Commanded by the sheikh

By: Kate Hewitt
CHAPTER ONE


‘I NEED YOU, OLIVIA.’

Olivia Ellis quickly suppressed the flare of feeling Sheikh Aziz al Bakir’s simply stated words caused inside her. Of course he needed her. He needed her to change his sheets, polish his silver and keep his Parisian townhouse on the Ile de la Cité pristine.

That didn’t explain what she was doing here, in the royal palace of Kadar.

Less than eight hours ago she’d been summoned by one of Aziz’s men, asked unequivocally to accompany him on the royal jet to Siyad—the capital of Kadar—where Aziz had recently ascended the throne.

Olivia had gone reluctantly, because she liked the quiet life she’d made for herself in Paris: mornings with the concierge across the street sipping coffee, afternoons in the garden pruning roses. It was a life that held no excitement or passion, but it was hers and it made her happy, or as happy as she knew how to be. It was enough, and she didn’t want it to change.

‘What do you need of me, Your Highness?’ she asked. She’d spent the endless flight to Kadar composing reasons why she should stay in Paris. She needed to stay in Paris, needed the safety and comfort of her quiet life.

‘Considering the circumstances, I think you should call me Aziz.’ The smile he gave her was whimsical, effortlessly charming, yet Olivia tried to remain unmoved. She’d often observed Aziz’s charm from a distance, had heard the honeyed words slide from his lips as he entertained one of his many female guests in Paris. She’d picked up the discarded lingerie from the staircase and had poured coffee for the women who crept from his bed before breakfast, their hair mussed and their lips swollen.

She, however, had always considered herself immune to ‘the Gentleman Playboy’, as the tabloids had nicknamed him. A bit of an oxymoron, Olivia thought, but she had to admit Aziz possessed a certain charisma.

She felt it now, with him focusing all of his attention on her, the opulent palace with its frescoed walls and gold fixtures stretching around them.

‘Very well, Aziz. What do you need of me?’ She spoke briskly, as she had when discussing replacing the roof tiles or the guest list for a dinner party. Yet it took a little more effort now, being in this strange and overwhelming place with this man.

He was, Olivia had to admit, beautiful. She could acknowledge that, just as she acknowledged that Michelangelo’s David was a magnificent sculpture; it was nothing more than a simple appreciation of undeniable beauty. In any case, she didn’t have anything left inside her to feel more than that. Not for Aziz, not for anyone.

She gazed now at the ink-black hair that flopped carelessly over his forehead; his grey eyes that could flare silver; the surprisingly full lips that could curve into a most engaging smile.

And as for his body...powerful, lean perfection, without an extra ounce of fat anywhere, just pure, perfect muscle.

Aziz steepled his fingers under his chin and turned towards the window so his back was partially to her. Olivia waited, felt the silence inexplicably tauten between them. ‘You have been in my employ for six years now?’ he said after a moment, his voice lilting as if it was a question, even though Olivia knew it was not.

‘Yes, that’s correct.’

‘And I have been very pleased with your dedicated service in all of that time.’

She tensed. He sounded as if he were about to fire her. And so now I’m afraid I have to tell you that I have no need of you any more...

She took a careful breath, let it out silently. ‘I’m very glad to hear that, Your Highness.’

‘Aziz, remember.’

‘Considering your status, it doesn’t seem appropriate to call you by your first name.’

‘Even if I demand it by royal decree?’

He turned around and raised his eyebrows, clearing teasing her. Olivia’s mouth compressed. ‘If you demand it, I shall of course comply,’ she answered coolly. ‘But in any case I shall do my best to call you by your first name.’

‘I know you will. You have always done your best, Olivia, and that is exactly what I need from you today.’

She waited, unease creeping its cold fingers along her spine. What on earth could he need her for now, here in Kadar? She didn’t like surprises or uncertainty; she’d spent six years creating something safe, small and good and she was terribly afraid of losing it. Of losing herself.