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An Arabian Courtship

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THE ORGAN played Purcell as Polly came down the aisle, parchment-pale, her screened gaze avoiding the tall, exquisitely dressed male watching her with untraditional cool from the altar. Throughout the past fortnight of hectic preparations she had existed in a dream state, her brain protectively hung in an emotional vacuum. That was the only way she had coped.

Her mind shifted inexorably back to her parents’ dismay when they had realised that Raschid was not remaining with them as a house guest. She had hoped…what had she hoped for? Dismay had swiftly become acceptance. In awe of him, her parents had put up no objections. They were not even attending the second ceremony in Dharein. From the moment Polly left the church she would be on her own.

At the altar she received a wide smile from the smaller, younger man to Raschid’s right—presumably his brother Asif. Reddening, she dropped her head and the vicar’s voice droned on in her ears. Beside her lounged a primitive male, who regarded her solely as a piece of sexual merchandise he had bought off a shelf. Involuntarily she shivered. Raschid had made it brutally clear that she would have no place in his life beyond the bedroom door. Her blood had run cold under the intensely sexual slide of those assessing eyes, the appraisal of a natural-born predator.

They were on the church steps when she saw Chris. As he waved, her shuttered face came alive. It was three months since their last meeting. Raw and seething bitterness surged up inside her. It should have been Chris beside her posing for the camera…it should have been Chris inside the church. The ceremony she had just undergone was a mockery. Without hesitation she hurried down the steps towards the slim, fair-haired man smiling at her.

‘Aunt Janice said you mightn’t be able to come,’ she murmured tightly.

Chris laughed. ‘Wild horses wouldn’t have kept me from your wedding! You look stunning.’ Grasping both her hands, he looked her over and grinned. ‘What happened to your ambition to be a career woman?’

‘You tell me.’ Responding to his easy smile took all her concentration as she fought back stinging tears. She was embarrassed by her adolescently eager dash to his side, but the familiar sight of him had drawn her instantly.

‘Hey,’ he scolded, and the underlying seriousness of his gaze deepened, ‘the bride’s not supposed to cry! Whirlwind romance or not, I hope he’s the right man for you. You deserve the best.’

Polly’s throat closed over. The truth of what lay behind her sudden marriage would have appalled him, yet pride kept her silent. What more proof did she require of his indifference to her as a woman? He would dance at her wedding with a light heart. He had never realised how she felt about him, and now he never would. ‘I wouldn’t have settled for less.’ Her over-bright smile stretched to include Asif as he approached them.

‘Sorry, I have to kidnap the bride. The photographer’s fuming,’ he explained in a clipped Oxbridge accent.

‘Oh, lord, I forgot about him!’ Polly gasped.

He steered her away, lustrous dark eyes skimming her guilty face, his appreciative grin widening. ‘Is there anything else that you forgot? Like a new husband? If you’ll forgive me for saying so, it’s not terribly tactful to go surging at ex-boyfriends with Raschid around—unless you have a death wish, of course. But I’ll grant you one point. You staggered him—a rare sight to be savoured.’

Reluctantly Polly met Raschid’s veiled gaze a moment later. ‘I’m sorry,’ she lied.

He cast her a grim glance. ‘You don’t appear to know how to behave in public,’ he drawled in an icy undertone that flicked down her spine like the gypsy’s warning. ‘But you will be taught, of that I assure you.’

In angry disbelief, still trembling from the force of her disturbed emotions, she flared, ‘Who the blazes do you…?’

His jawline clenched. ‘I will not tolerate disrespect from you!’

Gritting her teeth, Polly spun to walk away again. The long-suffering photographer had finished.

Raschid’s hand closed round hers, denying escape, but she broke her fingers violently free, muttering bitterly, ‘Tell me, what do you do when you’re not bullying women half your size? Beat them? I’d sooner know now!’

The blaze of fury that silvered his gaze shook her rigid. Had they not been surrounded by people she had the certain knowledge that she would have discovered exactly what Raschid did for an encore. Guiltily conscious that hating him for not being Chris was irrational and inexcusable, she retreated hastily.

‘Lordy, what sparked that off?’ Maggie whispered.

‘An unholy temper that I never suspected he had.’ Polly stole a driven glance over her shoulder to check that she hadn’t been followed. A choking sense of trapped misery enfolded her.

She should have apologised on the drive back to the reception at Ladybright, but she didn’t. Like an over-shaken bottle of Coke, she was afraid to uncap her sealed lips lest she explode. Her nerves were jangling a dangerous discordancy. Seeing Chris, so near yet so far, had agonised her, and her self-discipline was threatening to crumble.

Over the meal she did her utmost to ignore Raschid. The tension zapped in the air like static electricity. Unable to face food, she knocked back the champagne. She didn’t even notice how much she was drinking. When everybody began circulating, Polly, who was normally retiring in company, was suddenly to be seen speaking personally to every guest present. Absently marvelling that she no longer felt like throwing herself under a bus, she laughed at another one of Chris’s medical jokes, frowning when Maggie pulled at her sleeve.

‘You have to get changed.’ Maggie hustled her determinedly out of the room. ‘What on earth are you playing at? You’re sozzled! Mother hasn’t even realised—she’s busy telling everybody what wonderful confidence a woman gains from getting married.’

Polly gripped the banister and pronounced with dignity, ‘I have never taken alcohol to ex—excesh in my life.’

‘That’s why it’s gone straight to your head. How could you be so stupid?’ wailed Maggie. ‘Even I can see that Raschid doesn’t like it. Didn’t you notice that he hasn’t touched a drop? He’s not knocking it back like his brother. This just isn’t like you!’

‘But I’m a confident married woman now.’ Polly pirouetted and nearly tripped over her train, remaining dizzily still long enough for Maggie to detach her veil. ‘I shall stand up for myself. I won’t be bullied!’

‘How about strangled?’ her sister groaned, struggling to unzip her. ‘Sometimes you are a klutz, Polly. When Raschid saw you in the church he couldn’t take his eyes off you—and no wonder, you looked ravishing! But now he looks…well, if I were you, I’d eat humble pie.’

‘Rubbish—start as you mean to go on,’ Polly overruled as if her craven evasiveness had been the first step in a deliberate offensive.

‘And as for the way Chris kept on following you about…’

‘Any reason why he shouldn’t have?’ snapped Polly, turning her head away. When would she ever see Chris again? If she had made the best of a last opportunity to be with him, who could blame her?

Maggie frowned uncomfortably. ‘He couldn’t take his eyes off you either. I’ve never seen Chris act like that with you before.’

Polly hadn’t noticed anything. An insane thought occurred to her. Wouldn’t it be simply hysterical if Chris had finally appreciated that she was a woman and not a sister the day she married someone else? Macabre and unlikely, she decided bitterly.

Attired in her elegant going-away outfit, she was propelled out on to the landing to throw her bouquet. She peered down at all the upturned faces and swayed, dropping the bouquet in their general direction. Negotiating the stairs rivalled coming down an escalator the wrong way. On the bottom step she lurched, and strong arms came out of nowhere and caught her.

‘Whoops!’ she giggled, clashing accidentally with sapphire eyes that emanated all the warmth of an icebox. ‘Go on the wagon,’ she mumbled as if she was making a New Year resolution, the remainder of her alcohol-induced euphoria draining away. ‘Promish.’

The hiccups started on the way to the airport. Clapping a hand to her mouth in horror, she tried to hold them in. It was about then that she began to notice the silence. By the time she was steered into the opulent cabin of the private jet, she was sending Raschid’s hard-edged profile unwittingly pleading glances.

The derisive charge of the look she received nearly pushed her over the edge into tears. She fumbled for the right words of apology for her outburst on the church steps. After take-off, she voiced them hesitantly.

Raschid leant forward without warning and snapped hard fingers round her narrow wrists to yank her up to face him. ‘You are drunk!’ he raked down at her in disgust.

‘T-tiddly,’ Polly corrected unsteadily, moisture shimmering in her unhappy eyes.

His contempt unconcealed, he released her to sink back white and shaken into her seat. She mumbled another apology, shrinking from the shamed awareness that he was right. But just for a while, under the influence of Dutch courage, her fear of him had vanished. Now it was returning in full force, stronger than ever before.

‘Silence!’ he cut across her stumbling apology. ‘Was it not shame enough that I must accept a bride who sells herself for money like a vendor sells his wares in the street? But that you should dare to turn up at that church and then make an exhibition of yourself as my wife is intolerable!’

‘I’m sorry!’ she sobbed again.

‘I told you to keep quiet,’ he lashed icily down at her. ‘I may have been deceived, but it is you who will suffer for it. After the brazen behaviour I witnessed today, you will find yourself confined to the palace!’

‘I wasn’t going to get out anyway!’ Polly wept all the harder while he towered over her like a hanging judge pronouncing sentence.

‘I will not acknowledge you publicly as my wife until you learn how to conduct yourself like a lady, and I have never seen anything less ladylike than your display this afternoon!’

The harsh condemnation genuinely shattered her. Without warning all the dammed-up tensions and resentments she had been forced by family indifference to suppress exploded from her. Her head flew back. ‘I…hate…you!’ she launched. ‘Don’t you dare insult me. I did my best. I even tried to hide the fact that if it wasn’t for the money, I wouldn’t have married you if you’d been the very last man alive! And if you don’t want me either, I’m just delighted about it! Do you hear me? You’re a domineering, insensitive tyrant, and I shall get down on my knees and beg your father to deport me. No wonder he had to come to England to find you a wife…no wonder!’

During her impassioned tirade, Raschid had frozen. He could not have been more astonished by the diatribe had a chair lifted on its own steam and begun a physical assault on him.

Curled up in a tight ball, Polly squinted up at him through tear-clogged lashes. ‘No woman with an IQ above forty would want to marry you and clank about in chains for the rest of her days, trying not to show how h-happy she is when you’re thousands of miles away…’

‘I believe it is time that you were sobered up.’ He bent down, and Polly was off that seat so fast with a piercing scream that she caught him totally by surprise. Having read brutal retribution into that grim announcement of intent, she lost what control remained to her and squirmed along to the far corner of the couch, tugging off a shoe in the blind, terror-stricken belief that she required a defensive weapon.

The cabin door burst wide, the steward and stewardess rushing in. Polly was quite beyond the reach of embarrassment. Stark fear had her cowering, tears pouring down her cheeks in rivulets.

A dark bar of colour overlaid Raschid’s hard cheekbones. He spoke at length in Arabic and then quietly dismissed their audience. A hand plucked the raised shoe from her stranglehold and tossed it aside. ‘I would not offer a woman violence,’ he ground out with hauteur.

‘I’m numb, I won’t feel it,’ she mumbled incoherently.

A pair of arms firmly scooped her drooping body off the seat. ‘You will feel calmer when you have rested.’

He carried her into the sleeping compartment, settling her down with unexpected care on the built-in bed. Tugging off her stray shoe, he calmly turned her over to unzip her dress. Cooler air washed her spine. In dismay she attempted to escape his attentions, as he glowered down at her. ‘Do you really think that I could be tempted to seize you passionately into my arms at this moment? A hysterical child does not awaken desire within me.’

Having decimated the opposition, he seated himself to divest her smoothly of her dress. Leaving her clad in her slip, he pulled the slippery sheet over her trembling length. Already dazedly recovering from the kind of scene she had never before indulged in, Polly was gripped by remorse. Not only had she affronted him before the cabin staff, she had been unjust. Her resentment would have been more fairly aimed at her parents for cheerfully letting her enter this marriage and blithely ignoring reality.

Could she really even blame them? The pressure on her had been enormous, but she had agreed to marry Raschid. Unfortunately there was a vast gulf between weak resolution and her feelings now that she was on the spot. She swallowed chokily. ‘I don’t know what came over me…I…’

The steady beat of his gaze was unremitting. ‘There is nothing to explain. You were afraid—I should have seen that fear and made allowances for it. But I too have feelings, Polly,’ he delivered with level emphasis. ‘Financial greed may be permissible in a mistress; it is not in a wife. For that reason I have given you little cause to rejoice in the bargain.’

There was something about him in that instant, some deep and fierce emotion behind the icy dignity and hauteur. For the very first time, Polly suffered a driving need to know how he felt. Bitter? Disillusioned? His anger was gone. What she sensed now, she could not name, but it sent a sharp pang of pain winging through her.

She didn’t want to talk about the money. She couldn’t face the reawakening of the chilling distaste he had shown earlier. What would be the point of it? The money lay between them and it could not be removed. But for the money she would not be here. Raschid despised her for her willingness to marry him on that basis alone. The whys and wherefores didn’t abate his harsh judgement. And the revelation that she loved another man would scarcely improve his opinion of her. Suddenly more ashamed than ever, she whispered, ‘I didn’t mean what I said.’

An ebony brow elevated. ‘I am not a fool, but I ask you this—if that is how you feel, why did you marry me?’

She could not bring herself to play the martyr, pleading her family’s need as excuse. Absorbing her unease in the tortured silence, he sighed. Brown fingers brushed a silvery pale tendril of hair back from her warm forehead. ‘I had reason,’ he said softly. ‘To look at you gave me pleasure, and in spite of what you say to the contrary, I could put your aversion to flight so quickly that your head would spin…for when you look at me, Polly, you desire me.’

‘That’s not true!’ Her hostility sprang immediately back to the fore.

The tip of his forefinger skidded languidly along the fullness of her lower lip. His eyes had a richly amused glint now. ‘True, my little Polly,’ he contradicted.

Her mind was a blank. She was shaken by her sudden explosive physical awareness of him. His sexual impact that close was like a punch in the stomach, yet she did not retreat from it. ‘You’re not angry any more,’ she muttered.

‘Be grateful for your visual compensations. I learnt long ago that the perfection Allah denies in the copying of nature is no more easily to be found in human beings, especially in those of your sex,’ he stated quietly. ‘The inviting smile which falsely offers tenderness and understanding—that I do not require from you. You will be as you are with me. That I will respect.’

He slid fluidly upright. ‘We will forget today. I don’t believe you knew what you were doing. Had that been obvious to me, I would not have spoken so harshly.’

Reeling from that imperturbable calm and gravity, Polly was agonisingly conscious of the seismic force of the personality behind the cool front. He had not once lost control. She had behaved appallingly, but he had remained cool-headed enough to see her hysteria for what it was. While grateful for his calm, she squirmed from the lash of his superior perception.

A knock sounded on the door. ‘That will be the meal I requested. You ate very little earlier,’ he reminded her. ‘I also ordered a restorative drink for you—before we parted Asif assured me that it was an infallible cure for a hangover. Drink it and then sleep.’

Disconcerted yet again, Polly couldn’t even look at him. The stewardess entered, darting a nervous glance at Raschid, who appeared to figure in her mind as a wife beater. Guilty pink suffused Polly’s cheeks. He had treated her with a kindness few men would have employed in the circumstances. Dully she reviewed the reckless, thoughtless immaturity of her own showing throughout the day. The contrast did not lift her spirits.

She was wonderfully relaxed when she woke up. Only as she shifted and came into startling contact with a hair-roughened thigh did she realise where she was, and her eyes flew wide.

‘Good morning.’ Raschid leant up on his elbow. Reading her shock, he laughed. He looked ruffled and in need of a shave and unnervingly, undeniably gorgeous. Black hair, golden skin, blue eyes—a devastating combination. Smiling, he moved a hand lazily and tugged a strand of her hair. ‘Come back over here. Or do I have to fetch you?’

‘F-fetch me?’ she quavered.

He snaked out his hand and settled it on her slim waist, his fingers splaying to her hipbone to propel her coolly back towards him.

‘No!’ she gasped in alarm.


‘No…I’m not joking!’ she cried feverishly.

Raschid laced his other hand into the tangle of her hair and held her frightened green eyes steadily. ‘Neither am I, Polly.’ He pulled her the last few inches, sealing her into union with his long, hard length. ‘And there is nothing to fear, only much to discover,’ he promised huskily.

Her hand braced against a sleek brown shoulder, only to leap quickly away again. His dark head bent, the brilliance of his eyes somehow sentencing her to stillness. Taking his time, he brushed her lips with his, and she trembled, lying as rigid as a stone statue in his embrace. He strung a line of light, butterfly kisses over the arc of her extended throat, softly, sensuously dipping a smooth passage across the delicate tracery of her collarbone while his fingers skimmed caressingly over the sensitive skin of her back.

Polly’s limbs turned fluid without her knowledge. A strange heat blossomed in her pelvis. She quivered as his palm curved to the swell of her hip and he moved sinuously against her, teaching her the depth of his arousal and momentarily shocking her back into tension. He nuzzled at the tender expanse below her ear and her cheek curved into the pillow, her body awash with fluttering sensations which completely controlled her. With a soft laugh, he finally returned to her mouth, playfully coaxing, introducing her to the myriad textures of his firm lips and sharp teeth and the velvety roughness of his tongue, until the blood drummed in her veins with burning excitement.

Catherine wheels and shooting stars illuminated the darkness of her mind. It was everything she had ever secretly dreamt of, everything she had never expected to feel, except…except…The thought eluded her. Raschid’s hands traced the shape of her breasts with erotic mastery, moulding, stroking, inciting. A tiny moan escaped her. A searing rush of almost painful pleasure arched her body up into the heat and potency of the all-male body over hers. Then as suddenly she was freed.

Her glazed scrutiny rested on her treacherous fingers. Anchored in the springy vitality of his hair, they prevented him from further retreat. Strickenly she retrieved them.

He skated a mocking fingertip over her ripe mouth, his eyes bright pools of incredible blue, tautness etched over his flushed cheekbones. ‘I am very tempted to enjoy the delights of the bridal chamber with you now.’ Straightening with an earthy groan, he looked intently down at her. ‘However, that would not be wise. But at least you may now appreciate that you need have no fear of me tonight.’

Pushing back the sheet, he slid out of bed, not a self-conscious bone in a single line of his lean, sunbronzed body. Tonight. A blush warmed what felt like every inch of her skin. She had lain there and actually let him…at no stage had she objected. But on a level with that shockingly polished technique of his, her experience was nil. Raschid could not be compared to the teenage boys, full of selfish impatience, who had grabbed her roughly, attempting to infuse her with a matching passion, only to fail. Never once had she understood what she was supposed to feel during those embarrassing sessions.

Now, in the arms of a male who was virtually a stranger, she found out, and she was in shock. Had he been Chris she would not have been surprised. But he wasn’t Chris and he wasn’t remotely like Chris. Nor could she ever recall yearning for Chris to touch her. That accidental acknowledgement slid in and jolted her. It was true, she realised in bewilderment. Picturing herself drifting from the altar with Chris, she had then seen them in a dozen cosy settings, but never in one that centred on sexual intimacy. Something in her retreated uneasily from an image of Chris as a lover. Confused by the awareness, she buried it. Hadn’t she seen friends succumb to dangerous physical infatuations that burnt out through the lack of any more lasting fuel? Her feelings for Chris had always seemed infinitely superior. She had felt safe. She knew better, she had thought.

And Raschid taught her differently. Carelessly, easily, with the light touch and control of an expert lover, he had showed her what physical hunger was—a wanting, unreasoning ache without conscience, powerful enough to destroy every scruple. She was disgusted with herself. And dear heaven, he was like Jekyll and Hyde! Whatever she might have expected, it had not been that heart-stoppingly sensual persuasion which had effortlessly overcome her resistance. He bewildered her.

He had calmly referred to the wedding night still to come. Panic reclaimed her. What had she done in marrying him? Suddenly she was waking up to the full portent of what marrying Raschid entailed. How could she go through with it? How could she actually go to bed with a stranger? She was not some medieval maiden raised to be bartered in matrimony. Environment had not conditioned Polly to submissively accept her fate without argument.

She was sitting up when Raschid reappeared from the shower-room, towelling his hair dry. Crimsoning at the amount of masculine flesh on view, Polly lost inches of recaptured poise and studied the bed. ‘We need to talk,’ she muttered.

‘I am here.’

Nervously she breathed in. ‘Earlier you seemed to make it pretty clear that I couldn’t be the sort of wife you want.’ She paused. ‘Maybe you’d prefer to call a halt now.’

‘A halt?’

‘An annulment.’

An unexpected laugh greeted her stilted suggestion. ‘I presume you are trying to amuse me?’

Indignantly she glanced up. He looked totally unfamiliar in flowing robes of soft cream. ‘Actually I’m being constructive,’ she told him.

‘Don’t you think your desire to be—constructive,’ he repeated the word very drily, ‘is a little late?’

Polly bit her lip. The suggestion had been born of cowardly impulse. Undoubtedly it must seem to him as if she wanted to renege on the agreement after having collected the profits. ‘But you said you wouldn’t acknowledge me,’ she protested lamely.

‘I too may say things in anger which I do not mean. I seriously doubt that you have a drink problem, and even if you had,’ his beautifully shaped mouth slanted expressively, ‘you are unlikely to find any outlet for it in Dharein.’

‘I don’t understand you!’ Frustration rose in her.

‘Our meetings to date have not encouraged either of us to behave naturally,’ he returned with infuriating composure. ‘And to talk of annulment now when we are married is really quite ridiculous.’

Defensively she stiffened. ‘That’s the only time you could talk about annulment…you don’t give a damn how I feel, do you?’

He viewed her narrowly. ‘You would like me to be honest? I came to your home with no idea of what reception awaited me there. I cherished no inclination to marry any woman.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ she cut in.

‘I believe you heard me, Polly. Nor can I accept that this news surprises you.’

Hearing was not always believing. He had not wanted to marry her. The information stung and shocked like a sudden slap on the face. A deep sense of incredulous mortification crept over her. ‘Then why did you come?’ she asked.

‘In the hope that you might withdraw as I could not.’ Raschid dealt her an unrelentingly sardonic glance, his mouth cynically set. ‘But that hope was swiftly laid to rest, wasn’t it? However I might have behaved, my proposal would have been acceptable to you and your family. But I am not one to quarrel with what cannot be altered. You are beautiful. Insh’allah. It could have been worse.’

As she listened with a slowly dropping jaw, a tide of rage unfettered by reasoning even of the meanest form was building inside her. ‘How could you marry me thinking like that? It could have been worse,’ she parroted in enraged repetition. ‘And how…dare…you get into bed with me!’

Raschid bound a gold agal round his headress. ‘There may be a certain piquancy to our mutual reservations, but they are unlikely to spill over into the marital bed. There you do not find my attentions offensive.’

‘Don’t you dare throw that at me now! I had no idea what you were thinking then!’ she rebutted stridently.

‘I have explained my feelings to you.’ The inflection was one of definite reproof, clipped and controlled. ‘Now I suggest you dress suitably for your audience with my father. We will be landing soon.’

Sudden moisture gritted her eyelids and she blinked, her anger deflated. Raschid was gone, and she was unutterably crushed by what he had coolly dropped on her. The black joke of the century was on them both. Prince Raschid ibn Saud al Azarin had not wanted to marry her either. Damn him to hell! she thought abruptly. If that was true, why were they here now? Why had he even come to Ladybright? Oh, she wanted to scream! Some outdated code of honour had made him come, had made him refrain from admitting his unwillingness. But now—when he told her it was too late—he had slung it at her with hauteur, as if Polly and her family had gone in pursuit of him with a shotgun. Now she could review his grim and guarded manner at their first encounter. She had fallen hook, line and sinker for an act. The arrogant swine had actually been trying to put her off!

Equating his arrival with unquestioning acceptance of the marriage, she had been too wrapped up in her own anxieties to appraise his attitude logically. But why had he gone through with it? Her thoughts chased in concentric circles, her temper rising afresh. He had the gall to inform her bluntly that her sole saving grace was her face and figure. Suddenly she was dismissed as an individual and reduced to the level of a sexual plaything. It could have been worse—indeed? If it crossed her mind that there was a strong hint of the biter bit in her enraged reaction, she refused to identify it.

‘The obvious solution is a divorce as soon as possible,’ she pronounced, entering the cabin, her slender curves fetchingly attired in a full-length pale green gown which accentuated her air of spun silver delicacy.

‘Don’t be a child, Polly.’ Raschid glanced up from the papers he was studying at his desk, awarding her reappearance the most cursory interest.

She folded her arms, wrathful at being ignored. ‘If the only thing that brought you to Ladybright was that stupid assassination attempt on your father and the crazy promise he made then, I’m not being childish.’

Blue-black lashes swept up like silk fans. ‘I cannot refrain from saying that the attempt might have ended in a death which would have been tragic for my country’s survival and stability,’ he replied abrasively. ‘But I will concede that I too consider that promise to be rather…odd. My father is not a man of ill-judged impulse.’

‘But, like him, you believe in this honour nonsense.’

‘A concept which few of your sex have the unselfishness to hold in esteem. The pursuit of the principle infrequently leads down a self-chosen path,’ he delivered crushingly. ‘Nor was I made aware of the pledge between our fathers until three weeks ago.’

Polly was astonished. ‘Only three weeks ago?’

‘There was no reason for me to be told sooner. When I married at twenty, you were still a child. Since my father could not have supposed that an Englishwoman would desire to enter a polygamous marriage—’ He paused. ‘Although having met you and your family, I would not be so sure.’

It took her a minute to unmask that base insult. She flushed to the roots of her hairline while he spoke on in the same coolly measured tone.

‘My father cannot always have believed in that promise to the degree which he presently contends. Had it been otherwise, I would have been informed of it years ago,’ he asserted. ‘But I understand his motivation and I speak of it now, for it is no secret within the palace. It has long been my father’s aim to force me into marriage again.’


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