Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(5)

By: Trish Morey


‘Rafiq,’ she said, as he took her outstretched hand and pressed it to his lips before drawing her into the circle of his arms. ‘It’s been too long.’

‘I was here just a few weeks ago,’ he countered, as they both settled onto the cushioned floor, ‘for Cousin Xavian’s wedding.’ He didn’t bother to correct himself. Maybe Xavian wasn’t his blood cousin, and his real name wasn’t Xavian but Zafir, but as children they’d grown up together and he was as much family as any of them.

‘But you didn’t stay long enough,’ his mother protested.

He hadn’t stayed long, but it had been the warehouse fire in Sydney that had cut his visit even shorter than he’d intended. He’d made it to the ceremony, but only just, and then had had to fly out again before the festivities were over.

Only now could he appreciate how disappointed his mother must have been. The two years since her husband’s funeral had not been hard on her, her skin was still relatively smooth, but there were still the inevitable signs of aging. Her hair was greyer than he remembered, and there were telltale lines at the corners of her blue-grey eyes that he couldn’t remember. Sad eyes, he realised for the very first time, almost as if her life hadn’t been everything it should have been. Sad eyes that suddenly reminded him of another’s…

He thrust the rogue thought away. He was with his mother; he would not think of the likes of her. Instead, he took his mother’s hands, squeezing them between his own. ‘This time I will stay longer.’

His mother nodded, and he was relieved to see the smile she gave chase the shadows in her eyes away. ‘I am glad. Now, you will have coffee?’ With a grace of movement that was as much a part of his mother as her blue-grey eyes, she poured them coffee from the elegant tall pot, and together they sipped on the sweet cardamom-flavoured beverage and grazed on dates and dried figs, while his mother plied him with questions. How was business? How long was he staying? What items were popular in Australia? What colours? Had he come alone? What style of lamp sold best? Did he have someone special waiting for him at home?

Rafiq applied himself to the questions, carefully sidestepping those he didn’t want to answer, knowing that to answer some would lead to still more questions. Three sons, all around thirty years old, and none of them married. Of course their mother would be anxious for any hint of romance. But, while he couldn’t speak for his brothers, there was no point in his mother waiting for him to find a woman and settle down.

Not now.

Not ever.

Once upon a time, in what now felt like a different life, he’d imagined himself in love. He’d dreamed all kinds of naive dreams and made all kinds of plans. But he’d been younger and more foolish then—too foolish to realise that dreams were like the desert sands, seemingly substantial underfoot and yet always shifting, able to be picked up by the slightest wind and flung stinging into your face.

It wasn’t all bad. If there was one thing that had guaranteed the success of his business, it was his ability to learn from his mistakes. It might have been a painful lesson at the time, but he’d learned from it.

There was no way he’d make the same mistake again.

His mother would have to look to his brothers for grandchildren, and, while he had difficulty imagining their reckless younger brother ever settling down, now that Kareef was to be crowned he would have to find a wife to supply the kingdom with the necessary heirs. It was perfect.

‘Give it up, Mother,’ he said openly, when finally he tired of the endless questions. ‘You know my feelings on the subject. Marriage isn’t going to happen. Kareef will soon give you the grandchildren you crave.’

His mother smiled graciously, but wasn’t about to let him off the hook. Her questions wore on between endless refills of hot coffee and plates of tiny sweet pastries filled with chopped dates and nuts. He did his best to concentrate on the business questions, questions he could normally answer without thinking, but his heart wasn’t in it. Neither was his head. Not when the back of his mind was a smouldering mess of his own questions about a raven-haired woman from his youth, his gut a festering cauldron poisoned with the bitterness of the past.

Because she was here, in Shafar.

The woman who’d betrayed him to marry another.

Sera was here.

‘Rafiq?’ His mother’s voice clawed into his thoughts, dragging him back. ‘You’re not listening. Is something troubling you?’

He shook his head, his jaw clenched, while he tried to damp down the surge of emotions inside him. But there was no quelling them, no respite from the heaving flood of bitterness that threatened to swamp his every cell—and there could not be, not until he knew the answer to the question that had been plaguing him ever since he’d recognised her.

Hot Read

Last Updated

Recommend

Top Books