country, lifted his own glass in acknowledgement of Nabil's toast. It was a scene, a moment that no one could ever have anticipated happening ten years before, though few had doubted that Karim and Clementina, in spite of the unconventional but auspicious start to their relationship, were in it for the long haul. So no one was surprised that this huge party had been organised in the Rhastaanian palace to celebrate their ten years of love and marriage, of joy. . . of children.

Abruptly Nabil put his glass down on the nearest table, the fine crystal clattering harshly against the polished surface, in a way that betrayed his innermost feelings. Even if he hadn't already been told the happy news, it was impossible not to notice `the slight swell of Clemmie's body under the glowing red silk of the floor-length gown she wore. Clementina had always been beautiful, even when he had been in the throes of the foolishly righteous (or so he had believed) anger and indignation that had driven him to reject her, he had had to acknowledge that. But now, with her curvaceous form enriched and made even more glorious by her early pregnancy, she had a bloom on her skin and a glow about her that was positively incandescent.

'Congratulations.' Nabil repeated once more, making himself smile at his friends.

He wanted to smile to show that he was happy for them. He was happy for them, deep down in his heart. But at the same time he couldn't help contrasting the richness of their life when compared with his own.

What they shared so happily. What they had and what he did not.

What they had in abundance, and what he needed so badly now, and yet didn't see a way of discovering the same happiness for himself.

Ten years ago, when they had been starting out on their journey into married happiness, he had thought he'd had it all. Young fool that he'd been — young, blind, heedless, headstrong fool! — he hadn't been able to see anything beyond the demands of body, the longing to rebel against the hand that Fate had dealt him.

So he'd rebelled all right, and by doing so he'd tied himself into that Fate even tighter. He'd locked himself in and thrown away the key.

'Ten wonderful years!'

Karim's voice may have been lifted, projected to reach the whole room and the audience of his guests and peers who thronged the huge space, but his eyes were on Clemmie only. Only on his wife as her gaze, so rich in love, was only for him. They were in their own private world as their locked eyes spoke the wonderful, silent messages and unconsciously Clemmie's hand reached up to touch gently on the barely visible swell, the promise of their unborn child in her belly.

The moment seemed to hang on the air, thick with emotion and a touch of secret sensuality that had to be carefully controlled in such a private place, promising as it did, the satisfaction and the delight of a later, much more private moment. And then the moment was broken as in a flurry of sound and a whirl of movement two small bodies careered across the room and flung themselves at their parents with shrieks of delight.

'Adnan, Sahra . .. ' Clemmie's voice was soft and warm even as she tried to make her words into the gentlest of reproofs. 'Is that any way for a prince and princess to behave at such a public event?'

'Not a prince!' Adnan declared with all the confidence of his just five years of age. 'Not now! And it's Mummy and Daddy's party — not a pub — publicked 'vent!'

Another smile passed between Clemmie and Karim at their son's determined announcement and the boy's father let his hand drop to ruffle the mop of shining black hair with easy affection.

'It's both,' he said quietly and something in that tone made Nabil move sharply and abruptly, half turning towards the door and then forcing himself back again. As host for this event, it was his place to stay where he was, to ensure that the celebrations went perfectly and everyone enjoyed themselves but right now . . .

Go on . . .

The words weren't actually spoken but he could almost hear them on the air. It was just a flicker of a response that drew his attention to Clemmie's fine-boned face, but as soon as she had caught his eye, she made the tiniest of gestures with her dark head, indicating the doors out on to the terrace where the gathering dusk had darkened the sky. The complete understanding of what was in his thoughts was there in the warmth of her smile, the flicker of her eyes towards the open doors that spelled escape and freedom from the public ceremony . She had recognised his response, knew the thoughts that were in his head — and was happy to let him take the time to breathe that he needed.

'Now — weren't you going to sing that special song . . .'

Her question drew everyone's attention to the two children as Clemmie gathered them to her, and turned them to face the crowd of dignitaries and friends that filled the room. A movement that drew all attention in their direction — and away from Nabil.

With a silent whisper of thanks to the woman who had once been meant to be his bride but instead, with her true husband, had become one of his dearest friends, Nabil took the opportunity that presented itself and moved, silent and soft-footed, across the marble floor and out on to the balcony.

The coolness of a faint breeze stirred the robes he wore, making them swirl softly as he moved, and the blackness of the night was eased by the glitter of the stars, the cold burn of the moon, just coming up over the horizon. Roughly Nabil dragged in long, much needed breaths of air as he paced down the long stone lined gallery before coming to a halt and, resting his hands on the high parapet, stared out at the lights that burned in the darkness beyond the walls of the palace. Where the people of the capital of his country who had completed their daily business, now went about the procedure of settling for the night, eating a meal, getting their children ready for bed, kissing them goodnight.

'Damnation!'

His hand formed into a fist, pounding down against the roughness of the stone as he faced the images in his mind. It seemed that today everything around him conspired to drive home to him how much he should have. How much he once had and how he has thrown it all away. In a gesture that was so much of a habit he barely noticed these days, he lifted a hand to rub at the side of his face where a scar marked his cheekbone, not really concealed by the thick black beard he had grown in an attempt to disguise it. Not that it had worked. The white line that scored through his skin was still there like the mark of Cain every time he looked in the mirror; reminding him.

A sudden sound, soft and slow in the darkness, reminded him of just where he was, then open expanse of palace grounds between him and the walls that surrounded them. Unwanted and unwelcome, the memories came creeping back, pushing him to take a single step backwards, away from the edge, into the shadows. Tonight it seemed that the darkness hid potential for danger, for destruction.

Or was that his own state of mind?

At his left hand side, the sound came again, soft and light, bringing his head round so fast it made his thoughts spin. Who?

'Highness.'

The voice was low, quiet, but with an edge of apprehension marking it as he glared into the darkness, hunting out just who was there. It was also obviously female, something that should have made his tension ease, relaxing his shoulders. But there was something about her that tugged at memories he had thought long buried, dragging them to the surface of his mind when he had no wish to revisit them.

'Who's there! Show yourself.'

A rustle of fabric sweeping the stone flags on the terrace, the whisper of soft shoes on the hard ground and she stepped forward, into the moonlight, small and slender, pale face, dark hair, an embroidered wrap swathing her and up over her head, covering her almost completely.

For a second it seemed that his heart juddered in his chest, his breath catching, so that the attempt at words escaped him almost without thought.

'Shamila?'

He didn't believe in ghosts, had no doubt that this could not be her — and yet something spoke to him . . .

Excerpt from Destined for the Desert King © Kate Walker

 

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