Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(2)

By: Trish Morey

‘You think I would miss your coronation?’

‘You almost missed Xavian’s wedding. How long were you here? Three hours? Four at most.’

‘It is true,’ Rafiq acceded, unable to deny it. Business had been more pressing a few weeks ago—new emporiums opening almost simultaneously in Auckland and Perth, his presence required everywhere at once—but he had managed to get here, only to have his snatched visit cut even shorter with news of a warehouse fire that had threatened some of his employees’ lives. ‘Although as it turns out he wasn’t Xavian our cousin after all. But there was no way I was not coming for your coronation. And if there is one thing I am sure of, Kareef, it’s that you are indeed my brother.’

Nobody could have doubted it. The brothers shared the same height and breadth of shoulder, and the same arresting dark good-looks. Those things would have been more than enough to guarantee the family connection, but it was their uncannily blue eyes, eyes that could be as warm as the clearest summer sky or as cold as glacial frost, that cemented the family connection and took it beyond doubt.

‘Speaking of brothers,’ he continued, ‘where is Tahir? Is our wayward brother to grace us with his presence this time?’

A frown marred Kareef’s noble brow. ‘I spoke with him…’ He paused, and seemed to take a moment to gather his thoughts before looking up and smiling broadly. ‘I spoke with him yesterday.’

‘I don’t believe it!’

‘It’s true. Though it wasn’t easy to track him down in Monte Carlo, he’s coming to the coronation.’

Rafiq raised a brow as he pushed himself further back into the supple leather upholstery. ‘All three of us, back here at the same time?’

‘It’s been too long,’ Kareef agreed.

The journey from the airport through the bustling city of Shafar, with its blend of the traditional low mud-brick buildings amongst modern glass skyscrapers, passed quickly as the brothers caught up on events since they had last seen each other, and soon the limousine was making its way through the massive iron gates that opened to the cobbled driveway leading to the palace. It never failed to impress. In the noonday sun, the palace glowed like the inside of a pearl shell—so massive, so bright, standing atop its headland, that travellers at sea must be able to see it from miles around, whether in the dazzling light of day or glowing brightly in the pearly light of the moon.

And as the car pulled to a halt under a shadowed portico, and a uniformed doorman swept close and saluted as he opened the door, the reality of recent events hit home once more. Now Rafiq wasn’t just entering the royal palace as a member of the extended family. Now he was royalty. A prince, no less.

How ironic, when he had built himself up to be king of the business he had created for himself—ruler over his own empire. For now he was one step away from being ruler of the country that had given him birth, the country he had turned his back on so many years ago.

How life could change so quickly.

And once again an unwelcome trace of bitterness sent him poisoned thoughts.

If he’d been brother to the King back then, would she have waited for him? If he’d been a prince, how might things have been different?

He shook his head to clear the unwanted thoughts. The savage heat was definitely getting to him if he was dwelling on things that could not be changed. He hadn’t been a prince back then and she had made her choice. End of story.

His brother left him then, putting a hand to Rafiq’s shoulder. ‘As I mentioned, there are matters I must attend to. Meanwhile Akmal will show you to your suite.’

His suite proved to be a collection of high-ceilinged, richly decorated rooms of immense proportions, the walls hung with gilt-framed mirrors and colourful tapestries of exploits otherwise long forgotten, the furnishings rich and opulent, the floor coverings silken and whisper-soft.

‘I trust you will be comfortable here, Your Highness,’ Akmal said, bowing as he retreated backwards out the door.

‘I’m sure I will,’ he said, knowing there was no way he couldn’t be, despite the obvious difference between the palace furnishings and the stark and streamlined way his own house in Sydney was decorated. His five-level beachside house was a testament to modern architecture and structural steel, the house clinging to the cliff overlooking Secret Cove, Sydney’s most exclusive seaside suburb.

And inside it was no less lean and Spartan, all polished timber floors and stainless steel, glass and granite.

Strange, he mused, how he’d become rich on people wanting to emulate the best the Middle East had to offer, when he’d chosen the complete opposite to decorate his own home.

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