In the spirit of paying it forward, every Friday I’m publishing an episode serialising the story of Desert Orchid, the montage of which is above.
Here’s the blurb:
Queen Charisse El Haribe is deeply committed to the health and education of the women and children in her country.
And to bring the tiny Arab Kingdom of Onnur into the 21st century.
Now her beloved husband is dead, covetous eyes are turned towards the vast untapped oil and diamond reserves of Onnur. The country’s only hope is for her to marry her husband’s nephew, the wild, wicked and womanising Prince Khalid El Haribe.
Ostracised from his wealthy family since he was held responsible for the death of his young sister and her friend in a speedboat accident, Khalid El Haribe has thrown himself into a life of wine, women and song. His only passion is for his painting where he can lose himself for days and weeks creating vast avant-garde canvases in vivid oils.
But his path to self destruction comes to an abrupt halt when he’s named heir to the tiny Kingdom of Onnur. Could this be the chance to make amends to his family? To make them proud of him again? He agrees to a marriage of convenience.
Expecting the bride to be in her late thirties or early forties, Khalid is stunned to find his intended is young, beautiful, articulate and funny. Their attraction is instant and burns hard and hot.
But Charisse has appalling secrets in her past. A past that not only threatens Onnur and their love but their lives too.
by C C MacKenzie
Copyright C C MacKenzie
“Inform my brother I am here.”
The bitter cold of a London winter made his voice hard, the tone filled with impatience and irritation, Prince Sarif El Haribe permitted the butler to remove his cashmere coat as he eyed the mountain of a man who stood before him. Immaculate in a black suit, white shirt and black tie, he resembled a bulldog with no neck, he had a shaved flat head and a face that bore the marks of a pugilist. 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.
His brother’s protection officer snapped to attention. Trained never to show emotion, a muscle jerking in his wide jaw was the only outward sign that Sarif’s unexpected arrival caused dismay. Omar bowed from the neck, turned and ran up the wide marble staircase.
Sarif couldn’t say he was looking forward to the meeting with his only brother, he should be in his own country, Quarram, dealing with his own issues rather than bringing a wild and out of control puppy to heel.
Sarif strolled into a room that on a good day would be an opulent drawing room. Yes, he thought studying the evidence, Khalim certainly enjoyed the high life. His eyes narrowed in distaste on a couple of empty champagne bottles.
His long finger picked up an absurd fragment of acid pink silk. A matching padded bra hung on a lampshade. Knowing his brother, he’d probably paid for the impressive breasts that filled it too. He studied another bra, black silk this time as revulsion fanned the flame of disgust in his belly.
“My Lord, His Highness will be but a moment.” The bodyguard’s high voice didn’t fit with the physical picture Omar presented to the world. Perhaps that was why he found him repulsive? Why it mattered, Sarif didn’t know. The bodyguard bowed his head.
Omar kept his eyes glued to his shiny shoes standing on a lush Persian carpet. “Two, my Lord.”
Sarif’s unremitting stare had the man swallow audibly. He kept his voice silky soft, “Return these items to the, er…ladies.”
He scrambled around the room picking up underwear, scraps of fabric purporting to be dresses along with killer heels before bowing out of the room and closing the double doors with a soft click.
Sarif moved to the bar, poured himself a soft drink in a glass of Edinburgh crystal and a brandy for his brother. He would need it, after he broke the news. He wondered how Khalim 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 in a slow drawl,
“What the hell do you want?”
The accent reminded Sarif of their American mother. He met Prince Khalim El Haribe’s grey eyes with a bland stare, sipped his drink, studying his younger brother over the rim of the glass. He hadn’t seen him in six months and his eyes narrowed at both the tone and the appalling decline in his physical condition.
Khalim flushed. Eyes 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 and neck. The hair badly needed a cut and the gaunt face needed a shave. He wore too loose soft denim jeans, white at the knees and seams.
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, Khalim had lost too much weight, his stomach was concave and he could see his ribs. Loathing the feeling of complete helplessness, he finished his drink and turned to place the glass on the bar to hide the swift shaft of anxiety that shot up his spine.
He took a breath and turned to find his brother tugging a black T-shirt over his head which told the world, ‘Elvis had left the building’. Khalim ran a shaky hand through his hair.
“If you spoke to me like that in my Kingdom you would lose your tongue, little brother,” Sarif said softly.
Heat rose over his brother’s high cheekbones. “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 held up a hand as his brother’s eyes flashed with a temper that was always too near the surface. “I’ve brought news, sad news, from home.”
Sarif made himself comfortable on the couch, deciding his brother’s manners were deplorable.
“The King? Mother?” Alarm flared in Khalim’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 with an ornate gold tray holding tiny cups of aromatic thick black coffee and refreshments. He waited until the door closed before he continued, “King Assim of Onuur has died. He was seventy-five. A heart attack.”
Khalim blinked, shrugged again then helped himself to a coffee and sweetmeat.
Waiting patiently for a response that wasn’t forthcoming, Sarif ordered himself to be patient. “Do you remember our Uncle?” he wanted to know.
Khalim frowned and yawned hugely. “I met him a couple of times. 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 his heir, among other things.” He paused, his smile didn’t reach his eyes as he watched blood drain from Khalim’s face before he continued, “Onuur is tiny, but wealthy. Diamonds, oil and of course the strategic advantage of having an El Haribe Prince ruling the Kingdom ensures political stability for the region.”
Khalid blinked twice. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
If only it was. “The King is delighted. I’ve been instructed to bring you home. Tonight.”
His brother shook his head even as those grey eyes met his. “I’m not King material, Sarif.”
Too true. “Apparently, our late Uncle didn’t agree.” Watching his brother 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. You have six weeks to sober up.”
Hope you enjoy! Don’t say I’m not good to you! I won’t do a search and destroy if you don’t leave a comment. Just remember I have a memory long memory! Just say’in!