The Desert King's Housekeeper Bride

By: Carol Marinelli
CHAPTER ONE



ONLY here could he find himself.

Staring out at the vast, shimmering emptiness, Sheikh King Zakari Al’Farisi of Calista welcomed the solitude of the Azahar desert. He ruled Calista and its people, but it was the desert that taught him how.

He was a good king—a strong ruler. Powerful, even ruthless at times—he did what had to be done. The easy path was never the option for Zakari and his people knew that and loved him for it. He stood six feet three and of solid build, his shoulders were wide enough to carry the hopes and fears of his land and his arms strong enough to hold any woman. He was considered a playboy at times, yet his people understood and forgave his one weakness, for no woman captured his mind for long—they were a mere temporary distraction that was necessary at times.

There was nothing temporary about the desert.

Zakari’s eyes scanned the endless golden sea of sand, the landscape that shifted with the winds—while the rocks and canyons remained the solid markers.

It was the land that was the true master here—fierce, inhospitable, yet beautiful, always it humbled him, would drain and exhaust him and then replenish him. It was the test of the desert he needed now to remind him of his innate strength.

For many, times had changed their ways—four-wheel drives had replaced camels, shotguns were often used for prey instead of falconry, yet the desert and its vital principles were still ingrained and followed by some, and just as he watched out for them, fought to protect their simple existence, so too, while he was here, they would watch out for him. Sometimes in the distance, he would make out in the shimmer a small shadow, knew it was the nomadic tribesmen, keeping their caravan of camels far out of his sight as they travelled. Zakari knew they wouldn’t invade his privacy, but was safe in the knowledge they were watching from a distance, making sure their king was safe and well when he returned to the land he loved.

He had asked, to his aides’ horror, for solitude during the first part of his retreat here—no staff waiting on his every whim, nothing to distract him as he centred himself, as he focussed on finding the missing half of the Stefani diamond. And if he found it, when he found it, he would rule not just Calista, but Aristo too.

The legacy would be fulfilled.

King Christos Karedes had ruled both islands more than thirty years ago, yet the grumbles from his people had concerned him—the Aristan people worried they were not profiting enough from the diamond mines, the Calistan people eager to preserve their land and its gentle ways.

A wise king, Christos had known that the Aristans had to stop looking to Calista to support them. That they needed to build their own economy rather than rely on the Calistan diamonds. It was for that reason he decided to leave an island to each of his children and made the painful decision to split the precious Stefani diamond. His son and daughter would both become crowned rulers, with half the Stefani diamond in their new crowns.

Calista would be ruled by his daughter, Anya.

Aristo would be ruled by his son, Aegeus.

But time had moved on, shifting things like the sand in the desert.

Zakari’s stepmother, Anya, had died five years ago along with his father—and now, with King Aegeus’s sudden death, the islands were ripe for change.

Without the stone, the coronation of Aegeus’s son Prince Alex could not go ahead and though the Aristan royals had tried to hide the fact the stone was missing, Zakari had, as he always did, found out.

Zakari sat, willing himself to concentrate, yet his mind, as it had these past couple of days, wandered. He was now quietly pleased at Hassan’s suggestion that his housekeeper join him in his second week in the desert. When he returned to his tent at sunset, Christobel would be there. Would take care of him at night so that he could focus deeper by day as to how best to take care of the future of his people.

Zakari closed his eyes.

The people that he must protect from the lavish, insatiable ways of the neighbouring island, and protect too the diamond mines that the Aristans would love to get their greedy hands on.

And Zakari could get his revenge.

The wind swirled around him, the sand beat his face as the breeze picked up, but Zakari sat supremely still.