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Грэхем Линн

The Desert King's Blackmailed Bride

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POLLY SURGED BACK to recovery to find herself naked and being sponged down. In horror at her condition and the strange faces surrounding her she began to struggle to sit up and cover herself.

‘I am sorry but this treatment is necessary to bring your temperature down quickly,’ a pretty young brunette explained from the head of the bath in which she had been lain. ‘I’m Azel and I’m a nurse. You are suffering from heatstroke and although this must be unpleasant for you, it is not as unpleasant as more serious complications would be.’

Heatstroke? Polly recalled the claustrophobic burning heat of that courtyard and suppressed a groan, knowing she should have admitted that she was far too hot out there. She was embarrassed by the fact that she had fainted and caused a whole fuss. Furthermore she had a vague memory of shouting at King Rashad and of threatening to thump him. Her cheeks prickled with mortification and she said nothing until the treatment was complete. The nurse took her temperature and blood pressure and pronounced both satisfactory before she was finally patted dry with a towel. She was then eased into some sort of silky garment and tucked into a very comfortable bed as if she were a young child.

An older man entered and introduced himself as Dr Wasem. He took a sample of her blood and a swab from her mouth before advising her to have a light meal and rest.

As if she were going to just lie there and sleep after all that had happened, Polly thought in disbelief. But once she had drunk as much water as she could manage her eyelids began to slide down as though weights were attached to them, her body sinking into the comfy mattress, and she was asleep before she knew it.

When she wakened, darkness had fallen and she focused in bemusement on the woman seated in a small pool of light near the door. It was Azel, the nurse who had addressed her earlier. Slowly she sat up and voiced her most pressing need. Urged to leave the bed with care in case she felt dizzy, she padded into the bathroom and freshened up with relief. It was after midnight and the silence within the palace walls was unfamiliar to a born and bred Londoner, accustomed to the sound of traffic and the outside glow of street lights.

A knock sounded on the door. ‘Do you want anything out of your case?’ Azel asked helpfully.

Grateful to finally be reunited with her luggage, Polly retrieved the necessities.

‘I’ve ordered a light meal for you. You must be very hungry.’

‘It’s the early hours of the morning here,’ Polly pointed out in surprise.

‘The palace is staffed round the clock. It’s a very convenient place to live,’ Azel imparted with a smile.

A tray was brought and Polly tucked happily into a chicken salad. She wondered what time it was at home, not having yet got her head around the time difference. She would phone Ellie in the morning, she thought ruefully. In spite of her sleep, she still felt ridiculously tired and tomorrow when she got back to her interrupted holiday she would feel better able to explain how her unexpected inheritance from their late mother had brought her nothing but trouble. Her sister would be unsurprised, she thought fondly, for Ellie had a more cynical outlook on life than her older sister.

The next time she wakened, she could see the brightness of day lightening the wall above the curtains and she was alone. Rising, she dug clean clothes out of her case and she went for a shower. Well, this would be a tale to tell, she reflected with rueful amusement, flying out to Dharia in the hope of exploring her parentage only to end up spending the night in the royal palace.

A maid appeared with a trolley once she had returned to the bedroom and she chose a selection of foods from what was on offer and ate with appetite while she planned what she would say to her sister when she called her. She was reluctant to say anything that would wind up Ellie’s fiery temper and more aggressive nature. Placed in the same position, Ellie would have been screaming for the assistance of the British Embassy before they even got her out of the airport.

But when she dug into her handbag for her phone she couldn’t find it even after emptying the bag contents out onto the bed. Her mobile had clearly been stolen. Her money was intact, as was her passport, but her phone was gone. She was furious. It was a cheap phone too, not one she would’ve believed anyone would think worth stealing. Well, she would take that up with King Rashad when she next saw him. In the meantime, she still needed to ring Ellie, who would be panicking because she hadn’t got in touch when she had promised to do so. Honestly, even though Polly was older, Ellie treated her like such an innocent just because she had never been abroad before, Polly mused, shaking her head.

She opened the bedroom door and found a maid and an armed guard standing outside, which took her aback. She was even more disconcerted when the soldier wheeled round and dropped to his knees, bowing his head, muttering something in his own language. Well, good luck with that, whatever it was or meant, Polly decided, politely ignoring his display when it occurred to her that perhaps it was a prayer time of day and he was devout.

‘I need a phone,’ she told the maid.

‘I have to phone my sister.’

The maid beamed and took her back into her bedroom to show her the landline by the bed. Polly suppressed a groan, not wishing to mention that she had wanted a mobile phone to make a free call on an app because she wasn’t sure the young woman’s English would be up to that explanation. With a sigh, reflecting that Dharia with its oil wealth could surely afford one phone call after the ordeal she had been put through, she lifted the handset.

Ellie answered her call at predictable speed. ‘Where are you? Why has it taken you so long to phone me? I’ve been really worried about you!’

And Polly proceeded to give her sibling the watered-down version of the truth that she had already decided on but she did have to explain that their mother had apparently had no right to even have the fire-opal ring, never mind bequeath it to anyone.

‘Well, I think a lawyer would need to decide that, not some jumped-up foreign ruler!’ Ellie exclaimed, angrily unimpressed. ‘You have to fight this, Polly. Are you sure you’re free to leave the palace? Why have they a guard stationed outside your door? Try going for a walk and see what happens. I’m very suspicious about the set-up you’ve described and I think I may approach the Foreign Office to ascertain what your position is and ask for advice—’

‘Do you really think that’s necessary?’ Polly prompted ruefully. ‘Don’t you think you’re taking this all too seriously?’

‘ don’t pick up on warning signals!’ Ellie condemned with heartfelt concern. ‘You’re always making excuses for the bad things people do... I’m not sure I could trust you as a judge of human character!’

Polly completed the call, her face flushed and sheepish. Now Ellie was up in arms and ready to do battle! Although she believed her sister’s concern was groundless she was willing to test Ellie’s suggestion that she try going for a walk. She grabbed her sunhat and sunglasses and left the room, turning left at random and moving along a stone corridor, pausing to look down at an inner hall covered with the most eye-catching mosaic tiles she had ever seen.

She traversed a wide stone staircase and stilled again to admire a big wide corridor of elaborate arches that stretched away into the distance to frame the far vista of a lush garden at the end. As she set off to explore she noted that the guard was following her but not closely and he was so busy chattering to the maid that had accompanied him that Polly reckoned she could’ve turned cartwheels without him noticing. She wandered down the corridor and peered out into the gorgeous garden that shaded a pool in the shape of a star. The stone arches surrounding the courtyard were as exquisitely carved and detailed as handmade lace. It was truly beautiful and had she had her phone with its camera she would have loved to take photographs.

Her exploration ranged deeper into the building until she finally recognised the main hall where she had arrived the day before, and she was approaching the entrance when the woman who had served tea to her and the King appeared out of a doorway.

‘Miss Dixon?’ she called with a very artificial smile. ‘The King asks that you join him for lunch.’

‘How lovely,’ Polly responded with a rather more natural smile, her face heating as she recalled her first meeting with Rashad, the gorgeous talker of textbook English.

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