Read The Sheikh's Forbidden Virgin Online
Authors: Kate Hewitt
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
A royal family torn apart
by pride and its lust for power,
reunited by purity and passion
The islands of Adamas have been torn into two rival kingdoms:
The Stefani diamond has been split as a symbol of their feud.
Gorgeous Greek princes reign supreme over glamorous Aristo. Smoldering sheikhs rule the desert island of Calista.
Whoever reunites the diamonds will rule all.
Many years ago there were two islands ruled as one kingdom—Adamas. But bitter family feuds and rivalry caused the kingdom to be ripped in two. The islands were ruled separately, as Aristo and Calista, and the infamous Stefani coronation diamond was split as a symbol of the feud, and placed in the two new crowns.
But when the king divided the islands between his son and daughter, he left them with these words:
“You will rule each island for the good of the people and bring out the best in your kingdom. But my wish is that eventually these two jewels, like the islands, will be reunited. Aristo and Calista are more successful, more beautiful and more powerful as one nation—Adamas.”
Now King Aegeus Karedes of Aristo is dead, and the island’s coronation diamond is missing! The Aristans will stop at nothing to get it back, but the ruthless sheikh king of Calista is hot on their heels.
Whether by seduction, blackmail or marriage, the jewel must be found. As the stories unfold, secrets and sins from the past are revealed and desire, love and passion war with royal duty. But who will discover in time that it is innocence of body and purity of heart that can unite the islands of Adamas once again?
Each month, Harlequin Presents is proud to bring you an exciting new installment from THE ROYAL HOUSE OF KAREDES. As the stories unfold, secrets and sins from the past are revealed and desire, love and passion war with royal duty!
You won’t want to miss out!
Billionaire Prince, Pregnant Mistress
The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl
The Prince’s Captive Wife
The Sheikh’s Forbidden Virgin
The Greek Billionaire’s Innocent Princess
The Future King’s Love-Child
Ruthless Boss, Royal Mistress
The Desert King’s Housekeeper Bride
Eight volumes to collect and treasure!
dream came to him again. It was an assault of the senses and of memory, a tangle of images, grasping hands, the choking sea. Aarif Al’Farisi slept with his eyes clenched shut, his hands fisted on his bed sheets, a sheen of sweat glistening on his skin.
‘Help me…help me…Aarif!’
The desperate cry of his name echoed endlessly, helplessly through the corridors of time and memory.
Aarif woke suddenly; his eyes opened and adjusted to the darkness of his bedroom. A pale sliver of moon cast a jagged swathe of light on the floor. He took a deep, shuddering breath and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
It took a moment to calm his racing heart. Each careful, measured breath steadied him and made the shadows retreat. For now. He ran a hand through his sleep-tousled hair, still damp with sweat, and rose from the bed.
From the balcony of the Calistan royal palace he could see an endless stretch of moonlit sand, arid desert, all the way to the Kordela river with its diamonds, Calista’s lifeblood, mixed treacherously in its silt. He kept his gaze on the undulating waves of sand and the promise of the river with its guarded treasure, and let his breathing return to normal as a dry desert wind cooled the sweat on his skin.
He hated his dreams. He hated that even now, twenty years
later, they left him shaken, afraid, helpless. Weak. Instinctively Aarif shook his head, as if to deny the dream. The reality. For the truth, stark as it was, was that he’d failed his brother and his family all those years ago, and he was destined to relive those agonising moments in his mind whenever the dreams visited him.
He hadn’t had a dream like this for months, and the respite had lulled him into a false sense of security. Safety. Yet he would never have either, he knew. How could you be safe from yourself, secure from the endless repercussions of your own failures?
Letting out a sigh of frustrated exasperation, Aarif turned from the balcony and the inky night spangled with stars. He moved to the laptop he’d left on the desk by his bed, for he knew sleep was far off now. He would redeem the night through work.
He opened the computer and the machine hummed to life as he pulled on a pair of loose-fitting cotton trousers, his chest and feet still bare. In the mirror above the bureau he caught a glimpse of his reflection, saw the remembered fear still etched in harsh lines on his face, flared in his eyes, and he grimaced in self-disgust.
Afraid, after all these years. Still. He shook his head again, and turned to the computer. He checked his e-mail first; there were several clients he had appointments with in the next week who needed careful handling. Calista’s diamonds were precious, but the island did not possess the vast reserves of Africa or Australia, and clients needed to be counted—and treated—carefully.
Yet there were no e-mails from clients in his message inbox, he saw, just one from his brother, King Zakari of Calista. Aarif’s brows snapped together as he read his brother’s instructions.
I must follow a lead on the diamond. Go to Zaraq and fetch Kalila. Ever your brother, Zakari.
The diamond…the Stefani diamond, the jewel of the Adamas Crown, split in two when the islands’ rule had been
divided. Aarif had never seen the diamond in its unified whole of course; the Calistan crown held only half of the gem. The other half, meant to be in the Aristan crown, was missing, and proving to be utterly elusive. By tradition, uniting the diamond was believed to be the key to uniting the kingdoms of Aristo and Calista for ever. Aarif had seen how determined Zakari was to retrieve that precious stone, and with it gain a kingdom.
So determined, in fact, that he now delegated this new responsibility to Aarif. Zakari’s e-mail message contained a simple directive, yet one fraught with decisions, details, and potential disaster. For Princess Kalila Zadar was Zakari’s betrothed and their wedding was in a fortnight.
The retrieval of a royal bride was a complex and cautious affair, one that rested on ceremony, courtesy, and tradition. Aarif knew he would have to play his hand—and his brother’s hand—very carefully so as not to offend Kalila, her father King Bahir, or the people of Zaraq. The alliance with Zaraq was important and influential, and could not be treated lightly.
Aarif pressed his lips together in a hard line before touching his fingers to the computer keys. His reply was simple:
I will do as you instruct. Your servant, Aarif.
There was never any possibility of questioning Zakari, or refusing his brother’s demand. Aarif did not even consider it for a moment. His sense of obedience and responsibility were absolute; his family and kingdom came first. Always.
Aarif glanced up from the screen. Dawn was beginning to streak across the sky, pale fingers of light that illuminated the mist-shrouded dunes below. In that eerie grey half-light Aarif caught another glimpse of his face in the mirror, and for a moment he was startled by his own reflection, still surprised even now by the puckered finger of scar tissue that ran from his brow to his jaw, for ever a reminder of how he’d once failed in his duty to his family and kingdom.
He would never do so again.
Kalila woke from a restless sleep as the sun slanted through the window of her bedroom in the Zaraquan palace, the gauzy curtains stirring lazily in the hot breeze.
Nerves jumped and writhed in her belly, and one hand stole to her middle and rested there, as if she could calm the thoughts and fears that raced through her.
Today she would meet her husband.
She swung her feet over the side of the bed and padded barefoot to the window. The sky was already hard and bright, an endless stretch of blue without a single cloud. Beneath the sky the desert rolled away to the sea, little more than a pale blue-green shimmering on the horizon, marked by the slim stretch of verdant fields by the water’s edge. The rest of Zaraq, a small kingdom, was desert. Dry, barren, and unproductive save for a few copper and nickel mines that now provided nearly all of the country’s revenue.
Kalila swallowed. And that, she reminded herself, was the reason she was marrying at all. Zaraq needed Calista. Her father needed the security of Calista’s diamond mines, and Calista needed Zaraq’s stability of over a hundred years of uninterrupted independent rule. It was simple, depressingly so. She was a pawn, a bargaining chip, and she’d always known it.
Kalila rested her forehead against the mellow, golden stone of the window frame, still cool with the memory of night, although the sun slanting onto her skin was hot.
What would Zakari look like after all these years? What would he think of her? She knew he wouldn’t love her. He hadn’t seen her since she was a child, skinny and awkward, with too much hair and a gap-toothed smile. She barely remembered him; her mind played with shadowed memories of someone tall, powerful, commanding. Charismatic. He’d smiled at her, patted her head, and that was all.
Until now…when the stranger would become the bridegroom.
Today she would see him at last, and would he be pleased with his intended spouse? Would she?
A light, perfunctory knock sounded on the door and then her childhood nurse, Juhanah, bustled into the room.
‘Good! You are awake. I’ve brought you breakfast, and then we must ready your beautiful self. His reverence could be here by noon, or so I’ve been told. We have much to do.’
Kalila suppressed a sigh as she turned from the window. Her father had told her yesterday just what kind of reception Sheikh Zakari must have.
‘He must see a traditional girl, well brought up and fit to be a royal bride. You need not speak or even look at him, it would be too bold,’ King Bahir warned, softening his words with a smile, although his eyes were still stern. ‘You understand, Kalila? Tomorrow’s meeting with Sheikh Zakari is important, and it is crucial that you present the right image. Juhanah will help you with the preparations.’
Not even speak? Every Western sensibility Kalila had ever possessed rose and rankled. ‘Why can’t Sheikh Zakari see me as I am?’ she protested, trying to keep a petulant note from entering her voice. She was twenty-four years old, a university educated woman, about to be married, yet in her father’s presence she still felt like an unruly child. She moderated her tone, striving for an answering smile. ‘Surely, Father, it is just as important that he knows who his bride really is. If we present the wrong impression—’
‘I know what the wrong impression is,’ Bahir cut her off, his tone ominously final. ‘And also what the right one is. There is time for him to
you, as you so wish, later,’ he added, and Kalila flinched at the blatant dismissal of her desire. Bahir lifted one hand as though he were bestowing a blessing, although it felt more like a warning, a scolding. ‘Tomorrow is not about you, Kalila. It is not even about your marriage. It is about tradition and ceremony, an alliance of countries, families. It has always been this way.’
Kalila’s eyes flashed. ‘Even for my mother?’
Bahir’s lips compressed. ‘Yes, even for her. Your mother was modern, Kalila, but she was not stubborn.’ He sighed. ‘I gave you your years at Cambridge, your university degree. You have pursued your interests and had your turn. Now it is your family’s turn, your country’s turn, and after all this waiting, you must do your duty. It begins tomorrow.’ Despite the glimmer of compassion in his eyes, he spoke flatly, finally, and Kalila straightened, throwing her shoulders back with proud defiance.
‘I know it well, Father.’ Yet she couldn’t help but take note of his words. Pursue her interests, he’d said, but not her dreams. And what good were interests if they had to be laid down for the sake of duty? And what
Her mind wrapped itself seductively around the question, the possibility. Her dreams were shadowy, shapeless things, visions of joy, happiness, meaning and purpose. Love. The word slipped unbidden in her mind, a seed planted in the fertile soil of her imagination, already taking root.
Love…but there was no love involved in this union between two strangers. There was not even affection, and Kalila had no idea if there ever would be. Could Zakari love her? Would he? And, Kalila wondered now as Juhanah bustled around her bedroom, would she love him?
‘Now eat.’ Juhanah prodded her towards the tray set with a bowl of
, thick, creamy yoghurt, and a cup of strong, sweet coffee. ‘You need your strength. We have much to do today.’
Kalila sat down at the table and took a bite. ‘Just what
we doing today, Juhanah?’
Juhanah’s chest swelled and she puffed out her already round cheeks. ‘Your father wants you to be prepared as a girl was in the old days, when tradition mattered.’ She frowned, and Kalila knew her nurse was thinking of her Western ways,
inherited from her English mother and firmly rooted after four years of independent living in Cambridge.
When Kalila had discarded a pair of jeans on the floor of her bedroom Juhanah had pinched the offending garment between two plump fingers and held it away from her as if it were contaminated. Kalila grinned ruefully in memory.
‘His Eminence will want to see you as a proper bride,’ Juhanah said now, parroting her father’s words from yesterday.
Kalila smiled, mischief glinting in her eyes. ‘When shall I call him Zakari, do you think?’
‘When he is in your bed,’ Juhanah replied with an uncharacteristic frankness. ‘Do not be too bold beforehand, my love. Men don’t like a forward girl.’
‘Oh, Juhanah!’ Kalila shook her head. ‘You’ve never left Zaraq, you don’t know what it’s like out there. Zakari has been to university, he’s a man of the world—’ So she had read in the newspapers and tabloid magazines. So she
‘Pfft.’ Juhanah blew out her cheeks once more. ‘And so, do I need to know such things? What matters is here and now, my princess. King Zakari will want to see a royal princess today, not a modern girl with her fancy degree.’ This was said with rolled eyes; Kalila knew Juhanah thought very little of her years in England. And in truth, she reflected, sitting at the table with the breakfast tray before her, those years counted for very little now.
What counted was her pedigree, her breeding, her body. Zakari wanted an alliance, not an ally. He wasn’t looking for a lover, a partner. A soulmate.
Kalila’s mouth twisted in bitter acknowledgement. She knew all this; she’d reminded herself of it fiercely every day that she’d been waiting for her wedding, her husband. Yet now the waiting was over, she found her heart was anxious for more.
‘Aren’t you hungry,
?’ Juhanah pressed, prodding the bowl of
as if she could induce Kalila to take a bit.
Kalila shook her head and pushed the bowl away. Her nerves, jumping and leaping, writhing and roiling, had returned, and she knew she would not manage another bite. ‘I’ll just have coffee,’ she said, smiling to appease her nurse, and took a sip of the thick, sweet liquid. It scalded her tongue and burned down to her belly, with the same fierce resolve that fired her heart.
The bridal preparations took all morning. Kalila had expected it, and of course she wanted to look her best. Yet amidst all the ministrations, the lotions and creams and paints and powders, she couldn’t help but feel like a chicken being trussed and seasoned for the cooking pot.
There was only Juhanah and a kitchen maid to act as her
, the women who prepared the bride; the Zaraquan palace had a small staff since her mother had died.
First, she had a milk bath in the women’s bathing quarters, an ancient tradition that Kalila wasn’t sure she liked. Supposedly the milk of goats was good for the skin, yet it also had a peculiar smell.
‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of bath foam from the chemists’,’ she muttered, not loud enough for Juhanah or the kitchen maid to hear. They wouldn’t understand, anyway.
As Juhanah towelled her dry and rubbed sweet-smelling lotion into her skin Kalila felt a sudden pang of sorrow and grief for her mother, who had died when Kalila had been only seventeen. Her mother Amelia had been English, cool and lovely, and it would have been her loving duty to prepare Kalila for this meeting with her bridegroom.