The Desert King's Housekeeper Bride(3)

By: Carol Marinelli

Which would be fine, Effie thought, except Christobel was about half her size, but Stavroula brushed off her protests. ‘The wind is picking up.’ They were dashing across the manicured lawns of the palace to the waiting chopper. ‘If the helicopter doesn’t leave now, there might not be another chance till tomorrow. The King cannot be kept waiting!’

The green lawns alone were a testament to Zakari’s wealth as the palace was built on the edge of the desert. The rear rooms had sweeping views, and Effie had often found herself gazing out to the desert as she worked, but seeing it from above, watching the palace fade into the distance, it wasn’t just nerves that danced in her stomach, but a flicker of excitement too.

Of all the royals that she had glimpsed, of all the princes and cousins and sheikhs that peppered her meagre existence, it had always been Zakari who had enthralled her the most.

She occasionally glimpsed him throughout her working day in the palace, his clothing as chameleon as his complex character. Whether he was striding to a function in military finery, or sweeping through the palace in traditional robes, always he looked spectacular, but never more so, for Effie, than when in Western clothes.

More glamorous and as effortlessly fashionable as any of the Aristans, to Effie he looked like a film star, but the real treat had been when first she’d seen him smile. Oh, not at her, but one morning, when she’d been dashing through the corridors, carrying sheets, frantically trying to get the endless spare bedrooms prepared for a looming royal wedding, she’d flattened herself against a wall as the King had strode past, chatting and talking with his brother, the soon-to-be married Kaliq. Kaliq, a dashing playboy himself, must have said something funny to the King, because suddenly Zakari’s haughty face had broken into a wide smile, his full mouth parting, and for Effie it had been like watching the sunrise. Effie had felt trapped by its rare, majestic beauty, so much so that she had even forgotten to duck and curtsy and had actually forgotten to lower her head and avert her eyes.

Not that he’d noticed.

Not that Zakari would ever notice her.

But in that second alone Effie had understood how he had earned every flicker of his heartbreak reputation.

With just one smile, he’d captured her heart.

And now she was going to be alone with him.

Being stranded in the desert with a moody, demanding boss might not be many people’s idea of a good time, but Effie took her job seriously—and here was a chance to prove herself. To work hard for the king she adored and, as Stavroula had pointed out, in her own meagre way, help the people of Calista during these turbulent times.

As the chopper landed the pilot threw out her case, anxious to leave before the winds picked up further, he explained, and Effie quickly jumped down.

The heat was stifling.

The dry air was so hot that it actually hurt as she dragged it into her lungs. The flimsy scarf she held over her mouth and nose did nothing to protect her eyes, though, and Effie ducked her head, but running under the whirring rotors was too much in the heat and even that short burst of exertion exhausted her. The sand was whirring around, gravelling in her ears, eyes and her hair as the chopper lifted, but even when it was gone the shifting sands didn’t settle. With the sand pummelling her legs and face Effie stood for a moment, witnessing firsthand the endless landscape, broken only by the vast orange canyons that the wind whistled through. Only then did it truly dawn on Effie just how isolated they were. Having grown up in the poorer part of Calista, and having spent much of her time nursing her ailing mother, Effie was no stranger to hardship or roughing it and hard work certainly didn’t faze her, yet a flutter of angst for the unknown swirled inside her as Effie saw King Zakari’s huge tent, still but a speck in the vast scheme of the desert.

She didn’t expect him to come out and greet her—why would a king greet a housekeeper? And she had been told that he would disappear early in the mornings and not return until after sunset, which was still a couple of hours away.

She would start work straight away, Effie decided, quelling her nerves by forming a plan. By the time King Zakari returned, she’d have familiarised herself with things, and would be fully in control of everything that he might request from her. Quickly realising the wheels didn’t work in the sand, she lifted Christobel’s heavy case, damp circles forming under her arms, her face no doubt red from the heat and exertion as she walked the final distance. Effie made a quick addition to her list—she would have a long cool drink, then she would start work!

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