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Daughter of Hassan & Heart of the Desert

By:Penny Jordan


CHAPTER ONE


‘DADDY, it’s gorgeous, but you really shouldn’t spoil me like this,’ Danielle protested, eyeing her tall bearded stepfather in his flowing Arab robes.

‘Nonsense,’ he protested firmly, taking the diamond pendant from her and securing it round her slender throat. ‘You might not be my daughter by blood and birth, Danielle, but you are still the child of my heart, and it pleases me greatly to “spoil” you, as you term it—although what spoiling this simple trinket could achieve, I really do not know,’ he concluded with a smile. ‘If I had my way your present would have been something far more fitting—emeralds to match your eyes; pearls from the Gulf to complement the creamy pallor of your skin.’

Danielle laughed, knowing when she was beaten. Her own father had died before she was born, and when she was thirteen her mother had met and married Sheikh Hassan Ibn Ahmed, head of a huge oil empire, whom she had met at a reception given by its British equivalent, for whom she worked.

Danielle and her stepfather had hit it off right away. Although previously married, the Sheikh had no children from that marriage. His first wife had divorced him, and although nothing had been said, Danielle guessed that he was perhaps unable to father children of his own, which made his great love for her all the more poignant.

Although he lived and worked in London, running the huge multi-million-pound oil empire, the oil which fuelled this empire came from the tiny state ruled by his elder brother, sandwiched tightly between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Although nothing had ever been said, Danielle had the impression that her stepfather’s family did not approve of his marriage. Perhaps that was why none of them had ever visited them in the elegant St. John’s Wood apartment which was their London home, or the country estate in Dorset close to where Danielle had gone to school.

However, whatever they thought of Sheikh Hassan’s marriage, it was plain that his financial and business acumen was highly regarded, for otherwise Danielle knew that they would never have trusted him to have what amounted to the sole responsibility for their far-reaching business activities.

Occasionally some of his countrymen did visit their home, but Danielle rarely saw them. For one thing it was only two years since she had left her Swiss finishing school, and for another, Hassan preferred not to involve his wife and stepdaughter in his business affairs.

In fact it was because of this that they had come close to having their first quarrel, for which the diamond pendant had been a peace-offering, Danielle suspected.

Following her year at finishing school she had returned to England determined to find herself a job, but her stepfather had been horrified. There was no need for her to work; did she want to shame him by implying that he could not afford to support her?

Danielle had called on her mother to intervene and explain that in the West girls wanted to work, and did not expect to be supported by their families until some man came along to take them off their hands.

Her stepfather had not been pleased, but Danielle had persevered, and eventually he had agreed that she might take the Cordon Bleu cookery course she had hoped for.

In her heart she knew that had he realised she hoped to put the expertise she gained to practical use by opening her own restaurant, he would not have been so sanguine. She had a little money of her own left to her by her father, which was invested and would be hers on her twenty-first birthday, in four months’ time, and in three weeks she was to start her Cordon Bleu training.

Cookery had been her favourite subject at finishing school; though of course she had enjoyed the lessons in the art of make-up and posture, the shopping trips supervised by the immaculately elegant Frenchwoman who commanded them to choose the clothes they would most like from the expensive boutiques she took them to, and then proceeded to disapprove or approve their choice as the case may be.

Danielle had emerged from finishing school with an instinctive knowledge for what was right for her slender five-foot-four frame, so fine-boned that her fragility caught the breath, and a poise which made her mother sigh and then smile as she realised that her schoolgirl daughter had become a young woman almost overnight.

Most of the other girls at the school had come from wealthy backgrounds, from varied nationalities, but Danielle was unique in being the English stepdaughter of a wealthy Arab.

Like her mother Danille had dark red hair which curled softly on to her shoulders, but whereas her mother’s eyes were a pretty, soft blue, Danielle’s were green—an inheritance from her Scottish father, her mother had once told her, and they sparkled in her face like green fire, hence her stepfather’s statement that he would like to buy her emeralds.

Until her mother’s remarriage she and Danielle had lived quite modestly in the small semi in North London which was all she had been able to afford when she had been widowed. It could not have been easy for her mother, Danielle recognised, struggling to bring up a small child on a very slender income, and when Danielle was ten, her mother had been forced to go back to work as a secretary for the oil company where she had eventually met her second husband.

‘Are you planning to be in for dinner this evening?’ her mother asked, walking into the room.

Although in her early forties, she could easily have passed for Danielle’s sister rather than her mother, and Danielle smiled fondly at her. To look at her mother now, wearing an expensively cut couture dress, and discreet jewellery, it was hard to imagine that she had ever wept over the cost of a pair of tights, but Danielle could remember those days, and it was because of them that she was never tempted to take for granted the life-style which was hers now. Although Danielle would never have dreamed of saying so for fear of hurting either of her parents, in many ways she wished her stepfather were not quite so wealthy. She would have loved to share a flat with other girls, struggling to find the rent each month, and enjoying the shared camaraderie of youth, but her parents would have been bitterly hurt had she suggested leaving home, and although he never criticised, Danielle knew that her stepfather, with his Eastern upbringing, rather disapproved of the freedom of some of her friends.

Boys who called to take her out on dates often quailed before his fierce stare, and Danielle had a shrewd suspicion that the combination of his presence and wealth held her escorts’ behaviour in check. Certainly, apart from the occasional over-amorous goodnight kiss, she had never had to fight off unwelcome advances. Unless, of course, it was because they didn’t find her attractive. The thought made her glance uncertainly into the huge baroque mirror hanging on the wall, a small frown puckering her smooth forehead.

‘Well, darling,’ her mother persisted, ‘will you be joining us for dinner? The Sancerres will be dining with us. They’re over from Paris, and Philippe made a special point of asking if you would be in.’

Danielle wrinkled her nose.

Philippe Sancerre was the son of a business colleague of her stepfather’s; a Frenchman whom Danielle had met with the rest of his family in Paris the previous year. Philippe was five years older than her, but far more worldly; she had sensed that from the way he had kissed her goodnight after taking her out to dinner. Philippe was very handsome with his smooth brown hair and laughing eyes, but the way he looked at her sometimes made her feel uncomfortable, and she wriggled slightly, remembering it.

She knew all about sex, of course; one could scarcely not do so nowadays, but knowing and experiencing were two different things, and so far her experience was extremely limited—nil almost, which was a ridiculous state of affairs, she acknowledged wryly. Whoever had heard of a twenty-one-year-old virgin? It was a secret she kept very well and intended to go on keeping until she found the man with whom she could share it.

‘Yes, I’ll be in for dinner,’ she replied, knowing it was the answer her mother wanted. Another woman might have resented the presence of such a young and attractive daughter, but Helen Hassan loved Danielle too much to feel envy for her youth. Besides, she had her beloved Hassan.

Danielle applied a touch of sea-green eyeshadow and stood back to study the effect in her mirror. Her bedroom was furnished with eighteenth-century French antiques, the furniture gilded and delicate. It had been an eighteenth birthday present from her stepfather. She had much to thank him for, she reflected, and not merely possessions. He had made her mother so happy. She glowed with that special glow of women in love, and that he loved her too was very evident.

The diamond pendant he had given her that morning flashed fire between the tender valley of her breasts, lightly confined by the thin silk of her evening pants suit. The camisole top outlined the firm thrust of her breasts, before tapering to her narrow waist.

Her stepfather had never tried to impose Eastern clothing on either her mother or herself, but Danielle knew that he preferred to her to wear clothes that were ‘modest’ and she hoped he would not disapprove of the outfit she was wearing tonight.

That Philippe did not became obvious the moment Danielle stepped into the elegant drawing room. Both he and his father stood up as Danielle entered, but it was Philippe who swiftly crossed the Aubusson carpet to take Danielle’s hands in his, imprisoning them while he kissed her warmly.

‘Philippe!’ Her breathless protest went unheard, Madame Sancerre smiling indulgently as her son stole another kiss before releasing his captive.

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