Beauty and the Sheikh

By: Shelli Stevens

Acknowledgments

Huge thanks to Rhonda Helms and my niece Megan for your fabulous editing skills. To my old agent Laura for all the time you invested in my projects. To Marie Force for your mad formatting skills. And finally to my family, friends and readers for being so wonderful and supportive.





Chapter 1



The lights of Raljahar twinkled with life. They were the pulse of a desert city whose future had been on the brink of collapse a decade ago, until he’d inherited his father’s reign and breathed life back into it.

Sheikh Rafiq al Hakimi stepped back from the palace window, pride sweeping through him as he turned his attention away from the vibrant nightlife below. It was a place of indulgence and pleasure, of wealth and elitism. It was his creation, and yet he wanted no part of it.

He looked around the interior of his office, his fortress against a world that offered little mercy and even less compassion.

Rushed footsteps sounded outside in the hallway, followed by the urgent whispers of men who would give their lives for him. Men who served him faithfully and humbly.

What was going on now?

Rafiq strode across the room, his kandura swirling around his legs. He swung open the double doors and scanned the hallway until he saw the commotion near the end of the hall. “What is happening?” he growled.

His servants turned toward him, their eyes wide.

His closest advisor approached and bowed. “Your Majesty,” he said hastily. “Our apologies. It was not our intention to distract you. There is a situation, but it is being taken care of at this very moment.”

Irritation pricked and Rafiq gave a sigh of impatience. “You know I do not care for vagueness, Amjad. I would be apprised of the situation immediately.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Amjad paled and his gaze remained lowered as he continued. “A woman was discovered outside the palace as she attempted to break inside to see you. Of course, her attempts were not successful and she was seized—”

“Who is she?”

“We are not yet certain.”

Rafiq’s frown deepened and he glanced once more down the hallway that led to the marbled foyer of the heavily guarded palace. “Did you have any intention of telling me? When did this happen?”

“Just moments ago, Your Majesty, but there is no need for concern—”

“Do not tell me what there is need for!” he roared, and his advisor trembled in response. “Where is she?”

“Down the hall. She is being questioned. Everything is under control—”

“Min fadlak!” Angry, shrill, and most definitely female, the voice rang out. The two words echoed down the hall, somewhere out of view but within range of hearing.

“Yes. Quite under control.” He gave a sharp nod. “Bring her to my office.”

“But Your Majesty—”

“Bring her to me.” He didn’t need to raise his voice this time—the slight edge to his tone made his advisor whimper, before he scurried away with a mumbled reply.

Rafiq turned and strode back into his office to await her arrival, his curiosity piqued by the woman who hadn’t the sense to be afraid of the consequences of her actions.

Breaking into the palace? Was she dimwitted?

He’d garnered a reputation as a sharp, fair ruler of the kingdom of Raljahar. He’d brought the country back from the near destitution his father had let it slip into, and yet still his people feared him.

But then, how could they not?

It was not only because of his fierce temper. His fingers unconsciously rose to touch the jagged flesh of the left side of his face, tracing the line sweeping down across his neck.

Footsteps sounded outside his office, and he turned in time to see a handful of his bodyguards swarm in, flanking the heavily garbed figure he assumed to be the woman. Rafiq’s mouth tightened and skepticism swept through him. Had he not heard the high-pitched plea in the hall, he might have his doubts the person before him was actually female.

Nearly as tall as some of his guards, the figure struggled fiercely. The burka she wore hid any hint of curves and the veil shielded her face.

An interesting choice in clothes. Though the attire was not entirely unseen among the females of his city, nowadays most women wore modest forms of western clothing. The woman before him could have been a traditionalist to his country, or perhaps just trying very hard to disguise herself…

He suspected the latter.

“Ma ismuk?” he called out sharply, and waited for her to give him her name.

The woman stilled in her struggle, seeming to stare right at him from behind her veil, and then replied almost inaudibly in English, “I don’t speak Arabic very well.”

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