His Defiant Desert Queen(3)

By: Jane Porter


Keith whistled softly. “Give me more.”

“No,” Sheikh Mikael Karim ground out. It was just one word, but it echoed like a crack of thunder, immediately silencing the murmur of stylists, make-up artist, and lighting assistants.

All heads turned toward the sheikh.

Jemma stared at him, her stomach churning all over again.

The sheikh’s expression was beyond fierce. His lips curled, his dark eyes burned as he pushed the camera in Keith’s hands down. “That’s enough,” he gritted. “I’ve had enough, from all of you.” His narrowed gaze swept the tents and crew. “You are done here.”

And then his head turned again and he stared straight at Jemma. “And you, Miss Copeland. Cover yourself, and then go inside the tent. I will be in to deal with you shortly.”

She covered herself, but didn’t move.

The sheikh had called her Miss Copeland, not Mrs. Xanthis, the name she’d used on the visa, but Copeland.

Panic flooded her veins. Her heart surged. Sheikh Karim knew who she was. He’d recognized her after all these years. The realization shocked her. He, who knew so many, remembered her.

Hands shaking, she tugged the coat closer to her body, suddenly icy cold despite the dazzling heat. “What’s happening?” she whispered, even though in a dim part of her brain, she knew.

She’d been found out. Her true identity had been discovered. How, she didn’t know, but she was in trouble. Grave trouble. She could feel the severity of the situation all the way down to her toes.

“I think you know,” Sheikh Karim said flatly. “Now go inside the tent and wait.”

Her knees knocked. She wasn’t sure her legs could support her. “For what?”

“To be informed of the charges being brought against you.”

“I’ve done nothing wrong.”

His dark eyes narrowed. His jaw hardened as his gaze swept over her, from the top of her head to the boots on her feet. “You’ve done everything wrong, Miss Copeland. You’re in serious trouble. So go to the tent, now, and if you have half a brain, you’ll obey.”

* * *

Jemma had more than half a brain. She actually had a very good brain. And a very good imagination, which made the walk to the tent excruciating.

What was going to happen to her? What were the official charges? And what would the punishment be?

She tried to calm herself. She focused on her breathing, and clamped down on her wild thoughts. It wouldn’t help her to panic. She knew she’d entered the country illegally. She’d willingly agreed to work on a shoot that hadn’t been condoned by the government. And she’d shown her breasts in public, which was also against Saidia’s law.

And she’d done it all because she hadn’t taken money from her family since she was eighteen and she wasn’t about to start now.

She was an adult. A successful, capable woman. And she’d been determined to make it without going to her family begging for a handout.

In hindsight, perhaps begging for a handout would have been wiser.

In the wardrobe tent, Jemma shrugged off the heavy fur coat, and slipped a light pink cotton kimono over her shoulders, tying the sash at her waist. As she sat down at the stool before the make-up mirror, she could hear the sheikh’s voice echo in her head.

You’ve done everything wrong...

Everything wrong...

He was right. She had done everything wrong. She prayed he’d accept her apology, allow her to make amends. She hadn’t meant to insult him, or disrespect his country or his culture in any way.

Jemma straightened, hearing voices outside her tent. The voices were pitched low, speaking quickly, urgently. Male voices. A single female voice. Jemma recognized the woman as Mary Leed, Catwalk’s editorial director. Mary was usually unflappable but she sounded absolutely panicked now.

Jemma’s heart fell all over again. Bad. This was bad.

She swallowed hard, her stomach churning, nerves threatening to get the better of her.

She shouldn’t have come.

She shouldn’t have taken such risks.

But what was she to do otherwise? Crumble? Shatter? End up on the streets, destitute, homeless, helpless?

No.

She wouldn’t be helpless, and she wouldn’t be pitied, or mocked, either.