The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife
|By Lynne Graham|
|Publisher||Harlequin Presents #2692|
|Mills & Boon Modern Romance #713|
|Release Month||Jan 2008 (US)|
|Dec 2007 (UK)|
|The Rich, The Ruthless And The Really Handsome Series|
|Followed by||The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride|
|Harlequin Presents Series #|
|Preceded by||Bride By Royal Appointment|
|Followed by||The Italian Billionaire's Ruthless Revenge|
|Mills & Boon Modern Romance Series #|
|Preceded by||The Mediterranean Millionaire's Reluctant Mistress|
|Followed by||His Christmas Bride|
- Author: Lynne Graham
- Publisher: Mills & Boon Modern Romance #713
- Year: 2007, December 07
- Setting: Bakhar (Fictional Country)
- Series: The Rich, The Ruthless And The Really Handsome, Book 1 - US & AUS Only
- Amazon Listing: The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife (US) or (UK)
Captive in the sheikh's harem!
Tilda was regretting her short-lived romance with Rashad, the crown prince of Bakhar. Now, with her impoverished family indebted to him, Rashad was blackmailing Tilda by insisting she pay up…as his concubine! Soon Tilda was the arrogant sheikh's captive in his faraway desert kingdom. Then Rashad publicly acknowledged her as his woman… and under the law of Bakhar they were now bound together forever…as husband and wife!
'Have I met anyone whom I would like to marry?' Rashad, Crown Prince of Bakhar almost laughed out loud as he considered his father's gently voiced question. Engrained good manners, however, restrained such a blunt response. 'No, I fear not.'
King Hazar surveyed his son and heir with concealed disquiet. His guilty conscience was pricked by the truth that he had been blessed by Rashad's birth, for his son was everything a future monarch should be. His sterling qualities had shone like a beacon during those dark days when Bakhar had suffered under the despotic rule of Sadiq, Hazar's uncle. In the eyes of the people, Rashad could do no wrong; he had endured many cruelties, but had still emerged a hero from the war that had restored the legitimate line to the throne. Even the rumours that the Crown Prince was regarded as a notorious womaniser abroad barely raised a brow, since it was accepted that he had earned the right to enjoy his liberty.
'There comes a time when a man must settle down,' King Hazar remarked with all the awkwardness of one who had never been anything other than settled in his habits. 'And put aside more worldly pursuits.'
His lean and darkly handsome features grim, Rashad stared stonily out at the exquisite gardens that were his father's pride and joy. Maybe when he was older he too would get a thrill out of pruning topiary, he reflected wryly. Although he had a great affection for the older man, father and son were not close. How could they have been? Rashad had been only four years old when he'd been torn from his mother's arms and denied all further contact with his parents. In the following two decades, he had learned to trust nobody and keep his own counsel. By the time he had been reunited with his family, he had been an adult, a survivor and a battle-hardened soldier, trained to put duty and discipline above all other virtues. But on this particular issue he was not prepared to meet his father's expectations.
'I don't want to get married,'Rashad declared levelly.
King Hazar was unprepared for that bold response, which offered neither apology nor the possibility of compromise. Assuming that he had broached the subject clumsily, he said earnestly, 'I believe that marriage will greatly add to your happiness.'
Rashad almost winced at that simplistic assurance. He had no such expectation. Only once had a woman made Rashad happy, but almost as quickly he had discovered that he was living in a fool's paradise. He had never forgotten the lesson. He liked his freedom and he liked sex. In short he enjoyed women, but there was only one space for a woman to fill in his private life and that was in his bed. And just as, when it came to food, he preferred a varied diet, he had no desire to have any woman foisted on him on a permanent basis. 'I'm afraid I cannot agree with you on that issue.'
The older man ignored the decided chill that laced the atmosphere and suppressed a sigh. He wished that he'd had the opportunity to acquire just a smidgeon of his son's superior education and sophistication so that they might talk on more equal terms. Most of all he longed for the ability to deal with the son he loved with a wholly clear conscience, but unhappily that was not possible. 'I have never known us to be at odds. I must have expressed my hopes badly. Or perhaps I took you too much by surprise.'
Rashad folded his wide sensual mouth. 'Nothing you could say will change my mind. I have no desire for a wife.'
'Rashad…' His royal father was aghast at the stubborn inflexibility of that refusal, for his son was not known for his changeability. 'You are so popular with our people that I believe you could marry any woman you chose. Perhaps you are concerned about the type of woman you might be expected to marry. It is my belief that even a foreigner would be acceptable.'
Brilliant dark eyes veiled and grim, Rashad had fallen very still at that reference to the possibility of a foreign bride. He wondered if the older man was recalling his son's disastrous infatuation with an Englishwoman five years ago. The very suspicion of that stung Rashad's ferocious pride. He and his father had buried the ill-fated episode without ever discussing it.
'We live in a modern world. Yet you believe that I must behave exactly as you and my forefathers behaved and marry young to produce a son and heir,' Rashad delivered with cool, crisp diction. 'I do not believe that such sacrifice is necessary. I have three older sisters with a string of healthy sons between them. In the future, one of those boys might stand as my heir.'
'But none of them have a royal father. One day, you will be king. Will you disappoint our people? What have you got against marriage?' the older man demanded in bewilderment. 'You have so much to offer.'
Everything but a heart and faith in womankind, Rashad affixed with inward impatience. 'I have nothing against the institution of marriage. It was right for you but it would not be right for me.'
'At least reflect on what I have said,' King Hazar urged. 'We will talk about this again.'
Having defended his right to freedom as resolutely as he had once fought for the freedom of the Bakhari people from a repressive regime, Rashad strode out through the vast ante-room beyond his father's private quarters. It was thronged with senior ministers and courtiers, who bowed very low as he passed. One after another, guards presented arms and saluted as Rashad progressed through the ancient courtyards and corridors to his suite of offices.
'Oh…I meant to surprise you, Your Royal Highness.' A very attractive brunette with almond-shaped brown eyes and creamy skin, set off by a sleek coil of dark brown hair, straightened from the refreshments she had been setting out in the spacious outer office. In acknowledgement of his arrival, she bent low as did the staff, who had been engaged in answering the phones. 'We all know that you often work so hard that you forget to eat.'
Although Rashad would have preferred privacy at that moment, the courteous formalities expected of a prince were second nature to him. Farah was a distant relation. With modest smiles and light conversation, Rashad was served with mint tea and tiny cakes. Evidently word of his father's hope of marrying him off was out in the élite court circle of Bakhar, so Rashad did not make the mistake of sitting down and prolonging the exchange of pleasantries. He knew that the whole exercise was designed to impress him as to Farah's suitability as a royal bride and hostess.
'I couldn't help noticing your alumni magazine, Your Royal Highness,' Farah remarked. 'You must be proud of having attained a first from Oxford University.'
His level dark deep set eyes shadowed. 'Indeed,' he said flatly, and dismissed her with a polite nod. 'You must excuse me. I have an appointment.'
Having swept up the magazine she had drawn to his attention, Rashad entered his palatial office. He wondered how many previous issues he had ignored and left unread over the years. He had few fond memories of his time as a student in England. In defiance of that thought he leafed through the publication, only to fall still when the fleeting glimpse of a woman's face suddenly focused his attention on one page and a photograph in particular. It was Matilda Crawford arriving at an academic function, her hand resting on the arm of a distinguished older man in a dinner jacket.
Rashad spread the magazine open on his desk with lean brown hands that were not quite steady. It was pure primitive rage, not nerves, that powered him. Matilda's pale blond hair was pulled back from her face, and she was wearing a rather prim high-necked brown dress. But then, her natural beauty required no adornment: she had the fair hair, ivory skin and turquoise-blue eyes of a true English rose. His perfect white teeth gritted as he studied the caption below the photo. She was not named but her partner was: Professor Evan Jerrold, the philanthropist. A rich man—of course a rich man! No doubt another gullible sucker ripe for the plucking, Rashad thought with fierce bitterness and distaste.
He was exasperated that he was still sensitive to the sight of Tilda and the regrettable memories she roused. It had been, however, an unsavoury incident in his life and a reminder that he had human flaws. Five years earlier, Rashad might have been seasoned on the battlefield and idolised by his countrymen as a saviour, but his great-uncle Sadiq had succeeded in keeping him a virtual prisoner in Bakhar. Rashad had lived under constant threat and surveillance. He had been twenty-five years old by the time his father had been restored to the throne and he himself had been eager to take advantage of the freedom that had been denied him.
It had been King Hazar who suggested that Rashad complete his academic studies in England. Rashad might have inherited his mother's intellectual brilliance and his father's shrewdness but, in those days, he had had little experience of the ways of Western females. Within days of his arrival in Oxford, he had become infatuated with an outrageously unsuitable young woman.
Tilda Crawford had been a bar-girl, a one-time exotic dancer and a deceitful gold-digging slut. But she had told Rashad poignant stories about her bullying step-father and her family's sufferings at his hands. She had judged her audience well, Rashad acknowledged with derision. Brought up to believe that it was his duty to help those weaker than himself, he had flipped straight into gallant rescue mode. Duped by her beauty and her lies, he had come dangerously close to asking her to marry him. What a future queen that lowborn Jezebel would have made! The acid bite of the humiliation that had been inflicted on him still had the power to sting Rashad's ego afresh.
He squared his broad shoulders and lifted his proud dark head high. It really was time to draw a line beneath the sleazy episode and consign his regrets to the past. Only now could he see that this feat could scarcely be achieved while the wrongdoers went unpunished. Without a doubt, the requirements of truth and decency had not been served by the dignified silence he had maintained. Indeed, had he not inadvertently made it easier for Tilda Crawford to go on to defraud other wealthy men? He might well save her elderly admirer from a similar trial, he thought with bleak satisfaction. Offenders should be called to account for their sins, not permitted to continue enjoying the fruits of their dishonesty.
Rashad studied the photo of Tilda again and marvelled at how much better he felt now that he had recognised where his ultimate duty lay. Action was required, not strategic withdrawal. He contacted his chief accountant to confirm that not a single payment had yet been received on the interest-free loan he had advanced to the Crawford family. He was not surprised to have his worst expectations fulfilled. He gave the order that the matter should be pursued with diligence. Powered by a strong sense of justice, he tossed the magazine aside.
Pushing the mass of her long blond hair back behind her ear, Tilda studied her mother, Beth, in total consternation and asked for a second time, 'How much do you owe?'
The tear-stained older woman gazed back at her daughter with wretched eyes and repeated the figure shakily. 'I'm sorry; I'm so sorry about this. I should've told you months ago but I couldn't face it. I've been hiding my head in the sand and hoping all the trouble would go away.'
Tilda was in serious shock at the amount of money her mother confessed to owing. It was simply huge. Surely there was some mistake or misunderstanding? She could not imagine how Beth could possibly have got into that much debt. Who would have loaned her perennially cash-strapped parent so much money? How on earth could anyone ever have believed that Beth might repay such a vast sum? She reminded herself that interest charges could be very steep and began to ask more pertinent questions in an effort to establish how and when such a debt had originated.
'When did you take out the loan?'
Beth wiped at her reddened eyes, but did not look directly at her daughter. 'Five years ago…but I'm not sure you could describe it as a loan.'
Tilda was astonished that her mother could have kept it a secret for so long. But she could remember very well how much of a struggle it had been back then just to put food on the table. She was simply bewildered by Beth's uncertainty about whether or not she had taken out a loan. 'Can I see the paperwork?'
The older woman scrambled up and went into the very depths of a cupboard from which she withdrew a plastic container. She shot her daughter a sheepish glance. 'I've had to hide the letters so that you and your brothers and sisters didn't see them and ask me what they were about.'
As a sizeable pile of letters was tipped out onto the table Tilda swallowed back a groan of disbelief. 'How long is it since you were last able to make a payment?'
Pushing her short fair hair off her brow in a nervous gesture, Beth sent Tilda an uneasy look. 'I've never made a payment—'
'Never?' Tilda interrupted in dismay.
'There wasn't the money at first and I thought that I would start making payments when things improved,' the small blonde woman confided, shredding a tissue between her trembling hands. 'But things never did improve enough. There was always a bill or someone needing new shoes or bus fares…or Christmas would come along and I hated disappointing the children. They would go without so much for the rest of the year.'
'I know.' Leafing through the heap of unopened letters, Tilda breathed out and in again very slowly and carefully. She knew she dared not show how appalled she was by what she was finding out. Her mother was a vulnerable woman, prone to panic attacks. She needed her daughter to be calm and supportive. It was, after all, over four years since Beth had last left the house to face an outside world that had become so threatening to her. Agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces, had made Beth's home her prison. But it had not stopped the older woman from working for her living. A whizz with a sewing machine, Beth had a regular clientele for whom she tailored clothes and made soft furnishings. Unfortunately, however, she did not earn very much.
'Exactly how did you get the loan?' Tilda prompted in confusion. 'Surely nobody came to the house to offer you that much money?'
Across the table Beth worried at her lower lip with her teeth and shifted uncomfortably. There was a shame-faced look on her face. 'This is the bit I really didn't want to tell you. In fact, it's why I felt I had to keep it all a secret. It made me feel so guilty and I didn't want to upset you. You see, I asked Rashad for the money and he gave it to me.'
Every scrap of colour ebbed from Tilda's oval face. With her flawless features stretched taut over her delicate bone structure, her turquoise-blue eyes seemed brighter than ever against her pallor. 'Rashad…' she repeated weakly, her heart sinking like a stone and shame grabbing her by the throat. 'You actually asked him to help us out?'
'Don't look at me like that!' Beth gasped strickenly, her unhappiness overflowing into tears. 'Rashad once said that we all felt like part of his family, and that that's how families always work in Bakhar—everyone looking out for everybody else. I was convinced he was going to marry you. I thought it was all right to accept his financial help.'
- 2006, May 05 - Hardcover Release (Library Edition) (Mills & Boon) (UK Original Release) - ISBN-10/13: 026319700X/978-0263197006
- 2007, December 07 - Paperback Release (Mills & Boon Modern Romance #713) - ISBN-10/13: 0263853721/978-0263853728
- 2008, January 01 - Ebook, Kindle, Paperback, and Paperback Large Print Release (Harlequin Presents #2692) (US Original Release)
- 2008, January - Paperback Release (Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance - Sexy #6656) (AUS Original Release) - ISBN-13: 978-0733583308
- 2008, April 04 - Hardcover Large Print Release (Mills & Boon) - ISBN-10/13: 0263200345/978-0263200348
- 2008 - Paperback Release (Harlequin Paixão nº 90) (BR Original Release) - ISBN-13: 978-8576875680
- BR Title: "Prisioneira Da Paixão"
- 2011, May 20 - Ebook, Kindle and Paperback Release (Part of Mills & Boon June Releases) (Part of the Passion Anthology) (Mills & Boon Special Releases)
Cover Variation (By Release Date)
See The Rich, The Ruthless And The Really Handsome series page for related titles.