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An Arabian Courtship

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«An Arabian Courtship» - Линн Грэхем

Polly Barrington must uncover the true nature of her new husband. Because heÂ?s not the autocratic, arrogant, controlling man she thought she married for the sake of her family. Instead, Prince Raschid is breaking down the carefully constructed barriers around her heart, leaving her nowhere to hide.Between passion-filled nights in his desert palace and glorious days beneath the sultry sun, Polly wonders if she should resist the intense attraction between them, or trust her husband with her heart and give herself to him completely.
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is one of Mills & Boon’s most popular and bestselling novelists. Her writing was an instant success with readers worldwide. Since her first book, Bittersweet Passion, was published in 1987, she has gone from strength to strength and now has over ninety titles, which have sold more than thirty-five million copies, to her name.

In this special collection, we offer readers a chance to revisit favourite books or enjoy that rare treasure—a book by a favourite writer—they may have missed. In every case, seduction and passion with a gorgeous, irresistible man are guaranteed!

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

An Arabian Courtship

Lynne Graham

Table of Contents

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten


POLLY’S throat constricted when she saw the long limousine turning through the gates of her home. She linked her hands together to stop them trembling. Prince Raschid ibn Saud al Azarin was about to arrive. She turned away from the view.

‘Why are you standing over there?’ her fifteen-year-old sister demanded. ‘You won’t be able to see him.’

‘I think I can wait for that pleasure,’ Polly muttered tightly.

Maggie was swiftly joined by twelve-year-old Joan and four-year-old Elaine, who had not a clue what the excitement was about but was determined not to be left out of it. The window-seat was a tight squeeze for the three of them, each craning their necks for a better view. In an effort to to calm her nerves, Polly breathed in slowly. What her sisters were finding so fascinating was sheer purgatory for her. Could this be real? she asked herself tautly. This was England in the eighties, an era of female liberation. How could she possibly be on the brink of an arranged marriage to a complete stranger? But she was.

‘The car’s stopping…it’s got a little flag on the bonnet. Those must be the colours of the Dhareini royal family.’ It was Maggie cheerfully keeping up the running commentary. ‘The chauffeur’s getting out…oh, he’s very dark, he does look foreign…he’s opening the rear door…I can see a trouser leg…’

‘Oh, for pity’s sake, stop it!’ The plea broke from Polly on the back of a stifled sob, shocking everybody into silence.

Guiltily biting her lower lip, Maggie watched her sister sink down into one of the shabby nursery armchairs, covering her face briefly with her spread hands.

‘He’s not wearing robes,’ complained Joan.

‘Shut up!’ Maggie gave her a pointed nudge. ‘Polly’s not feeling well.’

Joan stared at her eldest sister with unconcealed horror. ‘You can’t be ill now! Daddy will blow a gasket and Mummy’s nearly in orbit as it is!’

‘Polly!’ cried Maggie suddenly. ‘Raschid is gorgeous—I’m not kidding!’

‘Prince Raschid,’ Joan corrected loftily. ‘You can’t be too familiar.

‘For heaven’s sake, he’s going to be our brother-in-law!’ Maggie shot back witheringly.

Polly flinched visibly. Her temples were pounding with the nagging beat of a tension that no amount of painkillers would put to flight. The morning had crawled past. Hardly anybody had talked over the lunch table. Polly hadn’t eaten. Her father hadn’t eaten either. As if he couldn’t stand the look in Polly’s helplessly accusing eyes any longer, he had taken himself off to the library even before dessert arrived.

Maggie placed an awkward hand on Polly’s taut shoulder. ‘He really is scrumptious-looking, honestly he is.’

‘Then why can’t he buy a wife at home?’ Polly spluttered tearfully into her tissue, her nerves taking her over again.

‘Scram!’ Maggie glowered at Joan and Elaine. ‘And don’t you dare tell Mother that Polly’s crying!’

Irritated by these histrionics, the ever practical and status-conscious Joan frowned. ‘What’s she got to cry about? She’s going to be a princess. I wouldn’t cry, I’d be over the moon.’

‘Well, isn’t it a shame you weren’t the eldest?’ Maggie threw the door wide.

The door slammed. Ashamed of her over-emotional behaviour, Polly pushed an unsteady hand through the silvery blonde curls falling untidily over her brow and wiped at her wet eyes. ‘I still can’t believe this is really happening,’ she confided stiffly. ‘I thought he mightn’t turn up.’

‘Dad said there was no question that he wouldn’t, it being a matter of honour and all that.’ Maggie sounded distinctly vague. ‘Isn’t it strange that we all used to laugh when Dad bored on about the time he saved King Reija’s life by stopping a bullet? I mean, if we’ve heard that story a hundred times, we’ve heard it a thousand,’ she exaggerated. ‘And I used to pull your leg something awful about you becoming Wife Number Two…it was a family joke!’

Well, it certainly wasn’t a joke now, Polly conceded miserably. Thirty-odd years ago Ernest Barrington had been a youthful diplomat attached to an embassy in one of the Gulf States. During his years in the Middle East he had spent his leave exploring neighbouring countries. On one such trip he had ventured into the wilds of Dharein in Southern Arabia, a country still torn by the fierce feuds of warring tribes and relatively little more civilised than it had been a century earlier. Her father had been taken ill on that particular journey and had sought assistance from a nomadic encampment presided over by Prince Achmed, brother of Dharein’s feudal ruler, King Reija.

Fearing for the young Englishman’s health, Achmed had taken him to the palace outside Jumani where he had received proper medical attention. There he had recovered his strength, and shortly before his departure he had been honoured by an invitation to join a royal hunting party.

Out in the desert an assassination attempt had been made on his royal host. The details of that shocking episode were somewhat blurred. Polly’s father tended to embellish the story year by year, pepping it up to keep it fresh. Shorn of extras, the most basic version ran that, seeing a rifle glinting in the sunlight, Ernest had thrown himself in front of the King and dragged him to the ground, suffering a minor head wound in the process. Overcome by gratitude and a sense of masculine fellowship, King Reija had stated there and then that his firstborn son would marry Ernest Barrington’s firstborn daughter.

‘Let me tell you, I was pretty taken aback,’ Ernest was wont to chuckle at that point in the story. ‘I wasn’t even married then! But it was obviously the highest honour the King could think to offer. I should add that, since he’s highly suspicious of Westerners, it was an even bigger mark of esteem.’

Thus the tale had been told to entertain dinner guests—a rather lighthearted anecdote of exotic climes and a bygone age. Ernest had not met King Reija again. He had retired from the Diplomatic Service as soon as his bachelor uncle died, leaving him a country estate several miles outside Worcester. However, twelve years ago he had chortled when he learnt of Raschid’s marriage to Prince Achmed’s daughter, Berah. The news had come by way of an elderly diplomat dining with them. Since then the family had often teased Polly about Raschid, reminding her that the Koran permitted a follower of Islam four wives. But never had anybody seen the idea of Polly marrying an Arab prince as anything other than hilariously funny.

Only when their father found himself in serious financial difficulties a month ago had he thought of renewing his acquaintance with King Reija. As Raschid’s father was coming to London on a diplomatic visit, Ernest had requested an appointment with him. ‘I shall ask him for a loan. I should think he’d be delighted to help,’ he had contended confidently. ‘I can’t understand why I didn’t think of this sooner.

He had duly gone off to keep his appointment at the Dhareini Embassy. Even before he left home the grey anxiety and strain which had marked him for days had been banished by a very characteristic surge of optimism. Since Ernest had long since forgotten his Arabic, King Reija had talked courteously to him through the offices of an interpreter. Family updates had naturally been exchanged. Ernest had cheerfully produced a photograph of the four daughters and infant son he was so proud of possessing. In return his host had informed him that Raschid had been a widower for four years. Berah had died tragically after tripping and falling down a steep staircase. She had been only twenty-six.

‘Naturally I offered my condolences…it could never have occurred to me that the old boy could be leading up to making a thirty-five-year-old promise good. But once I was on the spot, as it were, it wasn’t that easy to work up to mentioning the loan,’ Ernest had confessed. ‘You could have knocked me down with a feather when he announced that his conscience had long been troubled by his failure to honour that promise. I lost no time in assuring him that no offence had been caused, but he seemed annoyed at that, so I dropped the subject. Even when he began asking questions about Polly, I still hadn’t an idea of what was on his mind.’

Polly had listened, as aghast as her mother initially was, while the older man lumbered at ever slower pace to the climax. ‘He told me that it was his dearest wish to see Raschid married again, and then he shook hands with me and the interpreter said, “It is agreed” and I said, “What’s agreed?”

‘“My son will take your daughter as his bride,” came the reply. I was struck dumb!’ her father had bleated, mopping at his perspiring brow. ‘Then he started talking about the bride price and things just got out of my hands altogether…if they’d ever been in them, for he’s a wily old buzzard. Hard to think, though, where there could be any advantage to him in the arrangement. The chap really does take this honour business very, very seriously.’

Surfacing from these unwelcome memories, Polly emitted a choked laugh. ‘I was sold! Why did I ever believe that white slavery was a thing of the past? It’s a wonder Dad didn’t ask for my weight in gold!’

Maggie’s eyes were reproachful. ‘Polly, that sounds so awful!’

It is awful, Polly reflected bitterly. Why couldn’t the King have offered her father a loan? Why had there had to be conditions attached? Even as she thought that, her saner self intervened to point out that her father was in no position to repay a loan.

‘Dad said there was no pressure on you and that it was a decision that only you could make. I know—I was listening outside the library door,’ Maggie admitted grudgingly. ‘He didn’t say you had to marry Raschid.’

That he had ever entertained the crazy concept at all, however, had been effective proof of his desperation. Maggie was still at the age where she saw no flaws in her parents. The sad truth was that Ernest Barrington was much too fond of the good things in life and had always lived above his income. Ladybright had been a small and prosperous estate when he inherited it, but the income from the land had never been up to the demands of a large family and a busy social calendar. When the bank had announced their intention to foreclose and force the sale of Ladybright to settle a backlog of mortgage repayments and an enormous overdraft, the accumulated debts of years of extravagance had finally been catching up on their father.

King Reija had stunned her desperate parent with the offer of a huge cash settlement, equal to meeting his debts and securing the family fortunes into the next generation. A drowning man thrown a rope does not hesitate. Polly doubted that her father had objected to the terms once the money was mentioned; he had been dazzled by the miraculous solution to all his problems. Within an hour of his return home, his attitude of apology and bluster had changed into one of determined good cheer.

‘I’m not surprised I’ve taken your breath away, Polly,’ he had been saying by then. ‘A prince—what’s more, a prince who will eventually become a king.’

Her mother had already had the stirrings of dreamy abstraction on her face. Ten minutes later she had whispered reverently, ‘My Polly, a princess!’

Anthea Barrington had been in an awed state of ecstasy ever since. Indeed, both of Polly’s parents had a remarkable talent for glossing over unpleasant realities. The jaws of the steel trap had closed round Polly slowly but surely. How could she personally sentence her family to poverty? Her mother was no more capable of coping without money than her father was. And what about her sisters and little Timothy, presently building up his bricks at her feet? Could she deny them the secure and comfortable upbringing which she herself had enjoyed when it was within her power to do otherwise?

And for what good reason could she deny her family her help? It was not as though she was sacrificing the chance of a loving marriage at some time in the future. Why shouldn’t she marry Raschid and make everyone happy? The man she loved did not love her…at least, not in the right way. Chris Jeffries was very fond of her, but he treated her like a sister.

His parents were neighbours and close family friends. Polly had known Chris since childhood. And that, she had grasped dully, was the problem. Chris thought of himself as the big brother she had never had.

Polly’s teenage years had not been painless. She had often turned to Chris for comfort when the going got rough in her own home. A late bloomer, she had been a podgy ugly duckling in her slim and beautiful mother’s eyes. She had been further cursed by shyness in a family where only extroverts were admired. Anthea had never been able to hide the fact that quiet, studious Polly was a distinct disappointment as a daughter. A boy-crazy, clothes-mad teenager always on the trot to parties would have delighted her; one who worked hard at school and went off to university intending to train as a librarian had not. Chris, two years her senior and already enrolled in medical school, had been the only person to understand and support Polly’s academic aspirations.

Loving Chris had been so easy. If she had a problem he was always ready to listen. From adolescence Polly had innocently assumed that she would eventually marry Chris. When her puppy fat had melted away and she miraculously blossomed into a slender young woman with a cloud of pale hair and flawless features, she had shyly awaited the awakening of Chris’s interest in her as a girlfriend. It had never happened, she reflected painfully.

A year ago at her nineteenth birthday party she had been forced to accept that her dreams were that—just dreams. Chris had lightly introduced her to his current girlfriend as ‘Polly, my honorary kid sister,’ affection and warmth in his manner and no hint of any other form of feeling. She had stopped living in her imagination.

Returning to university, she had sensibly thrown herself into the dating scene that she had scrupulously avoided during her first two terms. But the dates she had since ventured out on had without exception turned into disastrous grappling sessions concluded by resentful and bitter accusations that she was frigid and abnormal. Her efforts to forget Chris had got her nowhere. She still loved him; she was convinced that she would always love him.

Since she would never marry Chris, did it really matter who she married? Reasoning on that coldly practical basis, she had agreed to marry Raschid and solve her family’s problems. And once she had agreed, everybody had forgotten the financial bribe and had begun to behave as if she was being singled out for some great honour.

Unfortunately a decision forged in the valiant heat of the moment was tougher to sustain in the hard face of reality. Reality was the arrival of that car outside and the awareness that downstairs was a stranger who was to become her husband, no matter what he was like and no matter how he behaved. She had given her word and she could not go back on it now. Why would she anyway? A spinster in the family would break her mother’s heart. It was ironic that for the very first time she was shining like a bright star on her mother’s ambitious horizon.

‘You’re not dressed yet!’ Anthea’s harassed lament from the door shattered her reverie. ‘You can’t possibly let Raschid see you looking…’

‘The way I usually do?’ Polly slotted in drily. ‘Well, he might as well see what he’s getting, and I’m no fashion-plate.’

‘Don’t be difficult, darling,’ Anthea pleaded, elegantly timeless in her silk suit and pearls. ‘You simply must get changed!’

‘Where is he?’

‘In the library with your father. We discussed the wedding arrangements. St Augustine’s of course, but apparently there’ll have to be a second ceremony after you fly out to Dharein. We had a very interesting chat before I left them,’ she confided with an almost girlish giggle. ‘Do you realise that Raschid didn’t see his first wife’s face until after the wedding? Evidently that’s how they do it over there.’

Polly shuddered. She hadn’t even met Raschid and already the wedding was fixed! In addition her mother was managing to behave as if this peculiar occasion was quite commonplace. ‘It’s barbaric!’ she protested.

‘Now, darling!’ Anthea reproved. ‘At least he’s broken with tradition to come and meet you properly. What may seem strange to us is perfectly normal to him.’

‘You think it’s normal for a male of thirty-two to let his father pick a foreign bride sight unseen?’ Polly exclaimed helplessly. ‘You think he’s doing me a favour in even coming here?’

‘He is a prince, Polly.’

‘I don’t care!’

‘Parents often do know what’s best for their children,’ Anthea was beginning to sound shrill. ‘Remember what your father said—the divorce rate on arranged marriages is very low.’

In receipt of that grim reassurance, Polly was hurried down to her bedroom where the dreaded dress hung on the wardrobe door—powder-pink georgette. She would look like a little girl in a frilly party dress. What flattered Anthea at five foot nine did considerably less for a daughter of five foot one. Outright panic suddenly seethed up inside her. ‘I can’t go through with this…I can’t!’ she burst out.

‘Of course you’re nervous—that’s only natural,’ Anthea soothed. ‘Raschid’s bound to be staying for a few days, and you’ll get over that silliness. You really don’t seem to appreciate how lucky you are.’

‘L-lucky?’ gasped Polly.

‘Any normal girl would be thrilled to be in your position,’ Anthea trilled irritably. ‘At eighteen I was married and at nineteen I was a mother. Believe me, I was a lot more happy and fulfilled than you’ve ever been swotting over boring books. When you have your first baby you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.’

The threat of future offspring turned Polly as white as a sheet. ‘A baby?’

‘You love children and he doesn’t have any. Poor Berah must have been barren,’ Anthea remarked cheerfully. ‘Raschid’s father will be very anxious to see a male grandchild born to ensure the succession. Only think of how proud you’ll feel then!’

Her mother was on another plane altogether. Children…intimacy…Polly was feeling physically sick. The prospect of being used to create a baby boom in Dharein did not appeal to her. No wonder King Reija had decided she was suitable! She was one of five children.

‘He’s wonderfully self-assured for his age, so charming and quite fabulously handsome. One can tell simply by looking at him that he’s a prince. He has an air,’ Anthea divulged excitedly. ‘His manners are exquisite—I was very impressed. When one considers that he wasn’t educated over here like his brother Asif, his English is excellent. Not quite colloquial, but…’

The rolling tide of her mother’s boundless enthusiasm was suffocating.

‘I’ll put your hair up—you’ll look taller.’ Hairpins were thrust in with painful thoroughness. ‘He has the most gorgeous blue eyes. Can you believe that?’ Anthea gushed. ‘I was dying to ask where he got those, but I didn’t like to.’

What the heck did Polly care about blue eyes? Her mother had fallen in love with her future son-in-law’s status. He could do no wrong. If he’d been a frog, Anthea would have found something generous to say about him. After all, he was a prince, wasn’t he?

‘I’m so happy for you, so proud.’ With swimming eyes Anthea beamed down at her. ‘And it’s so romantic! Even Princess Diana was an earl’s daughter.’

In appalled fascination Polly stared while Anthea dabbed delicately at her eyes with a lace hanky.

‘Polly!’ Her father’s booming call, polished on the hunting field, thundered up the stairs. ‘Where the devil are you?’

She could practically hear the tumbril pacing out her steps to the execution block. But when she froze at the top of the stairs, only her father’s impatient face greeted her stricken scrutiny.

‘Come on…come on!’ He was all of a fluster, eager to get the introduction over with. That achieved, he could sit back and pretend it was a completely ordinary courtship. Clasping her hand, he spread wide the library door. He was in one of his irrepressible, jovial host moods. ‘Polly,’ he announced expansively.

Ironically the very first thing Polly noticed about the tall, black-haired male, poised with inhuman calm by the fireplace, was his extraordinary eyes—a clear brilliant blue as glacier-cool as an arctic skyline and as piercing as arrows set ruthlessly on target.

Ernest coughed and bowed out. He nudged her pitilessly over the threshold so that he could close the door behind her. Once she was inside the room, Polly’s legs behaved as if they were wedged in solid concrete. She awaited the charm she had been promised, the smooth breaking of the horrible silence. Unable to sustain that hard, penetrating appraisal, she fixed her attention on a vase of flowers slightly to the left of him.

‘You cannot be so shy.’ The accented drawl was velvet on silk and yet she picked up an edge within it. ‘Come here.’

Tensely she edged round a couch. He didn’t move forward a helpful inch. What was more, the nearer she got, the bigger he seemed to get. He had to be well over six feet, unusually tall for one of his race.

‘Now take your hair down.’

Her lashes fluttered in bemusement. ‘M-my h-hair?’

‘If it is your desire to become my wife, you must learn that I do not expect my instructions to be questioned,’ he drawled. ‘When I command, my wife obeys.’

Polly was transfixed to the spot. That cool of absolute conviction carried greater weight than mere arrogance. She flinched when he moved without warning. Long fingers darted down into her hair, and in disbelief she shut her eyes. He was a lunatic, and you didn’t argue with lunatics. He was so close she could smell a trace of expensive aftershave overlying the scent of clean, husky male. In other words, he was ten times closer than she wanted him to be. Her bright hair tumbled down to her shoulders, the pins carelessly cast aside.

‘You are amazingly obedient.’ Abrasion roughened the low-pitched comment.

Reluctantly, fearfully, she looked up. Some treacherously feminine part of her was seized by an almost voyeuristic fascination. He was superbly built, dramatically good-looking. Even Polly would have sneaked a second glance had she seen him somewhere on the street. High cheekbones intensified the aristocratic cast of his features. Sapphire-blue eyes were set beneath flaring dark brows, his pale golden skin stretched over a savagely handsome bone structure. Up close he was simply breathtaking. But in spite of his gravity and the sleek trappings of a sophisticated image, Polly sensed a contradictory dark and compelling animal vibrancy. He had the unstudied allure of a glossy hunting cheetah, naturally beautiful, naturally deadly. He also had a quality of utter stillness which unnerved her. Overpowered, she instinctively retreated a step, steadily tracked by fathomless blue eyes.

His cool, sensual mouth firmed. ‘In the circumstances, your timidity seems rather excessive. I value honesty above all other virtues. It would be wiser if you were to behave normally.’

Silence fell.

‘You are still very young,’ he continued. ‘Can you really have reflected upon the kind of life you will lead as my wife?’

Anybody with the brain power of a dormouse would have run a mile the moment they paused to reflect, Polly decided ferociously. Why did she have to stay put? Because, as Maggie had innocently reminded her, this had been her decision. Her lips moved tremulously into a firmer line. ‘Of course I’ve thought it over.’

‘You are probably aware that as I handle my country’s investment funds, I frequently travel abroad, but as my wife, you will remain in Dharein. You will not accompany me,’ he emphasised. ‘There you will mix only with your own sex. You will not be able to drive a car. Nor will you be allowed to leave the palace either alone or unveiled. From the hour that I take you as my bride, no other man may look upon you if that is my wish. Within our household we will even eat separately. Perhaps you have heard that certain members of my family are less strict in their observances of these traditions. I am not. I would not wish you to be in ignorance of this fact.’

Ignorance suddenly seemed like bliss. He described an existence beyond the reach of Polly’s imagination. Purdah—the segregation of the sexes that resulted in the practice of keeping women in strict seclusion. Sufficiently challenged by the thought of marrying him, all she could produce was a wooden nod.

Audibly he released his breath. ‘You cannot have been accustomed to many restrictions. I understand that your parents regularly entertain here.’

‘I don’t put in much of a presence.’ Polly was thinking of her mother’s wrath when she had hidden in a landing cupboard at the age of eleven sooner than recite poetry to family friends.

A winged jet brow ascended. ‘When I entertain, you will have no choice.’

Her forehead indented. ‘But you can’t entertain women on their own?’

His brows pleated.

‘You just said that I’d never see another man again. I wouldn’t be much use as a hostess,’ she pointed out flatly.

A disconcerting quirk briefly shifted his unsmiling mouth. ‘It is possible that I have been guilty of some exaggeration on that count,’ he conceded. ‘But you must understand my surprise that a young woman, raised in so free a society, should be willing to enter an arranged marriage. I was concerned that you might have erroneously assumed that your position as my wife would grant you an exciting and glamorous existence.’

‘I expect it to be dull.’ The impulsive admission just leapt off Polly’s tongue. She shrank from the incredulous glitter irradiating his narrowed stare. ‘I mean, not dull precisely, but—well, an Arab wife, who has servants and doesn’t get out either…well,’ she was faltering badly, ‘she can’t have very much to do with herself.’

‘An Arab wife concerns herself with the comfort of her husband,’ he intoned coldly.

He was most erratic in his arguments. ‘But you said you wouldn’t be around much.’

Even white teeth showed in an almost feral slash against his bronzed skin. ‘By that I wished to warn you that I will not dance attendance on you.’

But you expect me to dance attendance on you! she thought. He was a male chauvinist pig, an award-winning specimen. He put chauvinism in line with a capital offence. Stonily she studied the carpet. ‘Yes.’

‘Our alliance will be one of extreme practicality,’ he delivered in hard addition. ‘I am not of a romantic disposition. I tell you this…’

‘You didn’t need to. You wouldn’t be here if you were romantic,’ Polly interrupted thinly. ‘I suppose Mother said something which made you worry that I might be suffering from similar delusions. I’m not.’

For a male receiving a reassurance he had surely sought, Raschid looked unrelentingly grim. ‘This becomes clear. Then we are of one mind. I will not receive complaints of neglect when I am involved in the business concerns which take up most of my time.’

By the sound of it, if she ran into him once a week she would be doing well. She smiled. ‘No, I won’t complain.’

‘Had I sacked Dharein from border to border, it appears that I could not have found a more conformist and submissive bride,’ he declared very softly. ‘But I warn you of this now—should we prove incompatible, I will divorce you.’

That was a piece of good news Polly had not even hoped for. How could they be compatible in any field? He intimidated her. A close encounter with an alien would have been less terrifying. The unashamed threat of domestic tyranny echoed in all his stated requirements.

‘You have nothing to say to this either?’ he prompted in a husky growl. ‘You are composed and content with this future?’

‘Are you?’ Glancing up unwarily, Polly encountered a hypnotically intense stare which burned flags of pink into her fair skin. A curious tightening sensation clenched her somewhere down deep inside. It made her feel very uncomfortable.

A chilling smile slanted his well-shaped mouth. ‘Could I be impervious to the allure of such beauty as you possess?’

No doubt this was an example of the charm her mother had mentioned, and it was absolutely meaningless. When Raschid had first seen her in the doorway, neither admiration nor warmth had coloured his impassive appraisal.

‘Although I should confess that I am not in accord with the meeting of East and West in marriage,’ he added smoothly. ‘I will treat you with consideration and respect, but I will not alter my way of life. The adaptation required will, necessarily, be yours alone. I can only accept your word that you feel yourself equal to this challenge.’

Out of the blue the strangest suspicion came to her, infiltrating her self-preoccupation. Could he possibly want her to refuse him? Surely he could not have come here to invite a rejection which would be an intolerable insult to one of his race and status? Polly cast aside that highly unlikely interpretation. A purist might have respected his refusal to offer empty reassurances about their future together. But all he achieved was a deepening of each and every one of Polly’s nervous terrors at the picture of herself, marooned in a strange environment, forced to follow foreign customs while at the mercy of a husband who planned to make no allowances for her.

‘I’ll do my best,’ she mumbled, hating him with every fibre of her being for redoubling her fear of the unknown. He defined an existence which chilled her to the marrow.

He studied her downbent head. ‘I can ask no more of you. One must hope that the sacrifices entailed are not more than you find the elevation worthy of. Since I have established to my own satisfaction that you fully comprehend the nature of our future relationship, there can be no necessity for a further meeting between us.’

Laser-bright eyes met her startled upward glance in cool challenge.

‘But you’ll be staying now…for a while?’ she queried.

‘Unfortunately that will not be possible. Late this evening I am leaving for New York,’ he revealed. ‘Nor will it suit my schedule to return here again before the wedding.’

Nonchalantly untouched by her dismay that he cherished no plans to stay on as her parents expected, he bent down to enclose lean fingers to her wrist and raise her firmly upright. Her knees were cottonwool supports. Dazedly she watched him clamp a heavy bracelet to her wrist.

‘Your betrothal gift,’ he explained, answering her blank stare.

Of beaten gold and studded with precious stones, it was decorated with some primitive form of hieroglyphics. Polly was put grotesquely in mind of a slave manacle. Valiantly she tried to express gratitude.

A cool hand pressed up her chin, enforcing contact with black-lashed eyes of lapis lazuli which were dauntingly enigmatic. Raschid ran the forefinger of his other hand very lightly along the smooth curve of her jawbone, silently studying her, and somehow, while he maintained that magnetic reconnaissance, she could not move. A peculiar disorientation swept her with light-headedness. He dropped his hand almost amusedly. ‘I think you will be very responsive in my bed, Polly. I also suspect that you may find your training as a librarian of small advantage to you there. But I await enlightenment with immense impatience…’

Had the door not opened, framing her parents’ anxious faces, Polly would have fled there and then. A deep crimson had banished her pallor. Raschid turned to them with a brilliant smile. ‘Your daughter is all that I was promised—a pearl beyond price,’ he murmured smoothly. ‘Truly I am blessed that I may claim so perfect a bride.’


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