The Sheikh's Heir(3)

By: Sharon Kendrick



But all that was for show. She kept the real Ella locked away where no one could find her. Or hurt her. Underneath the dazzling exterior, when she was dressed down and chilled out at home, it was a different story. There she could be the person her family had always teased her for being. Bare of makeup, wearing old jeans and a T-shirt—sometimes with paint underneath her fingernails. She wished she was there right now, instead of having to endure the longest evening of her life. A night she would never have believed could happen.

A member of her family was marrying into one of the Mediterranean’s oldest and most revered royal families—and the knives were out. Hadn’t she just heard for herself, via the arrogant sheikh, how the entire Jackson clan were being judged and found wanting? Weren’t the sly eyes of various members of the press watching every move they made, to report with glee how ill-equipped the Jacksons were to mix with the aristocracy?

Well, Ella would show them. She would show them all. Their cruel comments wouldn’t get to her because she wouldn’t let them. She bit her lip, for once feeling vulnerable about the charges which were always levelled at her and her siblings. She worked hard for her living—she always had done—and yet her Jackson surname made people pigeonhole her. They thought she just lay around all day, drinking champagne and generally whooping it up, and yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Raking the comb through her red-brown curls, she checked for any stray smudges of mascara and then applied a final, defiant coat of scarlet lipstick.

There.

Her dangling earrings were swaying in a sparkling cascade and even her blue eyeshadow had bits of glitter in it. Her shiny armour was firmly in place and she was ready to face the braying masses. Let anyone dare try to patronise her!

The sound of music and chatter grew louder as she clattered along the marble corridor in her new shoes. In glossy black patent, with towering silver heels which were wonderfully flattering to the legs, they were a fashionista’s dream and an orthopaedic surgeon’s nightmare. But they made her walk tall and stand straight and tonight she needed that more than anything.

The ballroom was crowded and noisy and Ella’s eyes skimmed the dance floor. The place was packed. Royals mingled with minor television stars, and one-time Premier League footballers who’d worked with her dad were propping up the bar. She could see various members of her family partying away with enthusiasm. Rather too much enthusiasm. Her father was downing a flute of champagne, her mother hovering nearby with an ever-hopeful smile on her face. Which meant that she was worried he was going to get drunk. Or make a pass at someone young enough to be his daughter.

Please don’t let him get drunk, thought Ella. And please don’t let him make a pass at someone else’s girlfriend. Or wife.

There was her sister Izzy dancing, grinding her hips in a way which made Ella turn away with embarrassment. Knowing there was no point in trying to reason with her wayward sibling, she redirected her gaze to the dance floor. Her heart suddenly beginning to pound as her eyes came to rest on a man whose exotic looks marked him out from everyone else.

She blinked. In a room which wasn’t exactly short on the glamour quotient, he drew the eye irresistibly. And yet he looked totally out of place among the glittering throng and she couldn’t quite work out why. It wasn’t just that he was taller than any other man there or that his muscular body was all hard, honed muscle. He looked hungry. Like he hadn’t eaten a decent meal in months. Ella’s gaze roved over his face. A cruel face, she thought with a sudden shiver. His black eyes seemed devoid of emotion and his sensual mouth was curved into a cynical smile as he listened to his blonde dance partner as she lifted her chin to chatter to him.

Ella’s heart missed a beat. It was him. Instinct told her so. The man who had been so unspeakably rude about her family when she’d been hiding in the anteroom. The man she had silently cursed as being arrogant and judgemental. And yet now that she’d seen him, she couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from him.

His olive skin gleamed, as if he’d been cast from some precious metal, instead of flesh and blood. She watched as a beautiful redhead brushed past him, saw the way he automatically glanced at her bursting décolletage without missing a beat.

He was danger and sexuality mixed into one potent masculine cocktail—the kind of man most people’s mothers would warn you to steer clear of. Ella felt a debilitating kick in her belly, as something deep inside her responded to him. As if on some instinctive level, she had discovered something she hadn’t even realised she’d been looking for.

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