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Authors: Shelli Stevens

Beauty and the Sheikh

BOOK: Beauty and the Sheikh
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Published by Shelli Stevens

Copyright © 2012 by Shelli Stevens 

Cover by Vidette McDowall

ISBN: 978-0-615-64714-2

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at
[email protected]
 

All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.
www.shellistevens.com

Acknowledgments

Huge thanks to Rhonda Helms and my niece Megan for your fabulous editing skills. To my old agent Laura for all the time you invested in my projects. To Marie Force for your mad formatting skills. And finally to my family, friends and readers for being so wonderful and supportive. 

Chapter 1

 

The lights of Raljahar twinkled with life. They were the pulse of a desert city whose future had been on the brink of collapse a decade ago, until he’d inherited his father’s reign and breathed life back into it. 

Sheikh Rafiq al Hakimi stepped back from the palace window, pride sweeping through him as he turned his attention away from the vibrant nightlife below. It was a place of indulgence and pleasure, of wealth and elitism. It was his creation, and yet he wanted no part of it. 

He looked around the interior of his office, his fortress against a world that offered little mercy and even less compassion.

Rushed footsteps sounded outside in the hallway, followed by the urgent whispers of men who would give their lives for him. Men who served him faithfully and humbly.

What was going on now? 

Rafiq strode across the room, his kandura swirling around his legs. He swung open the double doors and scanned the hallway until he saw the commotion near the end of the hall. “What is happening?” he growled.

His servants turned toward him, their eyes wide. 

His closest advisor approached and bowed. “Your Majesty,” he said hastily. “Our apologies. It was not our intention to distract you. There is a situation, but it is being taken care of at this very moment.”

Irritation pricked and Rafiq gave a sigh of impatience. “You know I do not care for vagueness, Amjad. I would be apprised of the situation immediately.” 

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Amjad paled and his gaze remained lowered as he continued. “A woman was discovered outside the palace as she attempted to break inside to see you. Of course, her attempts were not successful and she was seized—”

“Who is she?” 

“We are not yet certain.”

Rafiq’s frown deepened and he glanced once more down the hallway that led to the marbled foyer of the heavily guarded palace. “Did you have any intention of telling me? When did this happen?”

“Just moments ago, Your Majesty, but there is no need for concern—”

“Do not tell me what there is need for!” he roared, and his advisor trembled in response. “Where is she?”

“Down the hall. She is being questioned. Everything is under control—”

“Min fadlak!”
Angry, shrill, and most definitely female, the voice rang out. The two words echoed down the hall, somewhere out of view but within range of hearing.

“Yes. Quite under control.” He gave a sharp nod. “Bring her to my office.”

“But Your Majesty—”

“Bring her to me.” He didn’t need to raise his voice this time—the slight edge to his tone made his advisor whimper, before he scurried away with a mumbled reply.

Rafiq turned and strode back into his office to await her arrival, his curiosity piqued by the woman who hadn’t the sense to be afraid of the consequences of her actions.

Breaking into the palace? Was she dimwitted?

He’d garnered a reputation as a sharp, fair ruler of the kingdom of Raljahar. He’d brought the country back from the near destitution his father had let it slip into, and yet still his people feared him. 

But then, how could they not? 

It was not only because of his fierce temper. His fingers unconsciously rose to touch the jagged flesh of the left side of his face, tracing the line sweeping down across his neck. 

Footsteps sounded outside his office, and he turned in time to see a handful of his bodyguards swarm in, flanking the heavily garbed figure he assumed to be the woman. Rafiq’s mouth tightened and skepticism swept through him. Had he not heard the high-pitched plea in the hall, he might have his doubts the person before him was actually female. 

Nearly as tall as some of his guards, the figure struggled fiercely. The burka she wore hid any hint of curves and the veil shielded her face. 

An interesting choice in clothes
. Though the attire was not entirely unseen among the females of his city, nowadays most women wore modest forms of western clothing. The woman before him could have been a traditionalist to his country, or perhaps just trying very hard to disguise herself…

He suspected the latter.

“Ma ismuk?”
he called out sharply, and waited for her to give him her name.

The woman stilled in her struggle, seeming to stare right at him from behind her veil, and then replied almost inaudibly in English, “I don’t speak Arabic very well.”

No, she most definitely wasn’t a citizen of Raljahar, or likely any Arab nation.

Rafiq stood and approached her. Though she was tall for a woman, he still had a half a foot in height on her. Her hands were visible at the end of her sleeves—long, graceful-looking fingers. Her skin, smooth and pale ivory, flashed against the black robes she wore. 

“Remove her veil,” Rafiq commanded flatly in his own tongue. 

The guards reached for her and she renewed her struggle. 

“No, wait, please!” Her words grew frantic as they forcibly removed the veil from her head. 

Any fading doubts of her being a woman evaporated completely as long waves of chestnut hair spilled down past her shoulders. With a soft cry of frustration she ducked her head and stared at the floor, her face shielded by the curtain of brown.

A sliver of familiarity raced through him. Had it been his imagination, or had her voice also sounded familiar? Rafiq took a step toward her, ignoring the way his blood quickened. “You are quite fortunate that I speak English.” He stopped just inches from her, watching as her fingers knotted together. She was nervous. “Now, tell me your name.”

The woman hesitated long enough to increase the unease growing in him. He reached out and caught her chin between his fingers, then gently lifted her head. The curtain of brown hair slid away from her face, until his gaze clashed with crystal blue eyes. 

Recognition slammed into him like a punch to the chest, sending the air rushing from his lungs. “Holly?”
He blinked, certain she would disappear, but still she remained. His earlier irritation faded as adrenaline now soared through his veins.

Her kohl-eyed stare, initially fearful, flickered with a mix of confusion and hope. “Yes, it’s me.” 

Memories surfaced, of her sparkling eyes and a soft infectious laugh that could make anyone near her smile. And then the more intimate memories of how those lush lips had felt beneath his.

His hands instinctively itched to pull her into an embrace, to feel the warmth of her body flush against him. 

It didn’t seem real that she stood before him in his palace. She’d haunted his mind often at night over the past two years, and without a doubt, Holly still remained as beautiful as the last time he’d seen her. 

Holly Winchester had a face and body that had likely earned her millions as one of the world’s most popular models. She had a flawless face with high cheekbones, full lips, and striking blue eyes a weaker man could lose himself in. 

Fortunately, he’d never been a man easily led by the fairer sex. Perhaps once he’d been foolish enough to let himself feel more than he ever should’ve with her, but never again. 

Reality seeped in like a heavy sand cloud that blocked the warmth and sunshine. His momentary euphoria at seeing her ebbed away, leaving wariness in its place. What was he thinking, wanting to pull her into his arms? They were not lovers who’d parted on good terms—quite the opposite actually. So why had Holly returned to Raljahar? 

She must have seen the change in him, because unease flashed in her eyes. 

Irritation slid through him. It was too late for regrets, he reminded himself, too late to make nice. “Why have you come here, Holly?”

“I…” Her gaze slid over him, lingering on his face, and she flinched, her teeth clamping down on her lower lip. 

Careful not to show any outward reaction, Rafiq’s stomach still twisted with pain at the way she recoiled from him. The realization sent a flush of anger up his neck. How foolish. The fearful gazes failed to surprise him anymore, especially when some women would cross the street to avoid crossing paths with him. Why should he expect anything different from her?

But then, this wouldn’t be the first time she’d rejected him. The memory of the day they’d parted raised his fury. 

If she’d come to apologize, then it was too late. 

Holly’s decision to return to Raljahar was a foolish one, and he’d make sure she soon realized it.

 

Why had she come? 

Opening her mouth to try to reply again, Holly couldn’t for the life of her make the words come out. She’d been asking herself the same thing for the last twenty-four hours.

Oh, what she wouldn’t give to be safe and cozy in her small home in Portland right now. Four days ago her biggest worry had been making sure her cat didn’t have bladder stones again, and figuring out how she would afford her books for the college courses she’d just enrolled in.

Amazing how your priorities could flip on a dime. This wasn’t about her anymore, and she needed to remember that. But seeing the antagonism flicker in the Sheikh’s eyes sent goose bumps over her flesh and a knot of dread forming in her stomach. 

Had she actually considered the possibility that Rafiq wouldn’t remember her?

Real smart there, Holly. Would you
like a side of delusional with that?

When her veil had been removed, the recognition had flared immediately in his eyes. At first she’d thought he’d been happy to see her, but then his gaze had slowly changed, until it burned with a loathing so intense she’d recoiled instinctively. 

Sheikh Rafiq bin Hakimi al-Raljahar was far too shrewd to forget a face, especially with hers plastered in magazines and on the television up until two years ago. Or maybe he’d never forgotten their time together, though that was probably wishful thinking on her part.

Then again, she’d never forgotten Rafiq either. He was still as tall, dark, and imposing as she remembered him to be and, heaven help her, as impossibly handsome. She hated that her body immediately responded to his presence, that her blood heated and quickened and her knees turned ridiculously weak.

It had been one week of her life, one week where she’d ridden an emotional roller coaster, but still, he should
not
be able to affect her this way. No matter that he carried the title of Sheikh—Rafiq was still just a flesh and blood man. 

His eyes, a rich coffee brown she’d always found so captivating, flickered with censure, fury, and something else. Something almost heated, but she knew that couldn’t be right. 

She dropped her gaze to try to compose herself, finding it easier to stare at the intricate mosaic pattern on the marble floor than to meet Rafiq’s condemning stare. 

She was insane. Absolutely insane to be here, and if she’d had any other choice she wouldn’t have come. So now, here she stood in an opulent, massive palace of blue and gold hues, of abundant wealth she might’ve once been comfortable around, but no more.  

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten the question already, Miss Winchester? Why are you here?”

BOOK: Beauty and the Sheikh
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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