A grieving sheikh and a distrustful academic hunt for a mythical diamond, discovering love amidst ancient secrets and their own wounded hearts.
Sheikh Zaire’s heart lies buried with his beloved. He's rebuilt his life as a ruler of a desert kingdom beset by threats from neighboring countries. Enter Rosana, a fiery academic clawing her way from the ashes of an oppressive past. Driven by the hunt for a legendary diamond, she lands in Zaire’s domain, a whirlwind of defiance and captivating beauty.
Thrust together by forces beyond their control, Zaire and Rosana embark on a quest for the Bahr Al Noor diamond through sun-scorched dunes and ancient palaces. As they chase the whispers of the lost gem, they discover a treasure far more precious—a love neither dared to believe possible. Yet, Rosana's past casts long shadows, leaving her guarded and untrusting. Zaire, haunted by grief, clings to a heart he thought forever turned to stone.
Can Zaire break free from the shackles of his past and learn to love again? Can Rosana shed the armor forged in betrayal and open her heart to a man who offers not just a crown, but a love that defies the sands of time? Unravel the secrets of the desert in this passionate tale of a sheikh, a scholar, and a diamond that holds the key to their destinies.
Publisher : Bay Books (December 26, 2023)
Language : English
Paperback : 196 pages
Item Weight : 9.8 ounces
Dimensions : 5 x 0.45 x 8 inches
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The palace reception room was full, exactly the way King Zaire liked it. He stood with his brothers, ostensibly listening to the latest anecdote from his youngest brother, Amare, but cast sweeping glances around the room from time to time with a frown. Because what he didn’t like was what he was looking for.
Darrius nodded toward the door. “If you’re looking for our honored guest, she’s just arrived.”
Zaire gave an annoyed grunt, but didn’t turn around. He knew who Darrius meant.
“You can’t ignore her, you know,” said Darrius thoughtfully, looking at Zaire. “I mean, she is the daughter of the King of Harran and, as our neighbor—”
“And our greatest problem,” interjected Zaire.
“Indeed. But neighbor or problem — either way, you need to treat her with respect.”
“You have to earn respect. And all she’s earned is my wariness. I wouldn’t trust her or her family. Which is why I’ve made it my business to inform her father of her visit.”
“You’ve done what?” asked Darrius in surprise.
“Made sure her father knew she was coming here. He’ll hate it, of course. It would make his allies believe he’d switched allegiances from them to us, which would definitely be bad for business.” Zaire shrugged. “Anyhow, I couldn’t resist stirring up the old man.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Darrius.
Zaire shrugged again. “It can’t hurt.” He stopped short of telling Darrius exactly the rumor he’d set into circulation, ensuring Rosana’s father heard it, because he felt an unusual stab of conscience at the lie. “Anyway, at least it’s making use of the woman’s visit here. I can tell you, I am not looking forward to it.”
“She was…” Darrius paused as he groped for a positive word for Rosana. “Fine, when she visited with her family.”
Zaire shot him an incredulous look. “Fine? You call arrogance, silence and rudeness, fine? And then there’s her coldness. My God, when she looks at you, it’s a wonder she doesn’t freeze off your—”
Darrius looked up suddenly, coughed loudly and placed a hand on Zaire’s arm, stopping him from naming that part of his most intimate anatomy which her gaze would freeze.
“What’s the matter?” said Zaire.
Darrius extended his other hand behind Zaire. “Welcome, Sheikha Rosana. It is a pleasure to meet you again.”
Zaire turned around to see Darrius shaking hands with the object of their conversation, who had no doubt heard everything they’d just said. His distrust of her deepened. Who the hell crept up on people like that? A sweeping glance revealed she was of medium height, and had dark, cold eyes—it was all that could be gleaned from her starchy abaya and scarf. But… her lips—his gaze lingered there. It would have taken a saint not to as they were surprisingly full and luscious. He didn’t remember her lips. He certainly didn’t remember them. No doubt her mouth had been covered last time they’d met, as her ultra strict father would have insisted.
She suddenly straightened, standing a little taller, as if aware of his scrutiny. Her manner was chill and forbidding. Darrius’s wife, Leonora, had described her as dignified. Zaire wouldn’t. She was arrogance personified, and that arrogance was focused on him now. Her lips were forgotten.
“Your Highness,” she said. The words sounding facetious—more like an insult than a greeting. “I’m so sorry to interrupt your…” She hesitated, revealing that she knew exactly what he’d been about to say. “Your conversation.”
He raised an eyebrow, irritated by being on the back foot. “Are you?”
“Oh, yes. Wouldn’t anyone be curious as to know what exactly my ‘coldness’—I think you called it—would freeze off?”
He ground his teeth. Another thing that had changed about her. Last time he couldn’t remember her uttering anything more than mumbled acknowledgements under the severe stare of her father. Now it didn’t look as if she were going to hold back. But, as much as he’d have liked to reply in kind, he knew he’d been in the wrong. He’d been rude. He wasn’t usually rude—well, not to people’s faces, anyway. And he hated being in the wrong.
“You misunderstood, sheikha. I was referring to…” He’d hoped a lie would spring into his mouth, but nothing emerged. Because her eyes, which at first glance had appeared as cold as he remembered, suddenly flashed hot as soon as he had spoken. She knew he was going to lie and was angry at the added insult to her intelligence. The heat in her face transformed her, revealing an entirely different woman to the one he’d remembered. If he’d had to describe in one word what that heated gaze had revealed, he’d have said passion. His gaze, inevitably, fell to her lips once more. Before he could consider this revelation further, a clap on his back from Amare broke his reverie.
“Zaire was referring to our vizier’s wife.” Amare leaned close to Rosana. “She’s a shocker,” he said confidentially, before withdrawing with a smile. “But let’s not moan about your staff’s family in front of Rosana! May I call you Rosana, sheikha?”
Rosana nodded, and any trace of heat disappeared back behind her reserve. She inclined her head on a neck which, Zaire couldn’t help thinking, would be graceful beneath her conventional scarf. “Yes, you may. We are—or were—neighbors, and we will be working together.”
“And you are here to discover the whereabouts of the diamond. Like your colleagues.”
She raised an arched eyebrow. “Now your wives.”
Amare laughed. “Indeed. Funny that.” He glanced at Zaire, whose icy stare killed Amare’s laughter dead. Amare cleared his throat.
“And I will be working with you on my task,” continued Rosana.
“Ah, about that,” said Amare. He looked from Zaire back to Rosana. Zaire could read him like a book. He was wondering how on earth Zaire and Rosana were going to work together. “It will be my brother you’ll be working with.”
Rosana frowned. “But I thought Darrius would be returning tomorrow to be with Leonora. At the desert palace?”
Amare grimaced. “Not that brother.”
Zaire could see the moment Rosana understood the situation. He hadn’t thought her expression could become any frostier. She turned to him, her eyes haughty. “That would leave you, then, Your Majesty. But I’m sure you have business to attend. Maybe this could be delegated to one of your assistants? I sincerely doubt you wish to aid me in my work.”
There was a challenge in her eyes, which surprised him. Maybe she’d heard as much about him as he had of her. The thought intrigued him. What had she heard? What pre-conceptions of him did she hold in her mind? That clear forehead which shielded that clever mind wrinkled a little and her brow raised in question. What? Then he remembered she’d asked him a question.
“I am committed to helping you.” He deftly avoided addressing her implication that he had no interest in either her of the diamond. He didn’t. But he didn’t wish her to know all his thoughts. “Of course I will help you. Exactly as my brothers have helped your colleagues.”
The eyebrow rose a little higher, and it took him all his control not to laugh.
“Maybe not exactly. They went a little further than ‘helpful’,” he added.
It seems she was not amused by his allusions. “Indeed. I have no curiosity about how far, or otherwise, they went. All I need from you is to gain access to certain rooms in the palace so I can test my theory.”
“And that,” he said, “is all you will get.” He forced a tight-lipped smile onto his face. She might have a full figure lurking beneath those stiff robes, she might have eyes that held depths he hadn’t imagined, and lips that were generous with a sweet curve to them, but, really, she was as unbearable as he remembered.
She shot him a tight-lipped smile. “And that is all I want, I assure you.” She glanced around. “I trust I can begin my work first thing tomorrow morning?”
“Of course. I’ll organize someone to take you to wherever you wish to go.”
“Excellent. Then,” she said, casting an arrogant, sweeping gaze at Amare and then back to him, “I’ll leave, as it seems your fear of my gaze freezing off your balls has extinguished your legendary charm.”
He couldn’t help it. He grinned before he could control it. Her forthright reply was so unexpected that he not only smiled, but laughed out loud. Her face didn’t move an inch, only became heated again.
“You find something funny?”
He forced his laugh into a cough. “I didn’t realize I had any charm, let alone it was the stuff of legends.”
“I concur,” she said stiffly and was about to walk away when Amare stepped in, shooting a warning frown at Zaire.
“Please, Rosana, stay a little longer. You’re quite correct my brother is severely lacking in niceties, but I assure you his heart is in the right place.”
She didn’t look at Zaire. “And I can assure you, I have no interest in his heart or its locality. I really must be leaving now.”
“But you have so much in common!” said Amare. Zaire could hear the desperation in his voice and knew its source. Amare positively glared at Zaire now and nodded knowingly behind her back. He knew what he was referring to. They’d talked earlier about the need to make Rosana’s visit go as smoothly as possible, given her royal status, and the ongoing tensions between their two countries, and Zaire knew he wasn’t helping. He was king now, whether he liked it or not, and he had to control his heated temper and work for the good of the country. “You should invite Rosana to see your horses,” continued Amare.
“Horses?” Zaire frowned and turned to Rosana, whose eyes had unaccountably brightened. “You like horses?”
“Yes!” she said, with more liveliness in that one word than he’d heard all evening. “I mean…” Was it his imagination or was that a blush seeping up through her cheeks and uncertainty filling her eyes? “I mean, I used to.”
He was confused. “Used to? You mean you don’t like horses anymore?”
“No. I mean, yes.” She took a deep breath, and he was suddenly quite enchanted by this confused woman before him. It was as if her shell had cracked, revealing something far more alluring beneath—something uncertain, feminine, and most definitely appealing. As she looked up into his eyes, something caught and tangled between them. Had it been anyone else, he’d have called it attraction. But this was Sheikha Rosana, he reminded himself. The epitome of chill and hostility, the epitome of everything he disliked about the Al Khal royal family. The woman he was going to use.