Jewel in His Crown

By: Lynne Graham


THE beautiful brunette lay in the tangled bed sheets watching her lover get dressed. Prince Raja al-Somari had black hair and exotic dark golden eyes. Exceptionally handsome, he was pure leashed power, muscle and magnetic attraction. He was also a wild force of nature in bed, she reflected with a languorous look of sensual satisfaction on her face.

As his mistress, Chloe, one of the world’s top fashion models, certainly had no complaints. But then Chloe was excessively fond of rich men, money and fabulous jewellery. Her prince from the oil-rich country of Najar in the Persian Gulf was staggeringly wealthy and he delivered on every count, so naturally she didn’t want to lose him. When a plane crash had killed the bride in the arranged marriage being planned for Raja, Chloe had breathed a secret sigh of relief for such an alliance could well lead to the end of the most profitable relationship she had ever had. And even if another arranged marriage lurked on the horizon, Chloe was determined to hold onto her lover.

Raja watched Chloe finger the glittering new diamond bracelet encircling one slender wrist as if it were a talisman and his mouth quirked at her predictability. Although the demands of his position had made it difficult for him to see her in recent months, Chloe had subjected him to neither tantrums nor tears. Like most Western women he had met since his university days in England, she was as easy to placate as a child with a shiny new toy. In return for the complete discretion he demanded from his lovers, he was extremely generous but he never thought about his bed partners when he was away from them. Sex might be a necessity to a man of his appetites, but it was also simply an amusement and an escape from the weight of responsibility he carried. As acting Regent and ruler of conservative Najar, he could not openly enjoy a sex life without causing offence.

Furthermore, Raja was always aware that he had much more important issues to worry about. The recent appalling plane crash had devastated the people of Najar and its neighbour and former enemy, Ashur. The future of both countries stood on the edge of catastrophe. For seven years war had raged between oil-rich Najar and poverty stricken Ashur and when peace had finally been brokered by the Scandinavian state leading the talks, the two countries had added a more personal cultural twist to the agreement before they were satisfied that the peace would hold firm. That twist had been an arranged marriage between the two royal families and joint rulership that would ultimately unite Najar with Ashur. Having spent most of his adult life as a businessman before serving his country, Raja had accepted that he had to marry Princess Bariah of Ashur. That she was a widow well into her thirties while he was still in his twenties he had accepted as his royal duty to put the needs of his country first. And his country and his people did desperately need a fresh blueprint for a lasting peace.

Unfortunately for all concerned, a tragedy had lurked in the wings of the peace accord. A fortnight earlier, Bariah and her parents had died in a plane crash. Shorn of its entire ruling family in one fell swoop, Ashur was in deep crisis and the court officials were searching frantically through the Shakarian family tree for a suitable heir to the throne who could take Bariah’s place as Raja’s bride and consort.

His mobile phone buzzed and he lifted it.

‘You have to come home,’ his younger brother Haroun told him heavily. ‘Wajid Sulieman, the Ashuri court advisor, is already on his way here. According to his aide, he is very excited so I expect that means they’ve found another bride for you.’

It was the news that Raja had been waiting for, the news that honour demanded he hope for, but he still had to fight the crushing sensation of a rock settling on his chest to shorten his breathing. ‘We must hope for the best—’

‘The best would be if they couldn’t find anyone else to marry you!’ his youthful sibling opined without hesitation. ‘Why are you letting yourself be forced into an arranged marriage? Are we still living in the Dark Ages?’

Raja’s lean bronzed features were as impassive as he had learned to make them in the presence of others. He rarely spoke without consideration. His wheelchair-bound father had taught him everything he knew about kingship. ‘It is necessary that I do this.’

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