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Jewel in His Crown

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«Jewel in His Crown» - Линн Грэхем

A virtuous wife is worth more than rubies… Sheikh Raja al-Somari knows that sacrificing his freedom for the good of his country isn’t a choice; it’s a duty. But he’s going to have to use more imaginative tactics to convince his new bride…Yesterday Ruby Sommerton was an ordinary girl, going to work and gossiping with her flatmate. Now she’s a princess – and is waiting nervously in the bedroom of the Prince’s desert palace! Ruby has a lot to learn – about being royal, how exhilarating nights with her new husband can be…and that an heir is top of his agenda!
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About the Author

‘If you are not prepared to consider a normal marriage what are you suggesting?’

‘A total fake,’ Ruby replied without hesitation, a hint of amusement lighting her unusually serious eyes. ‘I marry you, and we make occasional public appearances together to satisfy expectations, but we’re just pretending to be an ordinary married couple.’

The Prince concealed his surprise and mastered his expression, lest he make the mistake of revealing that inflicting such a massive deception on so many people would be abhorrent to his principles. ‘A platonic arrangement?’

Ruby nodded with enthusiasm. ‘No offence intended, but I’m really not into sex.’

I’m really not into sex, she had confided—and, like any man, he was intrigued. Since she could not make such an announcement and still be an innocent, he could only assume that she had suffered from the attentions of at least one clumsy lover. Raja surveyed her with a gleam of sensual speculation in his dark eyes. Far from being an amateur in the same field, he was convinced that, given the right opportunity, he could change her mind on that score …

About the Author

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.

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in His Crown

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.’

‘Trouble?’ Chloe asked, blue eyes bright with curiosity as Raja set down the phone and lifted his shirt.

‘I have to leave immediately.’

Chloe scrambled out of bed and pressed her lithe pale body to his. ‘But we were going out tonight,’ she protested, looking up at him with wide, wounded eyes while being careful to look and sound hurt and disappointed rather than accusing, for there was very little Chloe didn’t know about keeping a man happy.

‘I’ll make up for it on my next visit,’ Raja promised, setting her to one side to resume dressing.

He was trying not to wonder who the Ashuri representatives had found for him to marry. What did the woman’s identity matter? Hopefully she would be reasonably attractive. That was the most he could hope for. Anything more would be icing on the cake. He suppressed the thought that he was as imprisoned by his royal birth as an animal in a trap. Such reflections were unnecessarily dramatic and in no way productive.

His private jet whisked him back to Najar within hours and his brother was waiting in the limo that met him at the airport.

‘I wouldn’t marry a stranger!’ Haroun told him heatedly.

‘I do it gladly for you.’ Raja was grateful that his kid brother had no such future sacrifice to fear. ‘Right now, after a long period of instability, tradition is exactly what the people in both countries long to have back—’

‘The Ashuris are broke. Their country is in ruins. Why don’t you offer them a portion of our oil revenues instead?’

‘Haroun!’ Raja censured. ‘Watch your mouth. Until we find a feasible framework for this peace agreement we all need to practise great diplomacy.’

‘Since when has the truth been a hanging offence?’ Haroun argued. ‘We won the war yet you’re being bartered off to a bunch of boundary thieves, who were still herding sheep when our great-great-grandfather, Rashid, was a king!’

Conscious that many Najaris would agree with his sibling, for the war had sown deep enmity and prejudice between the people of both countries, Raja merely dealt the younger man an impatient appraisal. ‘I expect a more balanced outlook from a young man as well educated as you are.’

At the royal palace, the grey-haired and excessively precise Ashuri court advisor awaited Raja’s arrival with an assistant and both men were, indeed, wreathed in smiles.

‘My apologies if our timing has proved inconvenient, Your Royal Highness. Thank you for seeing us at such short notice.’ Bowing very low, Wajid wasted no time in making small talk. A man on a mission, he spread open a file on the polished table between them. ‘We have discovered that the only legal and marriageable female heir to the Ashuri throne is the daughter of the late King Anwar and a British citizen—’

‘A British citizen?’ Haroun repeated, intrigued. ‘Anwar was ruler before Princess Bariah’s father, King Tamim, wasn’t he?’

‘He was Tamim’s elder brother. I recall that King Anwar made more than one marriage,’ Raja remarked. ‘Who was the lady’s mother?’

The older man’s mouth compressed. ‘His first wife was an Englishwoman. The alliance was brief and she returned with the child to England after the divorce.’

‘And what age is Anwar’s daughter now?’ Haroun was full of lively curiosity.

‘Twenty-one years old. She has never been married.’

‘Half English,’ Prince Raja mused. ‘And still very young. Of good character?’

Wajid stiffened. ‘Of course.’

Raja was not so easily impressed. In his experience women who coveted the attentions of a prince were only looking for a good time and something sparkly to sweeten the deal.

‘Why did King Anwar divorce her mother?’

‘She was unable to have more children. It was a love match and short-lived,’ the older man commented with a scornful compression of his lips. ‘The king had two sons with his second wife, both of whom were killed during the war.’

Although Wajid was repeating information he was already well acquainted with, Raja dipped his head in respectful acknowledgement for a generation of young men had been decimated by the conflict that had raged for so long. As far as he was concerned if his marriage could persuade bitter enemies to live together in peace, it was a small sacrifice in comparison to the endless funerals he had once been forced to attend.

‘The name of Anwar’s daughter?’

‘The princess’s name is Ruby. As her mother chose to leave Ashur, the royal family took no further interest in either mother or daughter. Unfortunately Princess Ruby has had no training or preparation for a royal role.’

Raja frowned. ‘In which case she would find the lifestyle and the expectations very challenging.’

‘The princess is young enough to learn quickly.’ The court advisor rubbed his hands together with unfeigned enthusiasm. ‘Our advisors believe she can be easily moulded.’

‘Have you a photograph to show my brother?’ Haroun questioned eagerly.

Wajid leafed through the file and extracted a small photo. ‘I’m afraid this is several years old but the most recent photograph we have.’

Raja studied the slender blonde in the miniskirt and tee shirt, captured outside the Ashuri cathedral in their capital city. It was a tourist snap and the girl still had the legginess and slightly chubby and unformed features of adolescence. Her pale colouring was very unusual in his culture and that long blonde hair was exceptionally attractive and he immediately felt guilty for that shallow reflection with his former fiancée, Bariah, so recently laid to rest. But in truth he had only met Bariah briefly on one formal occasion and she had remained a stranger to him.

Less guarded than his elder brother, Haroun studied Princess Ruby and loosed a long low whistle of boyish approval.

‘That is enough,’ Raja rebuked the younger man in exasperation. ‘When can I hope to meet her?’

‘As soon as we can arrange it, Your Royal Highness.’ Not displeased by the compliment entailed in Haroun’s whistle of admiration, Wajid beamed, relieved by Raja’s practical response to the offer of another bride. Not for the first time, Wajid felt that Prince Raja would be a king he could do business with. The Najari regent accepted his responsibilities without fuss and if there was one thing he knew inside out, it was how to be royal. A young woman blessed with his support and guidance would soon learn the ropes.

Please, Ruby,’ Steve pleaded, gripping Ruby’s small waist with possessive hands.

‘No!’ Ruby told her boyfriend without hesitation. She pushed his hands from below her sweater. Although it didn’t appear to bother him she felt foolish grappling with him in broad daylight in a car parked in the shadiest corner of the pub car park.

Steve dealt her a sulky look of resentment before finally retreating back into the driver’s seat. Ruby, with her big brown eyes, blonde hair and fabulous figure, was a trophy and he was the envy of all his friends, but when she dug her heels in, she was as immovable as a granite rock. ‘Can I come over tonight?’

‘I’m tired,’ Ruby lied. ‘I should get back to work. I don’t want to be late.’

Steve dropped her back at the busy legal practice where she was a receptionist. They lived in the same Yorkshire market town. A salesman in an estate agency, Steve worked across the street from her and he was fighting a last-ditch battle to persuade Ruby that sex was a desirable activity. She had wondered if Steve might be the one to change her mind on that score for she had initially thought him very attractive. He had the blond hair and blue eyes she had always admired in men, but his kisses were wet and his roving hands squeezed her as if she were a piece of ripening fruit for sale on a stall. Steve had taught her that a man could be good-looking without being sexy.

‘You’re ten minutes late, Ruby,’ the office manager, a thin, bespectacled woman in her thirties, remarked sourly. ‘You need to watch your timekeeping.’

Ruby apologised and got back to work, letting her mind drift to escape the boredom of the routine tasks that made up her working day. When she had first started working at Collins, Jones & Fowler, she had been eighteen years old, her mother had just died and she had badly needed a job. Her colleagues were all female and older and the middle-aged trio of solicitors they worked for were an equally uninteresting bunch. Conversations were about elderly parents, children and the evening meal, never gossip, fashion or men. Ruby enjoyed the familiar faces of the regular clients and the brief snatches of friendly chatter they exchanged with her but continually wished that life offered more variety and excitement.

In comparison, her late mother, Vanessa, had had more than a taste of excitement while she was still young enough to enjoy it, Ruby recalled affectionately. As a youthful catwalk model in London, Vanessa had caught the eye of an Arab prince, who had married her after a whirlwind romance. Ruby’s birthplace was the country of Ashur in the Persian Gulf. Her father, Anwar, however, had chosen to take a second wife while still married to her mother and that had been the ignominious end of what Vanessa had afterwards referred to as her ‘royal fling’. Vanessa had got a divorce and had returned to the UK with her child. In Ashur daughters were rarely valued as much as sons and Ruby’s father had promptly chosen to forget her existence.

A year later, Vanessa, armed with a substantial payoff and very much on the rebound, had married Curtis Sommerton, a Yorkshire businessman. She had immediately begun calling her daughter by her second husband’s surname in the belief that it would enable Ruby to forget the family that had rejected them. Meanwhile Curtis had sneakily run through her mother’s financial nest egg and had deserted her once the money was spent. Heartbroken, Vanessa had grieved long and hard over that second betrayal of trust and had died of a premature heart attack soon afterwards.

‘My mistake was letting myself get carried away with my feelings,’ Vanessa had often told her daughter. ‘Anwar promised me the moon and I bet he promised the other wife he took the moon, as well. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, my love. Don’t go falling for sweet-talking womanisers like I did!’

Fiery and intelligent, Ruby was very practical and quick to spot anyone trying to take too much advantage of her good nature. She had loved her mother very much and preferred to remember Vanessa as a warm and loving woman, who was rather naive about men. Her stepfather, on the other hand, had been a total creep, whom Ruby had hated and feared. Vanessa had had touching faith in love and romance but, to date, life had only taught Ruby that what men seemed to want most was sex. Finer feelings like commitment, loyalty and romance were much harder to find or awaken. Like so many men before him, Steve had made Ruby feel grubby and she was determined not to go out with him again.

After work she walked home, to the tiny terraced house that she rented, for the second time that day. Her lunch breaks were always cut short by her need to go home and take her dog out for a quick walk but she didn’t mind. Hermione, the light of Ruby’s life, was a Jack Russell terrier, who adored Ruby and disliked men. Hermione had protected Ruby from her stepfather, Curtis, on more than one occasion. Creeping into Ruby’s bedroom at night had been a very dangerous exercise with Hermione in residence.

Ruby shared the small house with her friend Stella Carter, who worked as a supermarket cashier. Now she was surprised to see an opulent BMW car complete with a driver parked outside her home and she had not even contrived to get her key into the front door before it shot abruptly open.

‘Thank goodness, you’re home!’ Stella exclaimed, her round face flushed and uneasy. ‘You’ve got visitors in the lounge …’ she informed Ruby in a suitable whisper.

Ruby frowned. ‘Who are they?’

‘They’re something to do with your father’s family … No, not Curtis the perv, the real one!’ That distinction was hissed into Ruby’s ear.

Completely bewildered, Ruby went into the compact front room, which seemed uncomfortably full of people. A small grey-haired man beamed at her and bowed very low. The middle aged woman with him and the younger man followed suit, so that Ruby found herself staring in wonderment at three downbent heads.

‘Your Royal Highness,’ the older man breathed in a tone of reverent enthusiasm. ‘May I say what a very great pleasure it is to meet you at last?’

‘He’s been going on about you being a princess ever since he arrived,’ Stella told her worriedly out of the corner of her mouth.

‘I’m not a princess. I’m not a royal anything,’ Ruby declared with a frown of wryly amused discomfiture. ‘What’s this all about? Who are you?’

Wajid Sulieman introduced himself and his wife, Haniyah, and his assistant. ‘I represent the interests of the Ashuri royal family and I am afraid I must first give you bad news.’

Striving to recall her manners and contain her impatience, Ruby asked her visitors to take a seat. Wajid informed her that her uncle, Tamim, his wife and his daughter, Bariah, had died in a plane crash over the desert three weeks earlier. The names rang a very vague bell of familiarity from Ruby’s one and only visit to Ashur when she was a schoolgirl of fourteen. ‘My uncle was the king …’ she said hesitantly, not even quite sure of that fact.

‘And until a year ago your eldest brother was his heir,’ Wajid completed.

Ruby’s big brown eyes opened very wide in surprise. ‘I have a brother?’

Wajid had the grace to flush at the level of her ignorance about her relatives. ‘Your late father had two sons by his second wife.’

Ruby emitted a rueful laugh. ‘So I have two halfbrothers I never knew about. Do they know about me?’

Wajid looked grave. ‘Once again it is my sad duty to inform you that your brothers died bravely as soldiers in Ashur’s recent war with Najar.’

Stunned, Ruby struggled to speak. ‘Oh … yes, I’ve read about the war in the newspapers. That’s very sad about my brothers. They must’ve been very young, as well,’ Ruby remarked uncertainly, feeling hopelessly out of her depth.

The Ashuri side of her family was a complete blank to Ruby. She had never met her father or his relations and knew virtually nothing about them. On her one and only visit to Ashur, her once powerful curiosity had been cured when her mother’s attempt to claim a connection to the ruling family was heartily rejected. Vanessa had written in advance of their visit but there had been no reply. Her phone calls once they arrived in Ashur had also failed to win them an invitation to the palace. Indeed, Vanessa and her daughter had finally been humiliatingly turned away from the gates of the royal palace when her father’s relatives had not deigned to meet their estranged British relatives. From that moment on Ruby had proudly suppressed her curiosity about the Ashuri portion of her genes.

‘Your brothers were brave young men,’ Wajid told her. ‘They died fighting for their country.’

Ruby nodded with a respectful smile and thought sadly about the two younger brothers she had never got the chance to meet. Had they ever wondered what she was like? She suspected that royal protocol might well have divided them even if, unlike the rest of their family, they had had sufficient interest to want to get to know her.

‘I share these tragedies with you so that you can understand that you are now the present heir to the throne of Ashur, Your Royal Highness.’

‘I’m the heir?’ Ruby laughed out loud in sheer disbelief. ‘How is that possible? I’m a girl, for goodness’ sake! And why do you keep on calling me Your Royal Highness as if I have a title?’

‘Whether you use it or otherwise, you have carried the title of Princess since the day you were born,’ Wajid asserted with confidence. ‘It is your birthright as the daughter of a king.’

It all sounded very impressive but Ruby was well aware that in reality, Ashur was still picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the conflict. That such a country had fought a war with its wealthy neighbour over the oil fields on their disputed boundary was a testament to their dogged pride and determination in spite of the odds against them. Even so she had been hugely relieved when she heard on the news that the war was finally over.

She struggled to appear composed when she was actually shaken by the assurance that she had a legal right to call herself a princess and then her natural common sense reasserted its sway. Could there be anything more ridiculously inappropriate than a princess who worked as a humble receptionist and had to struggle to pay her rent most months? Even with few extras in her budget Ruby was invariably broke and she often did a weekend shift at Stella’s supermarket to help make ends meet.

‘There’s no room for titles and such things in my life,’ she said gently, reluctant to cause offence by being any more blunt. ‘I’m a very ordinary girl.’

‘But that is exactly what our people would like most about you. We are a country of ordinary hard-working people,’ Wajid declared with ringing pride. ‘You are the only heir to the throne of Ashur and you must take your rightful place.’

Ruby’s soft pink lips parted in astonishment. ‘Let me get this straight—you are asking me to come out to Ashur and live there as a princess?’

‘Yes. That is why we are here, to make you aware of your position and to bring you home.’ Wajid spread his arms expansively to emphasise his enthusiasm for the venture.

A good deal less expressive, Ruby tensed and shook her fair head in a quiet negative motion. ‘Ashur is not my home. Nobody in the royal family has even seen me since I left the country as a baby. There has been no contact and no interest.’

The older man looked grave. ‘That is true, but the tragedies that have almost wiped out the Shakarian family have ensured that everything has changed. You are now a very important person in Ashur, a princess, the daughter of a recent king and the niece of another, with a strong legal claim to the throne—’

‘But I don’t want to claim the throne, and in any case I do know enough about Ashur to know that women don’t rule there,’ Ruby cut in, her impatience growing, for she felt she was being fed a rather hypocritical official line that was a whitewash of the less palatable truth. ‘I’m quite sure there is some man hovering in the wings ready to do the ruling in Ashur.’

The court advisor would have squirmed with dismay had he not possessed the carriage of a man with an iron bar welded to his short spine. Visibly, however, he stiffened even more. ‘You are, of course, correct when you say that women do not rule in Ashur. Our country has long practised male preference primogeniture—’

‘So I am really not quite as important as you would like to make out?’ Ruby marvelled that he could ever have believed she might be so ignorant of the hereditary male role of kingship in Ashur. After all, hadn’t her poor mother’s marriage ended in tears and divorce thanks to those strict rules? Her father had taken another wife in a desperate attempt to have a son.

Placed in an awkward spot when he had least expected it, Wajid reddened and revised up his assumptions about the level of the princess’s intelligence. ‘I am sorry to contradict you but you are unquestionably a very important young woman in the eyes of our people. Without you there can be no King,’ he admitted baldly.

‘Excuse me?’ Her fine brows were pleating. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.’

Wajid hesitated. ‘Ashur and Najar are to be united and jointly ruled by a marriage between the two royal families. That was integral to the peace terms that were agreed to at the end of the war.’

Ruby froze at that grudging explanation and resisted the urge to release an incredulous laugh, for she suddenly grasped what her true value was to this stern little man. They needed a princess to marry off, a princess who could claim to be in line to the throne of Ashur. And here she was young and single. Nothing personal or even complimentary as such in her selection, she reflected with a stab of resentment and regret. It did, however, make more sense to her that she was only finally being acknowledged in Ashur as a member of the royal family because there was nobody else more suitable available.

‘I didn’t know that arranged marriages still took place in Ashur.’

‘Mainly within the royal family,’ Wajid conceded grudgingly. ‘Sometimes parents know their children better than their children know themselves.’

‘Well, I no longer have parents to make that decision for me. In any case, my father never took the time to get to know me at all. I’m afraid you’re wasting your time here, Mr Sulieman. I don’t want to be a princess and I don’t want to marry a stranger, either. I’m quite content with my life as it is.’ Rising to her feet to indicate that she felt it was time that her visitors took their leave, Ruby felt sorry enough for the older man in his ignorance of contemporary Western values to offer him a look of sympathy. ‘These days few young women would be attracted by an arrangement of that nature.’

Long after the limousine had disappeared from view Ruby and Stella sat discussing the visit.

‘A princess?’ Stella kept on repeating, studying the girl she had known from primary school with growing fascination. ‘And you honestly didn’t know?’

‘I don’t think they can have wanted Mum to know,’ Ruby offered evenly. ‘After the divorce my father and his family were happy for her to leave Ashur and from then on they preferred to pretend that she and I didn’t exist.’

‘I wonder what the guy they want you to marry is like,’ Stella remarked, twirling her dark fringe with dreamy eyes, her imagination clearly caught.

‘If he’s anything like as callous as my father I’m not missing anything. My father was willing to break Mum’s heart to have a son and no doubt the man they want me to marry would do anything to become King of Ashur—’

‘The guy has to be from the other country, right?’

‘Najar? Must be. Probably some ambitious poor relation of their royal family looking for a leg up the ladder,’ Ruby contended with rich cynicism, her scorn unconcealed.

‘I’m not sure I would have been so quick to send your visitors packing. I mean, if you leave the husband out of it, being a princess might have been very exciting.’

‘There was nothing exciting about Ashur,’ Ruby assured her friend with a guilty wince at still being bitter about the country that had rejected her, for she had recognised Wajid Sulieman’s sincere love for his country and the news of that awful trail of family deaths had been sobering and had left her feeling sad.

After a normal weekend during which her impressions of that astounding visit from the court advisor faded a little, Ruby went back to work. She had met up with Steve briefly on the Saturday afternoon and had told him that their relationship was over. He had taken it badly and had texted her repeatedly since then, alternately asking for another chance and then truculently criticising her and demanding to know what was wrong with him. She began ignoring the texts, wishing she had never gone out with him in the first place. He was acting a bit obsessive for a man she had only dated for a few weeks.

‘Men always go mad over you,’ Stella had sighed enviously when the texts started coming through again at breakfast, which the girls snatched standing up in the tiny kitchen. ‘I know Steve’s being a nuisance but I wouldn’t mind the attention.’

‘That kind of attention you’d be welcome to,’ Ruby declared without hesitation and she felt the same at work when her phone began buzzing before lunchtime with more messages, for she had nothing left to say to Steve.

A tall guy with luxuriant black hair strode through the door. There was something about him that immediately grabbed attention and Ruby found herself helplessly staring. Maybe it was his clothes, which stood out in a town where decent suits were only seen at weddings and then usually hired. He wore a strikingly elegant dark business suit that would have looked right at home in a designer advertisement in an exclusive magazine. It was perfectly modelled on his tall, well-built frame and long powerful legs. His razor-edged cheekbones were perfectly chiselled too, and as for those eyes, deep set, dark as sloes and brooding. Wow, Ruby thought for the very first time in her life as she looked at a man….


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