A Royal Bride at the Sheikh's Command

By: Penny Jordan

PROLOGUE


SHE was in total shock.

She needed very badly to sit down, but of course she couldn’t. For one thing she was still in the Royal Presence Chamber, and, whilst she was a modern go-getting woman, her Nirolian ancestry within her reminded her that she was alone in the presence of Niroli’s King.

And for another…Well, she told herself grimly, the king wasn’t going to welcome seeing any kind of weakness being shown by the bride he had selected for this newly discovered heir. So newly discovered, in fact, that she, the bride-to-be in question, had been sworn to absolute secrecy about the whole thing.

It was of course a story that would attract every member of the paparazzi like blood in the water attracted sharks, and one that could be just as potentially perilous to anyone who obstructed King Giorgio’s plans. She had just learned that these plans required her, as a dutiful subject, to marry this Prince Kadir Zafar, the King’s previously ‘secret’ illegitimate son, for the sake of the island she loved so passionately.





CHAPTER ONE


Venice

SHE might be passionately attached to Niroli, but there was no doubt that Venice had a very special place in her heart, Natalia acknowledged, lifting her hand to try to stop the breeze from playing with the heavy weight of her thick dark curls. She was waiting for the water taxi to take her to her destination, and was totally oblivious to the admiring male looks she was attracting. When one man proved bold enough to murmur, ‘Bella, bella,’ caressingly as he stopped to stand and stare openly at her, she couldn’t help but laugh, her marine blue eyes sparkling with the rich colour of the lido in the sunshine. Just having her sombre mood lightened for a few seconds was a much needed relief at the moment.

It was all very well having sleepless nights and worrying herself half a stone thinner over whether or not she had made the right decision, but what she ought to be asking herself surely was why on earth had she ever agreed to do it in the first place.

The water taxi arrived and she picked up her small weekend bag and stepped into the taxi with ease and elegance. She was a tall woman of close to six feet who wore her height with calm pride.

‘Via Venetii? The Buchesetti Spa Hotel,’ she asked the vaporetto driver.

‘Sì,’ he agreed, with open admiration in his gaze.

The tranquil ride to her destination made Natalia reflect ruefully on the uncomfortable speed with which the direction of her life had suddenly changed. Increasingly she was waking up in the morning feeling as though she had stepped on board a train that had then suddenly picked up speed to such an extent that she was beginning to feel that it was running away with her.

So why had she allowed it to happen in the first place? After all no one had forced her.

No? When your king appealed to you personally for your help to save the future of your country, a country you loved, you didn’t just turn round and say no, did you? At least not if you were a Carini.

The trouble was that, since she had said yes, the list of reasons why in her own interests she would have been better off saying no had begun to grow by the day.

‘Via Venetii,’ the vaporetto driver pointed out to her, interrupting her thoughts. ‘The hotel, she is not far now. Is a very beautiful hotel. You go there before?’

‘Yes,’ Natalia told him. She could see from the expression on his face that the answer had sounded more curt than she had intended. But how could she explain to him how she felt about the fact that she had been obliged to sell her beloved spa hotel on Niroli to this one in Venice?

True, the choice of whom she should sell to had been her own. True, too, that she knew that the new owners, Maya and Howard, would uphold her own high standards, now that they had officially added her spa to their portfolio, but that still did not mean that she was not allowed to grieve for her much cherished and loved ‘baby’, did it?

So why give it up in the first place? Why give up the life she had worked so hard to build for herself to enter into an arranged marriage of state? So that she could be a princess? Natalia almost laughed out loud, the white flash of her even white teeth contrasting with the full warmth of her soft red lips making the driver of the vaporetto sigh in a way that caused Natalia to look away to conceal her amusement.

At twenty-nine she had had ample time to get used to her effect on the opposite sex.

To get used to her effect on the opposite sex, but never to fall in love. And now with her forthcoming marriage to the newly discovered heir to the Nirolian throne she was giving up the chance to do so for ever, wasn’t she? After all, she wasn’t foolish enough to think that a marriage arranged between two strangers by a king whose only thought was to secure the future of his kingdom could by some miracle turn into a passionately intense and lifelong love affair, was she? Not when she had never, ever fallen in love; not when her sole reason for agreeing to this marriage had been her passionate love, not for a man, but for a country, her country, just as her husband-to-be’s desire was directed towards the throne of Niroli and not towards her. Could it work? Was she as mad as she was beginning to think to have agreed to marry Prince Kadir just so that she would be there at his side to ensure that he ruled her beloved country with wisdom and love? If only there were someone she could turn to for advice, but there wasn’t. The king had forbidden her to discuss the matter with anyone.

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