The Shiekh's Bartered Bride

By: Lucy Monroe
CHAPTER ONE




“Miss Benning.”

She wasn’t Miss Benning. She was Catherine Marie, captive of the Hawk, a sheikh who still lived by the code of the desert, where only the strongest survived.

He was coming now. She could hear his deep, masculine voice as he spoke in a tongue she did not understand to someone outside her tent. She struggled against he cords that bound her hands, but it was useless. The silk scarves were soft, but strong and she could not get her hands free.

If she did, what would she do? Run?

Where?

She was in the middle of the desert. The sun beat against the tent, heating up the cavernous interior. She wouldn’t last a day in the vast wasteland on her own.

Then he was there, standing in the entrance to the room in which she was held. His features were cast in shadow. All she could see was his big body encased in the white pants and tunic typical of his people. A black robe, his abaya, fell from his massive shoulders to mid-calf and his head was covered with the red and white smagh that denoted his position as sheikh. The headband holding it in place was made of twisted black leather.

He was less than fifteen feet away, but still his face was hidden from her by the shadows. Only the strong line of his jaw denoting his arrogance was discernable.

“Miss Benning!”

Catherine Marie Benning’s head snapped up from where it had been resting against her fist and her eyes slowly focused on her surroundings. Tent walls hung with silks faded, to be replaced by cool gray cement, relieved only by the posters advertising the upcoming book drive and literacy event. They were the walls of the break room in the Whitehaven Public Library, much closer to a cold and wet Seattle, Washington than the blistering hot deserts of the Sahara.

Fluorescent light cast a harsh glow over the pointed features of the woman standing in front of her.

“Yes, Mrs. Camden?”

Straightening her double-knit polyester blazer, almost identical in color to the library’s walls, Catherine’s superior sniffed. “Your head was off in the clouds again, Miss Benning.”

The disapproval in the older woman’s voice grated against Catherine’s usually limitless patience. Perhaps if the man in her fantasies would ever show his face, she wouldn’t be feeling so frustrated, but he did not. This time had been no different. The Hawk was as elusive to her imagination as he was in it.

“I’m still on break,” she reminded the older woman.

“Yes, well, we all do what we must.”

Recognizing the beginnings of a familiar lecture, Catherine stifled a sigh at the knowledge her lunch break was to be cut short. Again.



Hakim bin Omar al Kadar walked into the library and scanned the reference area for sight of Catherine Marie Benning. Her picture was indelibly printed on his mind. His future wife. While arranged marriages were not uncommon in the royal family of Jawhar, his was unique.

Catherine Marie Benning was unaware that she was to become his wife. Her father wanted it that way.

One of the stipulations of the deal between Hakim’s uncle and Harold Benning was that Hakim convince Catherine to become his wife without telling her about the arrangement between her father and the King of Jawhar. Hakim had not asked why. Having been educated in the West, Hakim knew that American women did not view arranged marriages with the same equanimity the women of his family did.

He would have to court Catherine, but that would be no hardship. Even in an arranged marriage, a royal prince of Jawhar was expected to court his intended bride. This marriage would be no different. He would give her a month.

Ten weeks ago, his uncle had been apprised by Harold Benning of the probable deposits of a rare mineral in the mountains of Jawhar. The American had suggested a partnership between Benning Excavations and the royal family of Jawhar.

The two men had still been negotiating terms when Hakim had been attacked while out riding in the desert in the early hours of the morning. Investigation had revealed that the assassination attempt had been made by the same group of dissidents responsible for his parents’ deaths twenty years before.

Hakim was unclear how marriage for Catherine had become part of the deal. He knew only that his uncle considered it convenient. Should the need for long-term living visas arise for the royal family, Hakim would be in a position to sponsor them as the spouse of an American. There would be no need to go through regular diplomatic channels, thus preserving the privacy and pride of his family.

The royal family of Jawhar had not sought political asylum from another country in the three centuries of its reign and they never would. Already overseeing the family’s interests in America, Hakim had been the logical choice for the alliance.

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