Bram Ansari had answered the phone without looking up from a document
that had just arrived by courier. ‘Hamad… I was about to call you.’
‘Then you’ve received the summons to Father’s birthday
‘It arrived ten minutes ago. I imagine I have you to thank for that.’
‘No. It’s his wish. He’s sick, Bram. It’s a significant birthday. You
need to be home.’
His brother did not sound particularly happy at the prospect.
‘I doubt everyone thinks that.’
‘The old man has negotiated a secret deal with the Khadri family.’
‘A deal?’ Bram frowned. ‘What kind of deal?’ The last time he’d seen
Ahmed Khadri the man had threatened to cut his throat if he ever stepped
foot in Umm al Basr. ‘Tell me.’
As his brother explained the secret deal his father had negotiated to
enable Bram to return home the colour leached out of the day until the
sky, the sea, the flowers overflowing the tower turned grey.
‘I’m sorry, Bram, but at least you’re prepared. If Bibi hadn’t managed
to smuggle a note to her sister you would have been presented with a
‘You think I can go through with this?’
‘It’s the price that must be paid.’
‘But I won’t be the one paying it!’ He took a breath. ‘How is your
family?’ he asked, cutting Hamad short when he would have argued. ‘The
sh’Allah, all my precious girls are thriving. Safia sends
her fondest wishes and thanks for the gifts.’ He hesitated. ‘She said to
say that you are always in her prayers.’
Bram ended the call then swept the invitation from the table in impotent
fury. The longed-for chance to kneel at his father’s feet and beg his
forgiveness had come attached to a tangle of string that would take more
than prayers to unravel. It would need a miracle.
The phone beeped, warning him that he had a missed call. He glanced at
the screen and ignored it. His aide was spending a long weekend with
friends in the Alps and the last thing he needed right now was a joyous
description of the snow conditions.
Qa’lat al Mina’a, perched high on its rocky promontory, shimmered like a
mirage in the soft pink haze of the setting sun.
Far below, beyond a perfect curve of white sand, a dhow was drifting
slowly along the coast under a dark red sail and for a brief moment Ruby
felt as if she might have been transported back into some
fantasy, flying in on a magic carpet rather than a gleaming black
The illusion was swiftly shattered as they circled to land.
The fortress might appear, at first glance, to be a picturesque ruin, a
reminder of a bygone age, but behind the mass of purple bougainvillaea
billowing against its walls was a satellite dish, antennae—all the
trappings of the communications age, powered by an impressive range of
solar panels facing south where the
jebel fell away to the desert.
And the tower did not stand alone. Below it she glimpsed courtyards,
arches, gardens surrounding an extensive complex that spread down to the
shore where a very twenty-first century gunmetal-grey military-style
launch was sheltered in a harbour hewn from the rock. And they were
descending to a purpose-built helipad. This was not some romantically
crumbling stronghold out of a fantasy; the exterior might be battered by
weather and time but it contained the headquarters of a very modern man.
they touched down, a middle-aged man in a grey robe and skullcap
approached the helicopter at a crouching run. He opened the door,
glanced at her with astonishment and then shouted something she couldn’t
hear to the pilot.
He returned a don’t-ask-me shrug from his seat. Sensing a problem, Ruby
didn’t wait but unclipped her safety belt, swung open the door and
aleykum. Ismee, Ruby Dance,’ she said, raising her voice
above the noise of the engine. ‘Sheikh Ibrahim is expecting me.’
She didn’t wait for a response but shouldered the neat satchel that
contained everything she needed for work, nodded her thanks to the pilot
and, leaving the man to follow with her wheelie suitcase, she crossed to
steps that led down to the shelter of the courtyard below.
The air coming off the sea was soft and moist—bliss after hours cooped
up in the dry air of even the most luxurious private jet—while below her
were tantalising glimpses of terraces cut into the hill, each shaded by
ancient walls and vine-covered pergolas. There was a glint of water
running through rills and at her feet clove-scented dianthus and thyme
billowed over onto the steps.
It was beautiful, exotic, unexpected. Not so far from the fantasy after
Behind her the pilot, keen to get home, was already winding up the
engine and she lifted her head to watch the helicopter take off, bracing
herself against buffeting from the down force of the blades. As it
wheeled away back towards the capital of Ras al Kawi, leaving her cut
off from the outside world, she half lifted a hand as if to snatch it
Despite her confident assertion that she was expected, it was clear that
her arrival had come as a surprise but, before she could respond to the
agitated man who was following her down the steps, a disembodied voice
rang out from below, calling out something she did not understand.
Before she could move, think, the owner of the voice was at the foot of
the steps, looking up at her and she forgot to breathe.
Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ansari was no longer the golden prince, heir to the
throne of Umm al Basr, society magazine cover favourite—a carefree young
man with nothing on his mind but celebrating his sporting triumphs in
some fashionable nightclub.
Disgraced, disinherited and exiled from his father’s court when his
arrest for a naked romp in a London fountain had made front page news,
his face was harder, the bones more defined, the natural lines cut a
little deeper. And not just lines. Running through the edge of his left
brow, slicing through his cheekbone before disappearing into a
short-clipped beard was a thin scar—the kind left by the slash of a
razor-sharp knife—and dragging at the corner of his eye and his lip so
that his face was not quite in balance. The effect was brutal, chilling,
was never going to be the beast—his bone structure beneath the silky
golden skin was too perfect, the tawny eyes commanding and holding all
her attention, but he was no longer the beautiful young man who had
appeared in society magazines alongside European aristocrats,
millionaires, princes. Whose photograph, trophy in hand, had regularly
graced the covers of the glossier lifestyle magazines.
She was momentarily distracted by a flash of pink as a droplet of water,
caught in the sun’s dying rays, slid down one of the dark, wet curls
that clung to his neck.
She was standing with her back to the setting sun and he raised a hand
to shade his eyes. ‘What the devil?’
Mouth dry, brain freewheeling and with no connection between them, her
lips parted but her breath stuck in her throat as a second drop of water
joined the first, hung there until the force of gravity overcame it and
it dropped to a wide shoulder, slid into the hollow of his collarbone.
She watched, mesmerised, as it spilled over, trickled down his broad
chest, imagining how it would feel against her hand if she reached out
to capture it.
The thought was so intense that she could feel the tickle of chest hair
against her palm, the wet, sun-kissed skin, and instinctively closed her
She hadn’t expected him to be wearing a pin-striped suit or the formal
flowing robes of a desert prince, but it was her first encounter with an
employer wearing nothing but a towel—a man whose masculinity was
underlined by the scars left by his chosen sports.
‘Who are you?’ he demanded.
Not some empty-headed ninny to stand there gawping at the kind of male
body more usually seen in moody adverts for aftershave, that was for
sure, and, sending an urgent message to her feet, she stepped down to
‘Not the devil, Sheikh.’ She uncurled her clenched hand and offered it
to him as she introduced herself. ‘Ruby Dance. I’ve been sent by the
Garland Agency to hold the fort while Peter Hammond recovers from his
Sheikh Ibrahim stared at her hand for what felt like forever, then,
ignoring it, he looked up.
‘Injuries?’ Dark brows were pulled down in a confused frown. ‘What
She lowered her hand. Well, that explained the confusion at her arrival.
Obviously the message about his aide’s accident had failed to reach him.
‘I understand that Mr Hammond crashed off his snowboard early this
morning,’ she replied, putting his lapse of manners down to shock. ‘I
was told that he’d spoken to you.’
‘Then you were misinformed,’ he said. ‘How bad is it?’
‘The last I heard was that he’d been airlifted to hospital. I’ll see if
I can get an update.’ She took her phone from her bag. ‘Will I get a
signal?’ He didn’t bother to answer but she got five strong bars—those
antennae weren’t just for show—and hit the first number on her contact
There were endless seconds of waiting for the international
connection—endless seconds in which he continued to stare at her. It was
the look of someone who was sure he’d seen her before but couldn’t think
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From the book
THE SHEIKH'S CONVENIENT PRINCESS by Liz Fielding
Copyright © 2017
by Liz Fielding