Harlequin Presents #2993
Originally published: 06/01/11
Angele has longed for her betrothal to Crown Prince Zahir to be consummated within wedlock. She naively hoped her promised husband would wait for her, as she would him—but compromising paparazzi photos have dashed those youthful dreams….
She cannot become Zahir’s wife out of duty and endure a loveless union; she must let him go free…but on one condition. Without taking Angele’s hand in marriage, will the proud sheikh agree to give her the wedding night she has long dreamed of?
“The ending chapters were amazing and Lucy Monroe made sure that anyone reading For Duty Sake would realize Angele was Zahir’s treasure.“
—Marilyn’s Romance Reviews
“Lucy Monroe takes us back to her exotic world of handsome sheikh’s and the woman that they love in her thrilling novel, For Duty’s Sake. <snipped for size> For Duty’s Sake is an absolute compelling story of love and second chances. Zahir and Angele are both willing to fight for this relationship after they realize its depth and power in their lives. I just love Lucy Monroe’s Sheikh’s series just when I think I have read my favorite another one comes along. You won’t be sorry to pick up this delightful book.” –Judy, amazon.com reader reviewer
“I love the passion in this book” –Lucille, amazon.com reader reviewer
“This is a book you keep. Strong and bold woman. Takes charge… nice.
It’s one to recommend to a friend.” –Viola, amazon.com reader review
Angele slid around the partially opened door to Zahir’s office. He had disappeared from the wedding feast and she’d known she would find him here.
“Shirking your duty, Prince Zahir?” Her arms crossed over the sweetheart neckline of her short-short Juicy Couture original. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. What would your father say?”
The room was very much like Zahir, masculine, rich and imposing. And yet there was something in the artwork and the old world furnishings that reflected more, something special – an appreciation for beauty that she knew few were aware of.
But while Zahir didn’t pay her any particular attention, she had watched him closely and probably knew more about the real man than most. She still wondered at her ignorance of the secret revealed short months ago.
She’d decided it was willful blindness on her part, but that had not made her feel any better. Only mind-numbingly stupid.
She was a twenty-three year old virgin with no prospects and she knew she was to blame for that fact and no one else. She had clung to hopes and fairytales that never came true in the real world. Her parents’ marriage should have made her realize that.
Zahir looked up from some papers on his desk, his grey eyes widening a fraction at the sight of her. He quickly stood to his full, imposing six-feet, four-inches. He wore the traditional robes and head covering of a crown sheikh over a tailored Armani suit that did nothing but make him look mouth-wateringly attractive to her.
Not that he was even remotely aware of the effect he had on her. She would have to be on his radar as an actual woman for that to happen.
“Princess Angele, what are you doing here?” He had always called her Princess, though she was not one.
But her godfather, King Malik, had nicknamed her such and the nickname had stuck. She’d always thought it sweet, but now realized it was one more barrier that Zahir kept between them.
His refusal to call her simply by her first name, as any man intent on marrying a woman might do.
He looked past her, no doubt expecting some kind of chaperone. But she’d left her mother and all other potential protectors of her virtue at the feast. She pressed the door closed, the snick of the catch mechanism engaging loud in the silent room.
“Have I forgotten we were to meet?” he asked, sounding perplexed, but not wary. “Did you expect me to escort you to the table?”
“I’m perfectly capable of walking to my own table.” At her request, they had not been seated next to one other. “I know about Elsa Bosch.”
That wasn’t what she’d meant for her opening salvo, but it would have to do. She’d paid the blackmailer, not once, but twice. After this weekend, Zahir’s reputation would no longer be her concern. The picture taker would have to find another cash cow.
Distaste flicked over Zahir’s features, at what she was not sure. Was he disgusted by the gossip rag that had printed a picture of him and his lover at a tete-e-tete in Paris the week before last?
Compared to the pictures Angele had seen, the two sitting at an intimate table for two was a boringly tame image. But as she’d suspected, the very fact Zahir was “friends” with the actress was cause for speculation and scandal.
Or was he disappointed in his prim and proper almost-fiancée bringing the subject up? She’d worked so hard for so many years to be the perfect image of his future queen.
Little did he know it, but that Angele was in ashes on the floor of her office back in America.
“This is not something you need concern yourself with.”
Those words shocked her, hurting her when she thought no more wounds could be made from this particular salvo. She had expected his anger. Disdain. Frustration, maybe, but not dismissal. Not for him to believe that she had nothing to say about the women he shared himself with while leaving her untouched. Unclaimed. And achingly unfulfilled.
She wasn’t ignorant. She knew that sex could and should be wonderful for a woman, but she was entirely inexperienced and she intended for that to change. Tonight.
The realization that Zahir had more in common with her father than she had ever believed almost derailed her determination, but in some strange way, it made it okay for her to make her bargain.
“The picture was rather flattering, to you both.”
He stood up, “Listen, Princess—“
“My name is Angele.”
“I am aware.”
“I prefer you use it.” If only for this one night, he would see her as a person in her own right. “I am not a princess.”
And never would be now. Nor was she the starry-eyed child who had reacted with delirious joy upon the announcement of their one-day marriage. The past ten years had finally brought her not only adulthood, but a definitive check with reality.
The man she had loved for too long and if her mother was to be believed, would probably love until the day she died, had no more desire to marry her than he wanted to dance naked at the next royal ball. Perhaps even less.
“Angele,” he said, as if making a great concession. “Ms. Bosch is not an issue between us.”
He was so wrong. On so many levels, but her plan did not include enumerating them, so she didn’t. “You were smiling in the picture. You looked happy.”
Certainly, he had never given Angele the affection filled gaze he’d given the German actress even in that single, oh so tame picture in the tabloid.
Zahir looked at Angele as if she had spoken something other than one of the five languages he conversed in with extreme fluency.
“I read that you broke things off with her.” Angele had gone from supremely ignorant of her fiancé’s social activities to an expert on the gossip surrounding him.
“Because you were photographed together.”
He frowned, but gave a quick jerk of his head in acknowledgement. “Yes.”
She found that sad. For Zahir. For herself. For Elsa Bosch even. Had the woman realized she was so expendable? Then again, she might well have been the person who had extorted money for silence from Angele.
Regardless, Elsa was not the real issue here. And Angele needed to remember that, no matter how hot her inner retinas burned with the images of the other woman in Zahir’s arms.
She pushed away from the wall and went to look at the statuary displayed in a dark mahogany case. Her favorite was a Bedouin rider on a horse, carved from dark wood. They looked like they would race off into the desert.
But she noticed a new piece. It was another Bedouin, but this figure was only the man, in the traditional garb of the nomadic people. He looked off into the distance with an expression of longing on his features so profound her heart squeezed in her chest. “When did you get this?”
“It was a gift.”
He did not answer.
She turned to face him. “It was Elsa, wasn’t it?”
His jaw locked and she knew he would not reply.
She refused to let that hurt her. “She knows you well.”
“I will not lie. Our association was measured in years, not days.” His tone had an edge to it that Angele had no hope of interpreting.
And his use of the past tense did nothing to assuage Angele’s feelings.
“Yes, I gathered.” The photos she had been sent spanned a timeline that could not have possibly been anything less. Someone who did not know and watch him so closely would not have noticed perhaps, but it had been obvious to Angele.
“The tabloids print trash. I’m surprised you read it.”
She did not react to the taunt. Nor did she answer the implied question of where her information had come from. She said the one thing that needed saying. “You don’t want to marry me.”
“I will do my duty by my father’s house.” Which was more a confirmation of his lack of desire than she was sure he meant it to be.
“You’ll make a great king one day.” He was already an accomplished politician. “But that is not a direct answer and you neglected to note, I wasn’t asking a question.”
“If this is about Ms. Bosch and our now defunct association, please remember that you and I are not officially engaged.”
“I am to take comfort in the implication you would not be unfaithful if we were?” she asked carefully.
His brows drew together and for the first time since the discussion started, she saw anger make its way to the forefront. “Naturally.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Prin—Angele, I am not your father.”
“No, you aren’t.” And she would never give him the opportunity to prove them both wrong either. “This isn’t about Elsa Bosch, not really.”
Ultimately, it was about love. It was about loving someone enough to let them go. Only that sounded so cheesy, she’d never speak the words aloud. And it was about knowing she deserved to be loved, fully and completely, by the man she would spend the rest of her life with.
He did not look like he believed her claim and she could practically see the thoughts zinging around in his facile brain. He was trying to figure out the right words to reassure, when in fact none existed.
None that he could say anyway.
Again it was time for truth. “Your brothers have both found wonderful happiness while you have been stuck in a promise made on your behalf by two men with too much power and too little comprehension of the cost of their dynastic plans.”
“I do not consider myself stuck. I was an adult when that agreement was made.” Yes, he’d been all of twenty-four and as bound by duty as any young adult male could be. “I chose my future.”
An alpha male like Zahir would have to convince himself of that, or he could not accept the limitations imposed on him by others. It simply was not in his nature. He had the heart of a Bedouin, if the responsibilities of a landed royal.
“You do not wish to marry me,” she repeated, refusing to be sidetracked. “And I won’t let you be forced into doing so by duty.”
Nor would she allow herself to be railroaded into a marriage with the potential to be every bit as miserable as her parents was for so many years.
His eyes narrowed, his expression turning even more grim than usual. “You are not making any sense.”
“We’ve been promised for ten years, Zahir. If you had wanted to marry me, we would already be living in wedded harmony here in your family’s palace.” They would definitely at least be formally engaged.
“It has not been the right time.”
She’d heard that argument before. And believed it. First, she’d been too young. Then, his father’s health had been precarious. The idea of announcing an engagement during such a time was not appropriate, or so Zahir had claimed. Then, Khalil had gotten engaged and stealing his spotlight during the preparations for, celebration of and immediate time after Khalil and Jade’s wedding would have been wrong. The same excuse came convenient to hand when Amir and Grace became engaged.
For ten years, five – if you only counted the years since she became an adult – they had not found the right time to announce their engagement, much less actually get married. And they never would, if it meant finding a time when Zahir wanted the nuptials to take place.
Though Crown Sheikh Zahir bin Faruq al Zohra would no doubt eventually allow duty to force him into following through on a marriage he did not desire.
Since she would be the other half of that marriage, she wasn’t going to let it happen. Realizing that had meant giving up her dreams. And that had hurt, even more than seeing the photos of Zahir kissing Elsa.
But then who was Angele kidding? Certainly not herself. Seeing the unfamiliar happiness on Zahir’s face had lacerated her heart far more than the passion. The numbness having long since given way to a devastation she would have happily avoided for the rest of her life. And her heart was still bleeding.
Better that, than a lifetime of pricks form the knife edge of the constant knowledge that she was not the woman her husband wanted to be with however. When she’d conceived her current plan, a steel band had formed around her chest, and that constriction was still there. Sometimes, she felt like it was the only thing stopping her from flying apart.
But that too would fade. Eventually. It had to.
How much worse would it be to live the rest of her life married to a man who did not love her and never would? Who did not even like her enough to spend any time with her not dictated by their roles and responsibilities?
To watch Zahir find joy in the arms of other women as her father had done over and over again? Angele wasn’t about to go that route.
Even after receiving the packet of pictures, funnily enough it had been the announcement of Amir’s marriage that had settled the issue for her. Amir had been meant to marry another member of a powerful sheikh’s family, but Lina had refused the match and Amir had ended up married today to the woman who held his heart instead.
As Angele had told her mother, Amir and Grace’s very real love had made the wedding ceremony beautiful.
What she had not told her mother was that she had seen the envy in Zahir’s expression when he had looked at Amir as he stood up with him. No one else had noticed, of course, but Angele had spent a lifetime watching Zahir with more attention than research scientists gave their life’s work.
Lina’s courage had given Angele the courage to come up with her plan. And Amir’s happiness today had cemented her determination to follow through with it. If there was any chance Zahir could know his brother’s happiness, he deserved to have it.
She could do no less for the man she loved with her whole heart.
And she would accept nothing less than that either, even if it meant spending the rest of her life alone.
“Zahir, I have always found you to be honest. A man of deep integrity.” His liaison with Elsa had not changed that.
As he’d pointed out, Angele and Zahir were not actually engaged. And he had never once lied about it. She’d simply never thought to ask point blank if he had sex with other women. However, she was no longer rock-solid in her belief he would not take mistresses after their marriage. In fact, that certainty had died a pretty painful death.
No matter what he’d said today.
“Are you in love with me?” One of those point blank questions she could not avoid asking. Not now.
He did not even blink, his handsome features set in an emotionless mask. “Our association is not a matter of love.”
“No, I know it isn’t, but please, this once, just answer my question with a simple yes or no.”
His jaw tightened.
“I do not see why you would ask.”
“I’m not asking you to understand, simply to answer.”
She almost asked if his negative was a refusal to answer, but then she looked into his grey eyes and saw the smallest glimmer of pity. He knew she had feelings for him he did not return.
The pain his answer caused wasn’t mitigated by the fact she’d been expecting it. Though she really wished it had worked like that. Knowing he did not love her and hearing it from his lips were apparently in totally different realms of experience.
She managed to nod. “That is what I thought.”
“Love is not necessary in a marriage such as ours.”
“I don’t agree. I will not marry a man who has no hope of loving me.”
“Have not found something worthy of love in my person in ten years; you are not likely to find it now.” In fact, she was so certain of that impossibility, she was ready to take desperate action.
“You are all that is admirable in a future princess and eventual queen.”
But not as a woman he could love. She left the words unsaid as he did. “You deserve the happiness your brothers have found.”
“It is not in my stars.” His tacit agreement sent another javelin of pain straight through her, but she refused to buckle under the fresh wound.
She had a plan and in the end, it would be best for both of them. “It can be.”
“I will not turn my back on my duty.” And his tone censured her for suggesting he try.