The Desert King's Housekeeper Bride(10)

By: Carol Marinelli

Only late in the day did she summon the nerve to prepare his sleeping area, her blush returning as she entered his room.

She set about sweeping the floor and dusting the dark ornate furniture, before finally pulling the endless pillows and cushions from his vast bed and changing the silk sheets. No matter how she tried not to think about it—in fact, the more she tried not to think about it—over and over she did. She just couldn’t banish that image of King Zakari from her mind.

Effie knew her place and, unlike many, there wasn’t a resentful bone in her body. Her mother had raised her to adore the royals. They had been generous to her, Lydia had explained. Her hard work at the palace when she was younger had been rewarded by a generous package when she had left, and with wise investment it had meant they had a home and a moderate income despite Lydia never working.

Effie had never questioned it.

Just as she didn’t question why some should have everything, while others had nothing. She felt privileged to work in the palace. Even if she only got to clean the fineries, still she could gaze upon them. Even if she only polished the silver and jewels, still she got to hold them in her hands.

It could never be hers.

She accepted that.

Just as the man she had glimpsed in naked, sensual beauty could never, would never, lavish his attention on her.

Yet there was this unfamiliar thrill in the pit of her stomach as she recalled what she had witnessed. She bit on her lip as she dragged off the sheet. The flurry of the silk had his masculine scent lingering in the air, and, just for a moment, for a tiny daring, fleeting moment…Effie wished.

For the first time ever, she wished it could be that the treasure she had surveyed might be hers for even a little while. Burying her face in the sheets he had graced, she inhaled him to her very soul.

Wished she were as slim and as beautiful as Christobel.

Wished the King had been waiting for her.

Wished she didn’t disappoint.

Still, she wasn’t being paid to dream, so Effie got on with her work, and over the next couple of days an easy routine developed between them.

Zakari rose at sunrise as Effie prepared breakfast. He usually ate in silence in the morning. Occasionally he might ask if she’d slept well, or murmur a brief thank you, but generally he was sullen, pensive and silent. In fact, for Effie it was almost a relief, really, when he wandered off to the desert, to return after sunset.

Only it was a different Zakari that returned.

He would bathe and change, then eat the meal she had prepared alone. Afterwards, when he sat on the low cushions and drank his coffee as Effie cleared away his meal, he would start talking to her.

Mindful of Stavroula’s harsh warning and the mistakes she had already made, Effie tried to hold on to her tongue, but Sheikh King Zakari Al’Farisi was such engaging company in the evenings that it was all too easy to unbend, to talk about her family, to chatter and linger for a little while longer. Her reward—that unscrupulous face broke into his heart-stopping smile when she offered a silly joke, and, most surprisingly of all, he didn’t silence her when occasionally she bantered with him.

Sheikh King Zakari despised the Aristan royals, yet Effie adored them, and refused to bend to his thinking.

‘The Aristan royals looked after my mother well,’ Effie said stoutly one night as she stacked some plates. ‘I’m saving up my money to go to Aristo for Prince Alex’s coronation in January.’

There would be no coronation for Prince Alex in January if he found the jewel, Zakari thought darkly. Not that Effie would know about such things. The only thing the two royal families did agree on was that the fact the jewel was missing must remain a fiercely guarded secret.

‘You really think that Alex will make a good king?’ Zakari poured scorn on her words. ‘His brother Sebastian was the one raised to be king, yet he denounced the throne to marry a woman who wasn’t suitable.’

‘But that’s lovely,’ Effie insisted.

‘That is weak!’ Zakari dismissed her sentiment. ‘The people of Aristo are worried by this behaviour. They know that Alex and his new wife do not really want to take the role and all that it will entail.’