The Sheikh's Princess Bride

By: Annie West


THE DARK-HAIRED TOTS playing on the far side of the sumptuous hotel lounge held Samira’s gaze. They weren’t loud or boisterous, the middle-aged woman with them saw to that. They were just a pair of ordinary toddlers.

Yet Samira couldn’t drag her eyes away from them. She watched the progress of one little boy as he walked the length of a sofa, his fingers splayed on the silk upholstery for support. He gurgled his delight and grinned at his companion who wobbled along behind him.

Samira swallowed. That hollow feeling was back, worse now, turning into a twisting stab of hurt that knifed all the way from her womb up high under her ribs.

She tried to focus on Celeste’s animated chatter about a new restaurant. Apparently it had unrivalled rooftop views of the Eiffel Tower as well as several Michelin stars and was the new place to eat and be seen.

Samira’s stomach rebelled at the mention of food.

Or maybe it was something else that made her insides clench so hard.

The second toddler landed on his bottom, arms waving, and the woman—grandmother? Nanny?—gathered him up. Samira’s arms twitched then fell, lax and empty, into her lap.

She blinked and turned away.

Empty. That was exactly how she felt.

She would never have a child of her own to hold. The doctor had made that clear.

She’d tried so hard to regroup these past four years, and she’d come so far, but nothing could erase that searing, hollow ache within.

‘I’m so pleased you can attend tonight’s charity auction in person.’ Celeste leaned across their porcelain teacups and Samira swung her gaze back to the pretty Parisienne. ‘Bidders will adore the chance to meet the talented princess behind the gorgeous fashions. Your donation to the auction is sure to fetch a huge price.’

Samira fixed on a practised smile and refused to cringe at yet another reference to her royal status.

As daughter of, and now sister to, the Sultan of Jazeer, she knew all too well that royal rank didn’t guarantee happiness.

Her heart lurched but she kept her gaze on her companion, not letting it stray to the other side of the opulent room.

She reminded herself she was a pragmatist. Her successful design business benefited from the cachet of her aristocratic name. Designs by Samira had taken off these last few years. Her clientele, among the globe’s ultrawealthy, appreciated working with someone who understood their world, who promised absolute exclusivity and confidentiality. She had far more than many women dreamed of: independence, success, wealth.

What right had she to yearn for more?

Yet still that bone-deep ache persisted, no matter how often she reminded herself how lucky she was. For what did the trappings of success mean when deep at the heart of you there was...nothing?

Samira bit her lip. She would conquer this. She would!

‘I’m looking forward to it, Celeste.’ Samira wrenched her thoughts back to tonight’s gala. ‘You and your team have done a marvellous job pulling it all together. How, exactly, will the auction work? What do you want me to do?’

Celeste launched into an explanation of the auction, the exclusive invitation list and the business opportunities tonight’s event would present.

Yet, businesswoman though she was, Samira couldn’t conjure answering enthusiasm. Perhaps because, having been born to status and privilege, mixing with the stratosphere of European society held no thrill for her.

Was this all there was? Long days of work followed by an endless round of society events where she’d mix business, pleasure and occasional philanthropy, and leave feeling alone and empty?

Samira blinked and gave herself a mental shake, refusing to linger on the maudlin thoughts that had edged her consciousness for so long.

She leaned back in her chair, nodding as Celeste emphasised a point, letting her weary body relax for the first time, it felt, in days.

That was it. She was exhausted. No wonder her attention strayed. She’d been in consultation with a new first lady in South America yesterday about a gown for an inauguration ball, then had stopped off in New York to see another client, only arriving in Paris an hour ago.

When she rested she’d be herself, eager to be caught up once more in the challenges of business, and especially the joy of designing.