Authors: Cara Albany
The Sheikh's Forbidden Bride
The Qazhar Sheikhs : Book One
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"You must persuade him. Otherwise, there will be terrible consequences."
The words rang in Chloe Stirling's mind almost as loud as the thumping music that filled the high-ceilinged room on the top floor of the tallest building in the kingdom of Qazhar. The party was in full swing, but the last place Chloe wanted to be was here, amongst the throng of expensively attired guests.
Chloe glanced at her boss, Andrew Wilder. The man who had just uttered the command that had Chloe sipping hurriedly on the glass of champagne she held with a tight grip.
"You're the producer," she objected. "Surely you could be more persuasive yourself, Andrew," Chloe peered into his dark, determined eyes. There was no sign of weakness there. Andrew Wilder hadn't become one of the most successful movie producers in the world by being weak. He was a man who knew how to get what he wanted, especially from his employees. And Chloe was still only an employee.
"The Sheikh specifically asked to speak to you," Andrew said.
Chloe's heart sank, and those butterflies in the pit of her stomach started to flutter again just as they had been since her arrival earlier that morning at Qazhar airport.
"To me?" Chloe asked, trying to fill her voice with surprise. It wouldn't help her cause if Andrew knew the truth. There was no use making it easy for him.
Andrew frowned. "As the location manager for this movie we're producing, it's perfectly natural for you to meet the man who can give us all the permissions we'll need to shoot the film here. If we get the go-ahead from the studio, of course," Andrew said firmly.
Chloe glanced around the room searching for the man about whom they were talking. There was still no sign of him, and Chloe felt a momentary relief. She took a tiny sip of champagne. It would be best to keep a clear head if she were going to meet him again.
Chloe saw puzzlement on Andrew's face. "Is it a problem, Chloe?" he asked.
"No. Not at all," she said quickly.
"It's just that you seem more nervous than I've ever seen you before," Andrew said.
"It must be jet lag," Chloe said. "It was a long flight from New York."
Andrew shook his head. "I'd have thought that you'd be used to the travel by now. We've been all over the world scouting locations. It's never bothered you before."
Chloe shrugged. "I'll be fine, Andrew," she said touching his arm. "You know you can count on me. I've never let you down before, have I?"
"No, I guess not," Andrew admitted, but he still seemed unconvinced. "Just do what you can to persuade the Sheikh that it would be good for the image of his kingdom if he would allow this movie to be filmed here."
Chloe nodded. "There are some fantastic locations here. They're just perfect for the script, too."
"I spoke to the studio this afternoon," Andrew said. "They're still adamant that they want the filming to be done on location. I tried to tell them that desert is the same the world over, but they wouldn't listen."
Andrew ran a hand through his dark hair. He was a fine looking man for his age, Chloe thought. Even features, tall build and the poise of a man used to ruling the world. But, he was way too old for her.
Andrew had been married and burned twice before, and his entire focus now was now on producing movies. He was old enough to be Chloe's father, and in many respects he was a professional father figure to her.
She'd worked for him for the last three years. Two movies and seven different countries. He kept telling her she was his secret weapon when it came to scouting for movie locations, and Chloe had to admit she was good at her job.
And, it helped that it was probably one of the best jobs in the world. Travelling the world, finding locations. It was the job she'd dreamed of while at university. The dream she'd refused to give up for anyone else. Especially the man she was searching for right now.
"I think the sheikh has friends in high places at the studio. Maybe they share an alma mater," Andrew explained. "The bottom line is if we want to make this movie it has to be filmed here, and nowhere else."
It sounded strange to Chloe. In her professional capacity, she knew that locations could be made to double for just about anywhere. But there was certainly something special about the kingdom of Qazhar. The architecture was elegant and tasteful. The landscapes she'd seen from the air on her arrival had been breathtaking.
They'd made her think of him.
The one man she'd tried so hard to forget, but failed to drive from her daily thoughts.
Chloe looked around the room. All she could see were expensive gowns, glittering jewellery, immaculately tailored suits and attractive people on display. Chloe felt positively underdressed in her plain blue dress and strappy sandals.
Although she was used to mingling with Hollywood wealth, what was on display this evening was a whole new level of affluence. The kingdom of Qazhar was the wealthiest country in the region, and a lot of those riches were on display right in front of Chloe.
Chloe glanced over toward the elevator and saw the light above the door flash, signalling the arrival of more guests. The doors slid apart, and three men emerged from the elevator.
Chloe's breath caught in her chest.
Her heart started to race at the mere sight of the trio of incredible looking men who strode out of the elevator.
All three paused as the doors slid shut behind them. All three surveyed the scene in front of them as if they owned every single person they saw. And, in truth, they almost did, Chloe thought. Because the three men who stood scanning the guests, appraising their subjects, were none other than the three sheikhs of Qazhar.
The Al Kharif brothers.
All three were tall, dark-haired and broad-shouldered. There was a confident swagger in all three as they posed, elegant and proud. They looked like they knew they were the immediate focus of attention of the admiring looks of the dozens of guests packed into the room. A few people raised glasses to the three men, acknowledging their entrance.
Chloe drew in a slow breath as she looked at the three men.
Their dark gaze started to pass around the room and Chloe turned her head, wrenching her gaze away from the three men. She needed a moment to compose herself because the mere sight of those astonishing looking men was almost too much to bear.
"Are you okay?" Andrew asked Chloe.
"I'm fine, Andrew," Chloe gasped. "I think the sheikh has arrived."
"Really?" Andrew said turning his head and gazing toward the elevator. "I think you're right. It's him. I can see Zayed. He's an imposing figure, and no mistake, isn't he?"
Chloe lifted her head and physically forced herself to look at the man about whom Andrew had spoken.
Zayed Al Kharif.
The man Chloe had once loved more than anyone in the world.
"Yes. He is quite a handsome man," Chloe agreed hesitantly.
The Al Kharif brothers were all brutally, confident looking. Chloe had forgotten just how feral, how primally attractive Zayed looked. His dark brows furrowed as he ran his gaze across the guests. Chloe could tell he was searching for someone. Even from where she was standing, she could see Zayed's dark eyes, limpid pools of searing scrutiny.
Chloe felt her entire body tingle as she peered at Zayed's even features, the firm jaw and the strong nose. He looked just as she remembered him to be. Only now he seemed more mature. There was a fresh mixture of assurance and arrogance on his face that Chloe had never seen before.
"I guess we should go and introduce ourselves," Andrew said. Chloe tried to contain the impulse to make her excuses and leave. Surely this had all been a bad idea. Back in New York, when the trip had been suggested, it had seemed entirely within Chloe's capabilities to cope with meeting Zayed again. But, now that she was looking at him, now that she could see what he actually looked like, her will was failing her.
"Maybe we should give him a chance to mingle. Perhaps he has some guests he'd like to speak to first," Chloe suggested.
"Nonsense," Andrew replied. "We should grab him before anyone else can. We've got a busy day tomorrow, and I'm not the party animal I used to be," he said with a smile.
Chloe laughed and nodded at her boss. He was right. This was business. All personal matters had to be put to one side. There was a job to do, and Chloe was determined to do her best, the same as she always did.
Chloe shifted some loose blonde hairs away from her forehead and shrugged her shoulders, readying herself for the meeting she'd once believed would never happen. She started to follow Andrew as he led her by the elbow through the guests.
Chloe jostled awkwardly against some of the guests. Up close she felt even more keenly the difference between her and the expensively attired and gorgeous women. She glanced down and tugged at her dress, straightening the front across her ample breasts.
Then Chloe glanced up, curious to see Zayed and immediately felt her heart start to race even faster and the blood drain from her face.
Because, Zayed's eyes were fixed on Chloe.
Chloe saw Zayed's mouth spread into what looked like a victorious smile. She saw his eyes widen with recognition. Chloe's throat tightened, but she resisted the urge to drink from the glass held even more tightly in her hand.
Zayed turned to his two brothers and spoke. Chloe saw them glance at her, and they both nodded in unison. Closer to the men now, they all seemed even more heart-stoppingly handsome.
One of the guests moved toward Zayed, but Zayed raised an emphatic hand, making it clear that he didn't want to speak to the welcoming guest. His eyes were locked on Chloe.
Chloe continued to move toward Zayed. Each step felt heavier than the last. Chloe's heart was filled with so much emotion that she couldn't put the sensations into words. Her mind was suddenly overwhelmed with a confusing babble of thoughts and memories.
Chloe looked at Zayed and saw him parting the guests with an imperious, casual move of his hands. There was a look on his face that Chloe struggled to describe.
And then one word came to her that perfectly captured the expression on the face of the man she had once loved.
Sheikh Zayed Al Kharif looked hungry.
That was it.
And the person he was hungry for was Chloe.
Zayed halted in front of the man and woman he had worked so hard to bring to the kingdom. He felt a curious sense of triumph that all the effort had paid off. But, the only thing that really mattered was that she was back, standing before him.
And she looked as fabulous as the searing, hot memories which were burned forever in his mind.
Chloe was within touching distance and it took every ounce of willpower Zayed had to restrain the impulse to reach over and run his fingers through that soft blonde hair; trace his thumb along those full, red lips; wrap an arm around her back and pull her against him, crushing those full breasts against his hard chest. He knew that if he gazed into those blue eyes any longer he would lose whatever self-control he had left.
Yes. It took every bit of inner strength Zayed possessed to hold back the raging torrent of passion that threatened to burst loose at the mere sight of the woman who had meant everything to him.
The man next to Chloe reached out a hand. "Sheikh Zayed. It's a pleasure to see you. We haven't spoken in a while."
Zayed drew back his shoulders and composed himself. There were social graces to adhere to, especially with so many guests present. He shook the man's hand. "Mr. Wilder." Zayed smiled courteously. "Andrew. It's an honor to welcome you to my humble kingdom."
Wilder smiled. "I'd say it's a little more than humble, Sheikh," he said.
Zayed raised a hand to his chest. "Please call me Zayed. Since you and your lovely companion will be my very special guests, I insist that we are on the most familiar terms."
Wilder nodded. "May I introduce Chloe Stirling?" Wilder said turning to Chloe.
"Miss Stirling. It's a pleasure to meet you," Zayed said.
Chloe reached out a hand and he enclosed it in his large, powerful grasp. That touch made his pulse race, and he drew in a breath. How could she be so casual? Was she still as adept at hiding her emotions as she had been all those years ago?
"Sheikh Zayed," he heard Chloe say. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He saw her eyes widen. The pulse at her throat was visible and prominent. He could tell that her heart was racing as much as his. He'd forgotten just how sweet was her voice. It still had that soft tone he'd found so captivating.