Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(4)

By: Trish Morey


He might be back in Qusay, and he might be a prince, but he wasn’t ready to embrace the old ways yet.

The palace was coming to life when he emerged to make the long walk to his mother’s apartments. Servants were busy cleaning crystal chandeliers or beating carpets, while gardeners lovingly tended the orange and lemon trees that formed an orchard one side of the cloistered pathway, the tang of citrus infusing the air. All around was an air of anticipation, of excitement, as the palace prepared for the upcoming coronation.

He was on the long covered balcony that led to his mother’s suite when he saw a woman leaving her rooms, pulling closed the door behind her and turning towards him, her sandals slapping almost noiselessly over the marble floor. A black shapeless gown covered everything but the stoop of her shoulders; a black scarf over her head hid all but her downcast eyes. One of his mother’s ladies-in-waiting, he assumed, going off to fetch coffee or sweets for their meeting.

And then he drew closer, and a tiny spark of familiarity, some shred of recognition at the way she seemed to glide effortlessly along the passageway, sent the skin at the back of his neck to prickly awareness.

But it couldn’t be.

She was married and living the high life in Paris or Rome, or another of the world’s party capitals. And this woman was too stooped. Too sad.

He’d almost discounted the notion entirely, thinking maybe he hadn’t completely swum off his jetlagged brain after all, when the woman sensed his approach, her sorrowful eyes lifting momentarily from their study of the floor.

A moment was all it took. Air was punched from his lungs, adrenaline filled his veins, and anger swirled and spun and congealed in his gut like a lead weight.

Sera!





CHAPTER TWO




HER kohl-rimmed eyes opened wide, and in their familiar dark depths he saw shock and disbelief and a crashing wave of panic.

And then the shutters came down, and she turned her gaze away, concentrating once more on the marble flagstones as her steps, faster now, edged her sideways, as far away from him as she could get, even as they passed. Her robe fluttered in the breeze of her own making, and the scent of incense and jasmine left in her wake was a scent that took him back to a different time and a different world—a scent that tugged at him like a silken thread.

He stopped and turned, resenting himself for doing so but at the same time unable to prevent himself from watching her flight, bristling that she could so easily brush past him, angry that once again she could so easily dismiss him. So many years, and she’d found not one word to say to him. Didn’t she owe him at least that? Damn it to hell if she didn’t owe him one hell of a lot more!

‘Sera!’ The name reverberated as hard as the stone of the cloister, no request but a demand, yet still she didn’t stop, didn’t turn. He didn’t know what he’d say if she did. He didn’t even know why he’d felt compelled to put voice to a name he’d refused to say even to himself these last ten years or more. He had no doubt she’d heard him, though. Her quickening footsteps were even faster now, her hands gathering her voluminous gown above her feet to prevent her from tripping on its length as she fled.

‘Sera!’ he called again, louder this time, his voice booming in the stone passageway, although she was already disappearing around a corner, her robes fluttering in her wake.

Damn her!

So maybe he was no more interested in small talk than she was, but there was a time once when his voice would have stopped her in her tracks—a time when she could no more have walked away from him than stopped breathing.

Fool!

He spun around on his heel and strode swiftly and decisively to his mother’s apartments. Those days were long gone, just as the girl he’d known as Sera had gone. Had she ever existed, or had she been fantasy all along, a fantasy he’d chosen to believe because it had been the only bright spot in a world otherwise dominated by his father’s tyranny? A fantasy that had come unstuck in the most spectacular fashion!

He was still breathing heavily, adrenaline coursing through his veins, when he entered his mother’s suite. He was led to one of the inner rooms, the walls hung in silks of gold and ruby around vibrant tapestries, the floor covered with the work of one artisan’s lifetime in one rich silk carpet, where his mother sat straight and tall amidst a circle of cushions, a tray laden with a coffee pot and tiny cups and small dishes of dates and figs to one side.

She sat wreathed in robes of turquoise silk, beaming the smile of mothers worldwide when she saw him enter, and for a moment, as she rose effortlessly to her feet, he almost forgot—almost—what had made him so angry.

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