Hello, my darlings.
Isn’t the new cover gorgeous? My editorial and branding team and I are working hard on the second book of the Desert Princes duet, DESERT CAPTIVE. It’s taken too long to get all my ducks in a row with this project, but now we’re ready to move forward. Before DESERT CAPTIVE is available on pre-order, we decided to let you guys read DESERT ORCHID on the blog. Please note steamy scenes will not be shared on this open platform. To do that, I’d need to hide the blog behind an 18+ firewall, and I’m not prepared to do that. I’ve added DESERT ORCHID buy links for those who want to grab it. It’s on a $2.99 deal as I write.
So, grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy!
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’.
A young Arabian Queen must marry a wild, wicked and wilful Prince to save her people from civil unrest and protect the wealth of her Kingdom.
Charisse never expected to find love with a darkly brooding man who looks and lives like a rock star.
Growing up as a member of royalty isn’t everything it’s proclaimed to be. Khalid El Haribe learned that heartbreaking lesson five years ago and isn’t interested in ruling a small desert kingdom or marriage but he cannot forget the debt he owes his family. Perhaps doing his duty will atone for past mistakes? Meeting the beautiful and feisty Charisse comes as a pleasant surprise…the attraction between them burns as hot as the desert.
But tragic events in Charisse’s past threaten to destroy her Kingdom and her life, too. Can their fragile love survive?
Blood is thicker than water – John Ray.
Water is thicker than blood – Queen Charisse El Haribe.
Prince Sarif El Haribe, arriving at Connaught Square in the wintry twilight, was informed at the door that His Royal Highness was immersed in his art and could not be disturbed. He received this news from his brother’s close protection officer without comment, but as the butler helped him take off his heavy cashmere overcoat, he eyed the mountain of a man who stood before him and inquired in an unemotional voice, “I feel quite certain that message does not apply to me, don’t you?” The bitter cold of a London winter made his deep voice no more than a growl.
Immaculate in a black suit, white shirt and black tie, Omar snapped to attention. He resembled a bulldog. And had a shaved flat head along with a face that bore the marks of a pugilist. Trained never to show emotion, a muscle jerking in Omar’s wide jaw was the only outward sign that Sarif’s unexpected arrival caused dismay. Perhaps it was the small bird like eyes but something about the man always made Sarif uneasy and looking at him now that feeling returned times ten.
Omar gave a jerky bow from the neck, turned and ran up the wide marble staircase. For a big man, he was pretty nimble footed.
Sarif couldn’t say he was looking forward to the meeting with his younger sibling. He should be in his own country, Quaram, dealing with his own issues rather than bringing a wild and out of control puppy to heel. It had been a while, months, since he’d seen his brother and their last conversation had not been a happy one.
Strolling into an airy room that on a good day would be an opulent drawing room, he studied the evidence of a sybaritic lifestyle. His eyes narrowing in distaste on a couple of empty champagne bottles. Khalid certainly enjoyed the high life. And the British and European tabloids were happy to document every single second of his partying and womanising.
The toe of Sarif’s polished shoe, hand-crafted in Italy, nudged an absurd fragment of acid pink silk, a thong. A matching padded bra hung on a table lampshade made of the finest silk. Knowing his brother, he’d probably paid for the impressive breasts that filled the bra, too. Then he studied another bra tossed on a low sofa, black silk this time, and revulsion fanned the flame of disgust deep in his belly.
In many ways it was unfortunate that his brother had been blessed with the face of a pagan god and the body of a top athlete. Which just went to show that looks were deceptive, since Khalid wouldn’t know one end of a gym from the other. Considering the amount of booze he put away, how he’d kept his looks was nothing short of a miracle. According to their American mother, he and Khalid had been blessed with good genes, which accounted for the height, the broad shoulders, and the raw bone structure of their faces. Faces, if his mother was to be believed, that came from an Apache Indian in the eighteenth century. Something she never failed to mention whenever she got the chance.
A soft knock at the door and Omar entered, bowed his head.
“My Lord, His Highness will be but a moment.” The high voice didn’t quite fit with the physical picture Omar presented to the world. Idly, Sarif wondered if that was why he found the man utterly repulsive? The bodyguard kept his head bowed.
“How many?” Sarif wanted to know.
Standing on a plush Persian carpet Omar kept his eyes glued to his shiny shoes.
“Two, my Lord.”
Beady eyes, black as jet, flicked to his and Sarif’s unremitting stare had the man swallow audibly.
Sarif kept his voice silky soft as a flick of his wrist indicated the discarded clothes, “Return these items to the, er…ladies.”
Omar scrambled around the room picking up underwear, scraps of fabric purporting to be dresses, along with two pairs of killer heels, before bowing as he backed out of the room.
The double doors closed behind him with a soft click.
Sarif moved to the bar, poured himself a soft drink in a heavy glass of Edinburgh crystal and a very large brandy for his brother. He would need it after he broke the news. All good things must come to an end. And he wondered how Khalid would take it, no more parties, no more whoring, and no more freedom.
The doors opened and he turned just as a voice hoarse from sleep demanded,
“You can’t just waltz into my home without notice, Sarif. What the hell do you want?”
The slow Texan drawl reminded Sarif forcibly of their American mother. Sipping his drink, he turned and met Prince Khalid El Haribe’s grey eyes with a bland stare. Studying his younger brother over the rim of the crystal glass, Sarif’s eyes narrowed now both at the insolent tone and the appalling decline in his brother’s physical condition. The last six months had not been good to him.
Khalid flushed under his scrutiny.
His eyes were bloodshot and underlined with dark circles. Deep lines of dissipation ran down either side of his mouth. Black hair, damp with sweat, curled over his ears, brushing his shoulders. The hair cried out for a cut and the gaunt face required a shave. Khalid wore soft denim jeans, which were white at the knees and seams and sat too loose on his narrow hips.
There were times when deep brotherly affection battled through anger and a desperate sadness that their relationship had deteriorated to the point where they barely tolerated each other these days, and this was one of those times. God, Khalid had lost too much weight, his stomach was concave and he could see his ribs. Loathing the feeling of utter helplessness, Sarif finished his drink and turned to place the glass on the bar to hide the swift shaft of anxiety that fisted in his gut.
He took a breath and turned back to find his brother tugging a tatty black T-shirt over his head, which told the world ‘Elvis Had Left The Building.’
Khalid ran a shaky hand through his hair.
Since he hadn’t been invited to sit, Sarif made himself comfortable on a plush couch of ivory silk. And decided that his brother’s manners were absolutely deplorable.
“If you spoke to me like that in my kingdom you would lose your tongue, little brother,” he reprimanded in a voice as soft as silk.
Heat rose over Khalid’s high cheekbones as he gave him an ‘Aw, shucks,’ grimace.
“Sorry, had a bit too much bubbly tonight.” He gave a jerky shrug. “You know how it is.”
“I know how it is with you,” Sarif drawled, then held up a hand as his brother’s eyes flashed with a temper that was always too near the surface. “Trust me, I’ve better things to do than to interrupt your busy evening. However, I’ve brought news. Sad news, from home.”
Alarm flared in Khalid’s grey eyes. And Sarif was very pleased to see it. Perhaps there was hope for his brother after all.
“No. They are well.” Sarif paused as the butler entered carrying an ornate gold tray holding tiny cups of aromatic thick black coffee and refreshments. He waited until they were served and the door closed before he continued, “Our uncle, King Asim of Onuur, died this morning. He was sixty-five. A heart attack.”
Khalid blinked, shrugged once and then helped himself to a coffee and sweetmeat.
Waiting for a response that wasn’t forthcoming, Sarif ordered himself to be patient.
“Do you remember him?” he wanted to know.
Khalid frowned and yawned hugely. “I met him years ago, before he fell out with papa. Into ancient history, that sort of thing. He was an eccentric, wasn’t he?”
“That might account for it,” Sarif muttered, his eyes narrowing again as they remained on his brother.
“Account for what?”
“Naming you as his heir, amongst other things.” Again he paused, and this time his smile didn’t reach his eyes, as he watched the blood drain from Khalid’s face. He continued, “Onuur is tiny, but wealthy, with plenty of natural resources that for some reason Asim was reluctant to mine. Something to do with the destruction of the natural flora and fauna, along with temples dating back to a time before Christ. Temples that are now protected as a world heritage site. It’s probably too much to expect from you, but if you’ve been following world events, you’d know that our uncle’s death could not have occurred at a worse time. Under the guise of freedom and democracy covetous eyes are watching and waiting to get their sticky fingers on that wealth. Father is in agreement that the strategic advantage of having an El Haribe Prince ruling the Kingdom ensures political stability for the people and the region.”
Khalid blinked twice.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?”
If only it was.
“The King is delighted,” Sarif told him. “I’ve been instructed to bring his prodigal son home. Tonight.”
His brother shook his head, even as those bloodshot grey eyes met his. Eyes that were filled to the brim with anxiety and something that looked like fear.
“I’m not King material, Sarif.”
“Apparently, our late uncle didn’t agree.” Watching Khalid very carefully, he took another sip of coffee and delivered the killer blow. “Oh, and you’re to marry his widow, Her Royal Highness, Queen Charisse. The time has come for you to pack away your paint box and sober up.”
End of Chapter 1
Chapter 2 is coming tomorrow and chapter 3 the following day until the end of the story.
Desert Orchid is available at: