Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(8)

By: Trish Morey

‘Hand-stitched,’ announced his mother, as proudly as if she’d made it herself, ‘every one of those tiny gems stitched by hand into place.’

He didn’t have to pretend to be interested to indulge his mother; he was genuinely fascinated as he ran the gossamer-thin fabric through his hands, studying the beads, searching for their secret.

‘Emeralds,’ he realised with surprise. The tiny chips were sculpted and shaped to show off their magnificent colour as if they were the most spectacular gems. The workmanship in cutting the beads would be horrendous in itself, the craft of stitching them to a fabric so light a labour of love.

‘Is it not magnificent?’ his mother said. ‘The beads are fashioned from the off-cuts after the best stones from the emerald mines are cut. This fabric is light, and suited to gowns and robes, but there are heavier fabrics too, suitable for drapes and cushions, of all colours and weights. Could not something this beautiful sell well in your stores?’

‘Possibly,’ he said, making a mental note to inform his buyers to check it out, and then put the fabric aside, his curiosity once more drawn to the black-clad figure kneeling next to his mother. She was studying the floor again, her long-lashed eyes cast downwards, looking the very essence of meek and submissive. Surely his mother wasn’t taken in by such a performance? This was a woman who had married for wealth and privilege and status. She might look innocent and meek, but he knew differently. She was as scheming as she was beautiful.

The thought stopped him in his tracks. Beautiful? But of course she always had been, and even now, with the air of sadness she carried with her, there was a haunting beauty in her slumberous eyes and the curve of her lashes that could not be denied. Beauty and cunning. She had both, like a viper poised ready to strike.

He turned to his mother, only to find her watching him, her eyes narrowed. For a moment he got the impression she was going to say something—could she read his thoughts in his eyes? Was she about to defend the woman again?—but then she shook her head and sniffed, and gestured towards the roll of material instead.

‘How can you say possibly? Fabric of this quality, and yet you think it could only possibly be good enough to sell?’

‘I’ll have one of my buyers come over and check it out.’

‘Ah, then you may be too late.’ She collected the bolt of fabric in her hands, winding the shimmering loose material around it and passing it to Sera. ‘I am sorry to have troubled you. Sera, you might as well take this back.’

Sera was rocking forward on her knees, preparing to rise to her feet, when Rafiq reached out and grasped one end of the bolt. ‘Stay,’ he ordered Sera, before turning to his mother. ‘What are you talking about, too late? Why should it be too late?’

Sera looked to the Sheikha, who smiled and put her henna-stained hand over the younger woman’s. ‘One moment, my child.’ And then his mother turned to Rafiq and sighed wistfully. ‘There is another party interested and ready to sign for exclusive rights to the collection. If you delay, and wait for your buyer to arrive…’ she shrugged for effect ‘…it will no doubt already be too late.’

‘Who is this other party?’ But he already suspected the answer, even before his mother confirmed it by giving the name of the biggest importer of Arab goods in the world. Strictly speaking they weren’t competitors. He was content to dominate the southern hemisphere while they took the north, each keeping out of the other’s way. But to demand exclusivity on a range of goods made right here, in the country of his birth? That had never been part of their unspoken agreement.

He caught his mother’s cool-eyed gaze assessing him again, and allowed himself a smile. It had never occurred to him before, but maybe he owed at least some of his business acumen to his mother. What else could have prompted him to look up a business opportunity while he was here for his brother’s coronation but the thrill of the chase?

‘I suppose,’ he conceded, ‘I could go and look at the collection while I am here. Is the workshop here, in Shafar?’

She shook her head. ‘No, it is in the town of Marrash, in the mountain country to the north.’

He summoned up a mental map of Qusay, trying and unable to place the town, but knowing that if it was in the rugged red mountains of the north transport would be difficult and by necessity slow. He shook his head. ‘Travelling there would take at least a day. It is not practical, given it is so close to the coronation. Is there nowhere in Shafar to view this so-called collection?’

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