HER DESERT DREAM                                                                                               Harlequin Romance

 

    TRADING PLACES DUET: BOOK TWO

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie's lookalike, girl-next-door Lydia Young, takes Annie’s place for a week.  A week’s holiday in the desert kingdom of Ramal Hamrah doesn’t sound like much of a chore.  She hadn’t counted on disinherited sheikh, Kalil al Zaki joining her.

 

 

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TRADING PLACES DUET

 

Annie wanted anonymity…Lydia wanted the spotlight.

They both found love…

 

BOOK ONE:

CHRISTMAS ANGEL FOR THE BILLIONAIRE

What people are saying ...

 

"Complex characters with powerful chemistry, a compelling conflict and plenty of humour highlight this memorable story.  A keeper."

 

Romantic Times, 4½ stars 

 

"...as whirlwind, fairy tale-ish and downright romantic as I could wish.  And I love the ending."

 

Desert Isle Keeper @ All About Romance

 

"Liz Fielding once again gives readers the pleasant after-glow of reading a good category romance.

Romance Readers Connection, 4 stars


"...Liz Fielding combines superb characterization, wonderful dialogue, witty one-liners, subtle sensuality and poignant romance into an irresistible romance which readers will simply devour!"

 

CataRomance, 4½ stars

taste test...

 

Lydia could not believe the ease with which she moved through airport formalities but when you are an A-list VIP, related to the Queen even if it was at goodness knows how many “removes”, it seemed that the ordinary rules did not apply, the hurdles were set very low.

This wasn’t like taking a budget flight to some holiday destination.

Forget the usual hassle with the luggage trolley.  She hadn’t even seen the bags that Rose had packed for this trip.  

And no one was going to make her line up at a check-in desk.  Clearly, people who flew in their own private jets did not expect to queue for anything

She didn’t have to take off her jacket and shoes, surrender the handbag and briefcase she was carrying to be X-rayed.  Instead she was nodded through the formalities and escorted to the departure lounge by Lady Rose’s security officer. 

Rose had explained that he would see her to the aircraft and after that she’d be on her own, free from all risk of discovery.  And once she was in Ramal Hamrah, ensconced in the luxury of Princess Lucy’s holiday cottage at Bab el Sama, all she had to do was put in the occasional appearance in the garden or on the beach to ensure that the paparazzi were able to snatch pictures of her while she lived like a princess for a week.

It was like some dream-come-true fairytale.  Check out girl to princess.  Pure Cinderella.

All she needed was a pair of glass slippers and a fairy godmother to provide her with someone tall, dark and handsome to play Prince Charming. 

She wouldn’t even have to flee when the clock struck twelve.  She had a whole week before she turned back into Lydia Young, whose job as on the supermarket checkout was occasionally enlivened by a look-alike gig.

She automatically reached for the door to the VIP departure lounge, but it opened as she approached;  a “Lady”, with a capital L, did not open doors for herself.  She was so intent of covering her mistake by adjusting the veil on her hat that she missed the fact that her escort had stopped at the door.  

‘Mr al-Zaki will take care of you from here, madam.’

Who?

She thought the word, but never voiced it. 

All sound seemed to fade away as she looked up.  She was tall, but the knee-meltingly gorgeous man waiting to “take care” of her was half a head taller and as his eyes, dark and intense, locked with hers, she felt the jolt of it to her knees.  And yes, no doubt about it, her knees melted as he lowered his head briefly, said, ‘Kalil al-Zaki, Lady Rose,’ introducing himself with the utmost formality.  ‘Princess Lucy has asked me to ensure that your holiday is all that you wish.’

Graceful, beautiful, contained power rippling beneath  exquisite tailoring, he was, she thought, crazily, the embodiment of Bagheera, the bold, reckless panther from her childhood favourite Jungle Book.  She’d made her father read over and over the description of his coat like watered silk, his voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree. 

Her own, as she struggled for a suitable response, was non-existent.

Kalil al-Zaki might favour well-cut British tailoring over a fancy Ruritanian uniform but he was as close to her own Prince Charming fantasy as she was ever likely to come and she had to resist the temptation to look around for the old lady with wings and a wand who’d been listening in on her thoughts.

‘You’re coming with me to Bab el Sama?’ she managed, finally, knowing that she should be horrified by this turn of events.  The frisson of excitement rippling through her suggested that she was anything but. 

‘There and back,’ he confirmed.  ‘My instructions are to keep you safe from harm.  I have a letter of introduction from Princess Lucy, but the aircraft is waiting and the pilot will not wish to miss his slot.  If you’re ready to board?’ 

Lydia just about managed a nod and the noise flooded back like a shock wave as, his hand curling possessively around her elbow, he walked her to the door, across the tarmac towards the ‘plane.  Where she received shock number two.

When Rose had explained that she’d be flying in a private jet, she’d anticipated one of those small executive jobs.  The reality was a full-sized passenger aircraft bearing the royal livery. 

She’d fantasized about being treated like a princess, but this was the real deal; all that was missing was the red carpet and a guard of honour. 

If they found out she was a fake they were not going to be amused and as Kalil al-Zaki’s touch sizzled through her velvet sleeve, Lydia had to concentrate very hard on marshalling her knees, putting one foot in front of the other.

This was anything but a fairy tale and if she fell flat on her face, there would be no fairy godmother to rescue her with the wave of a wand. 

Concentrate, concentrate…

She’d already had an encounter with one of Rose’s security guards.  He didn’t look at her the way that Kalil al-Zaki had looked and he certainly didn’t touch.  The closest he’d been was when he’d opened the car door and his eyes had not been on her, but the crowd. 

No matter what he said about “keeping her safe”, it was clear that this man was not your standard bodyguard so who on earth was he?

Should she have recognised his name? 

Think…

He’d mentioned Princess Lucy.  So far, so clear.  She was the friend who’d lent Rose her holiday “cottage” for the week.  The wife of the Emir’s youngest son, who was the Ramal Hamrahn ambassador to London. 

Rose had filled her in with all the important background details, a little of their history, the names and ages of their children, so that she wouldn’t make a mistake if any of the staff at Bab el Sama mentioned her or her children. 

But that was it.

This was supposed to be no more than a walk-on role with only servants and the occasional telephoto lens for company. 

A few minutes performing for a bunch of journalists, and getting away with it, had given her a terrific buzz, but playing the part convincingly under the eyes of someone like Kalil al-Zaki for an entire week was in a whole different ball game.

Hopefully, the letter of introduction would fill in the details, she thought as his hand fell away at the top of the steps and she was greeted by the waiting stewardess.

‘Welcome aboard the royal flight, Lady Rose.  I am Atiya Bishara and I will be taking care of you today.’  Then, looking at the flowers she was clutching like a lifeline, ‘Shall I put those in water?’ 

Lydia, back on more-or-less familiar territory began to breath again.  This was the basic look-alike stuff she been doing since she was sixteen years old and she managed to go through the standard “How d’you do?” routine as she surrendered the flowers and the dark pink leather briefcase that exactly matched her hat.  The one Rose had used to conceal the cash she’d needed for her week on the lam, and which now contained her own essentials, including her own passport in the event that anything went wrong.

‘Your luggage has been taken to your suite, Lady Rose.  I’ll take you through as soon as we’re in the air,’ Atiya said, as she lead her to an armchair-sized seat.  

A suite?

Not that familiar, she thought, taking out her cell phone and sending a one word message to Rose to let her know that she’d got through security without any hiccups.  Apart from Kalil al-Zaki, that was, and Rose couldn’t do anything about that.

That done, she turned off the phone and looked around.

From the outside, apart from the royal livery, the aircraft might look much like any other.  On the inside, however, it bore no similarity to the crammed-tight, budget airlines that were a necessary evil to be endured whenever she wanted a week or two in the sun.

‘Would you like something to drink before we take off?’ Atiya asked.

Uh-oh.

Take and off, used in tandem, were her two least favourite words in the English language.  Until now her head had been too busy concentrating on the role she was playing, enjoying the luxury of a chauffeur driven limousine, free-wheeling around the unexpected appearance of Kalil al-Zaki, to confront that particular problem. 

‘Juice?  A glass of water?’

‘Water, thank you,’ she replied, forcing herself to concentrate, doing her best not to look at the man who’d taken the seat on the opposite side of the aircraft.

And failing.  

His suit lay across his broad shoulders as if moulded to him and his glossy black hair, brushed back off a high forehead curled over his collar, softening features that could have been chiselled from marble.  Apart from his mouth. 

Marble could never do justice to the sensuous droop of a lower lip that evoked such an immediate, such a disturbing response in parts of her anatomy that had dormant for so long that she’d forgotten how it felt.

As if sensing her gaze, Kalil al-Zaki turned and she blushed at being caught staring. 

Nothing in his face suggested he had noticed.  Instead as the plane began to taxi towards the runway, he took an envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket and offered it to her. 

‘My introduction from Princess Lucy, Lady Rose.’ 

She accepted the square, cream envelope, warm from his body and although she formed the words, “thank you”, no sound emerged.  Praying that the dark pink net of her veil would camouflage the heat that she had flooded into her cheeks she ducked her head.  It was embarrassment, she told herself as she flipped open the envelope and took out the note it contained. 

Dear Rose, she read.

I didn’t get a chance to call yesterday and explain that Han’s cousin, Kalil al-Zaki will be accompanying you to Bab el Sama. 

I know that you are desperate to be on your own, but you will need someone to drive you, accompany you to the beach, be generally at your beck and call while you’re in Bab el Sama and at least he won’t report every move you make to your grandfather. 

The alternative would be one of the Emir’s guards, good men every one but, as you can imagine, not the most relaxing of companions.

Kal will not intrude if you decide to simply lie by the pool with a book, but you shouldn’t miss out on a visit the souk – it’s an absolute treasure of gold, silks, spices – or a drive into the desert.  The peace is indescribable. 

Do give me a call if there is anything you need, or you just need someone to talk to, but most of all rest, relax, recharge the batteries and don’t, whatever you do, give Rupert a single thought. 

All my love

Lucy

Which crushed her last desperate hope that he was simply escorting her on the flight.  “There and back”, apparently, included the seven days in between.

And things had been going so well up until then, she thought as the stewardess returned with her water and she gratefully gulped down a mouthful. 

Too well. 

Rose’s grandfather had apparently accepted that taking her own security people with her would be seen as an insult to her hosts.  The entire Ramal Hamrahn ruling family had holiday “cottages” at Bab al Sama and the Emir did not, she’d pointed out, take the safety of his family, or their guests, lightly.   

The paparazzi were going to have to work really hard to get their photographs this week, although she’d do her best to make it easy for them. 

There had been speculation that Rupert would join Rose on this pre-Christmas break and if she wasn’t visible they might just get suspicious, think they’d been given the slip.  Raise a hue and cry that would get everyone in a stew and blow her cover.

Her commission was to give them something to point their lenses at so that the Duke was reassured that she was safe and the world could see that that she was where she was supposed to be. 

Neither of them had bargained on her friend complicating matters.

Fortunately Princess Lucy’s note had made it clear that Rose hadn’t met Kalil al-Zaki, which simplified things a little.  The only question left was, faced with an unexpected – and unwanted -- companion, what would Rose do now?

Actually, not something to unduly tax the mind. Rose would do what she always did.  She’d smile, be charming, no matter what spanner had been thrown into her carefully arranged works.

Until now, protected by the aura of untouchability that seemed to encompass the Lady Rose image, she had never had a problem doing the same.

But then spanners didn’t usually come blessed with smooth olive skin moulded over bone structure that had been a gift from the gene fairies. 

It should have made it easier to respond to his smile – if only with an idiotic, puppy-like grin.  The reality was that she had to concentrate very hard to keep the drool in check, her hand from visibly trembling, her brain from turning to jelly.  Speaking at the same time was asking rather a lot, but it certainly helped take her mind off the fact that the aircraft was taxiing slowly to the runway in preparation for the nasty business of launching her into thin air.  Breaking contact with solid ground.

She normally took something to calm her nerves before holiday flights but hadn’t dared risk it today.

Fortunately, ten years of “being” Lady Rose came to her rescue.  The moves were so ingrained that they had become automatic and instinct kicked in and overrode the urge to leap into his lap and lick his face.

‘It would seem that you’ve drawn the short straw, Mr al-Zaki,’ she said, kicking the “puppy” into touch and belatedly extending her hand across the aisle.

‘The short straw?’ he asked, taking it in his own firm grip, with just the smallest hint of a frown.

‘I imagine you have a dozen better things to do than…’ – she raised the letter an inch or two – ‘…show me the sights.’

‘On the contrary, madam,’ he replied, formally, ‘I can assure you that I had to fight off the competition.’

He was so serious that for a moment he had her fooled. 

Unbelievable! 

The man was flirting with her, or rather, flirting with Lady Rose.  What a nerve! 

‘It must have been a very gentlemanly affair,’ she replied, matching his gravity, his formality.

One of his dark brows lifted the merest fraction and an entire squadron of butterflies took flight in her stomach.  He was good.  Really good.  But any girl who’d worked for as long as she had on a supermarket check-out had not only heard it all, but had an arsenal of responses to put even the smoothest of operators in their place. 

‘No black eyes?’ she prompted.  ‘No broken limbs?’

He wasn’t quite quick enough to kill the surprise at the swiftness of her comeback and for a moment she thought she’d gone too far.  He was the Ambassador’s cousin, after all.    One the ruling classes in a society where women were supposed to be neither seen nor heard.

Like that was going to happen…

But then creases deepened in his cheeks, his mouth widened in a smile and something happened to the darkest, most intense eyes she’d ever seen.  Almost, she thought, as if someone had lit a fire in their depths.

‘I was the winner, madam,’ he reminded her.

‘I’m delighted you think so,’ she replied, hanging onto her cool by the merest thread, despite the conflagration that threatened to ignite somewhere below her mid-drift.

 

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 From the book Her Desert Dream by Liz Fielding
ISBN:
978-0263869620

Text Copyright © 2009 by Liz Fielding

Cover Art Copyright © 2009 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by

arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.

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