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The Sheikh's Stolen Bride

By:Clare Connelly

The Sheikh's Stolen Bride_ The only way to make her ha(The Sheikhs' Brides Book 2), - Clare Connelly
PROLOGUE





“I have no intention of marrying her.”

Ash stared at his cousin Syed long and hard. Only four months separated them in age – they were more like twins than cousins. But in some ways they were at odds.

“Your father wishes it,” Ash pointed out, sipping his coffee and taking in the view of the Old City. It spread in all directions; beautiful, ancient, glorious. Beyond it were the desert plains that surrounded Kalastan, and in the far distance, the ocean. Across that sea was the Kingdom of Falina and Syed’s intended bride.

“My father wishes peace with Falina. Falina wishes peace with us. The marriage is unnecessary where both rulers are minded for harmony.”

Ash placed his cup down slowly. “How long have you been preparing that little speech?”

Syed made a sound. “Come on! You know I’m right.”

Ash grinned. “What I know is that I have the betrothal papers here. I’m expected in Falina tonight. Do you want me to cancel? To avoid going?”

“No, that won’t work,” Syed shook his head. “I am sick of delays. I want this matter settled once and for all.”

“So? What do you suggest?”

Syed’s smile showed that he’d given the matter a lot of thought. “I don’t know much of Charlotte. I’ve met her only once or twice.”

“And you didn’t like her?” Ash prompted curiously.

“Whether I liked her or not is besides the point. I do not want to enter into a marriage just because my father would like the question of Falina and Kalastan nicely stitched up.”

Before he dies.

The end of the sentence hung in the air between them, like a heavy foreshadowing of a grief neither knew how to process.

“There’s someone else?” Ash prompted.

“No.” Syed compressed his lips. Images of Sarah came to him out of nowhere. He would not let himself think of her. She was a distraction he didn’t need.

“So? Why not marry Charlotte? I have seen photographs of her. She’s stunning.”

“Do you think so?”

Ash nodded, remembering the dark hair, red lips, brown eyes, pale skin. “I don’t believe her beauty subjective.”

“We are talking about marriage! A woman I tie myself to for life. Bring to my bed! I would like some damned say in the matter.”

Ash laughed. “You are a Sheikh, as am I. There is a long precedent of our marriages being organised for political gain. Why do you not go to Falina yourself? Meet with Charlotte, see if you can imagine her as your wife?”

“And if I don’t? Rejecting her having spent time courting her is an insult that could lead to war. No, Ash. There is only one way to put this marriage off. And I need your help.”

“You know I would do anything for you,” Ash said, though he was dubious that Syed’s scheme would have any merit. “What do you suggest?”

“Go to Falina, as planned. But stay. Stay long enough to learn something of Charlotte that would make her unsuitable as my bride.”

Ash felt a rumbling of discontent roll through his gut. “And if there is nothing?”

Syed shook his head, a smile on his lips. “There will be. No one can be as perfect as she’s purported to be. Find some dirt, and I will use it to put an end to this betrothal.”

“But if there’s really nothing?” Ash insisted, nowhere nearly as confident as Syed.

“Then I will marry her.” Syed squared his shoulders and stared out at the Old City, thinking of the thousands of lives that had been lived within its walls. “Please, Ash. Do your best. I’m counting on you.”





CHAPTER ONE



“Your Highness?”

Ash lifted his head from the laptop, ignoring for a moment the emails he was wading through.

“Yes?” It was a curt abrasion for the intrusion. He had left strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed. In the two days since arriving in Falina, he’d achieved precisely nothing on Operation Betrothal Break. A few emails with the Falina palace, but other matters had more urgently commanded his attention.

Or was it that he was wasting time, dreading the very idea of looking to discredit an innocent woman just to save his cousin from a marriage he found unpalatable?

“There is a visitor for you, from the palace.”

“Is there?” He put his pen down and stood. It had been a fantasy to imagine he could put this off indefinitely.

“Yes, sir.”

“Who is it?”

“Her Royal Highness Charlotte Shareef.”

Ash paused, midway through straightening his robes. “Herself?” He ran a hand over his stubbled jaw, curiosity overriding any other emotion.

“May I allow her to enter?”

“Of course. She is the Heir to the throne of Falina and you have left her waiting in the hallway?”

The servant, fearing he’d erred in some crucial way, bowed extra low as he backed out of the room. Ash had only a moment to organise his thoughts before the door was pushed inwards once more.

The woman who entered was almost exactly like the photographs Ash had seen. Her silky, dark hair had been plaited and wound around her head, and a jewelled ribbon was weaved through the plait, creating a shimmering effect. She wore a dark ruby red dress that covered her body from neck to the floor, and all the way down to the wrists, and yet somehow it was floaty and gauzy enough to hint at the curves it concealed in a way that Ash hadn’t expected. Her eyes were brown, yes, but there were flecks of honey and caramel in them, and they were enormous and round, with curling black lashes. Her skin was a pale golden, like melted butter, and there were several dark freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her lips were cherry red, almost the exact same tone as the dress.

She was just like the picture, but so much more beautiful. A picture couldn’t convey the depth of her features, the fragrance of citrus and lavender that seemed to accompany her, and it certainly couldn’t convey her emotions, which Ash could clearly see were firing in that moment.

“Your Highness,” he murmured, bowing his head forward before moving towards her. His curiosity increased as he wondered at this unexpected, unaccompanied visit, and the sense he had that she was annoyed.

She compressed those full red lips and her eyes sparked with his, as though she was running through a thousand things she wanted to say and trying to select the one that was suitable.

“You are Sheikh Ashad Al’Eba?”

“Guilty,” he murmured. Ordinarily, he would have shaken her hand, but the princess was obviously riled about something and he wasn’t sure she wouldn’t reject the gesture. “Please, have a seat.”

She sent him a barbed look, and he knew, somehow, that she was contemplating saying ‘no’, but apparently she thought better of it and crossed to the set of armchairs to the side of the desk.

“Would you like a tea? Coffee?” His lips twisted into an expression of amusement. “Something stronger?”

Her eyes widened and she shook her head. “No. Thank you.”

He suppressed a grin as he moved towards the seats but did not join her. “You wish to speak to me?”

She nodded, her hands clasped neatly in her lap. Why the hell was Syed balking at the idea of marrying this princess? True, he’d spent less than two minutes in her company, but there was no denying how utterly beautiful she was.

“You are here to negotiate the terms of my marriage.”

Ash nodded, revealing nothing of his true purpose for coming to Falina.

“And yet you email palace officials and my father, rather than me?”

The sharpness of her response fascinated him. “The arrangement has been made with your father,” he murmured, crossing to the buffet beside his desk and arranging some fruit in a bowl; berries, citrus, melon and passionfruit. He placed it in front of her then took a seat opposite.

“Yes, well, he understands that I want to be involved at this stage of negotiations,” she said, her voice flattened of any emotion. But he saw it. He saw it in the tense lines of her body, the brightness of her eyes.

“My apologies, Your Highness.”

She reached for a single red berry and held it for a moment. She had lovely hands. Small and fine boned with rounded nails that had been painted red, to match her lips. Were her toenails similarly painted? Unconsciously, his eyes dropped lower, checking his hypothesis. Only in order to arrive at her feet, his gaze had to travel the length of her body, and he found his eyes lingering on the swell of her breasts and the hips he could see beneath her dress.

She wore closed toe shoes.

When he lifted his eyes to her face, her cheeks had two bright pink spots in them that showed she’d been all too aware of his inspection. He wondered why he didn’t feel sorry for that? Why he didn’t feel that he’d been inappropriate?

“It is my marriage we are to discuss,” she continued. Was her voice breathy because she was discussing an event of such gravity? Or had his appraisal made her pulse hammer?

His dick hardened and Ash was grateful he was sitting, covered by the folds of his robe. The reaction was unwanted, though. This woman was, more than likely, to be his cousin’s bride, but biology was biology.

He was only human, and whatever Syed might think, Charlotte Shareef was, hands down, the most stunningly desirable woman he’d ever met. She lifted a hand and toyed with her earring; it was an enormous diamond. Higher up her ear she had a slim gold band and he found himself fantasising about removing it, removing all the jewellery she wore, the clothes too, until it was just her and her sexy red fingernails and the toes he imagined were painted to match.

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