Harlequin Special Release
Originally published: 02/01/05
Current publication: 03/01/11
The Sheikh’s Bartered Bride by USA TODAY bestselling author Lucy Monroe
As a librarian Catherine Benning knew a thing or two about storybook romances. So when a dashing sheikh swept her off her feet, she felt like she’d become the heroine of her own fairy tale. But soon after Sheikh Hakim bin Omar al Kadar took her to his desert kingdom, she discovered that he had deceived her utterly. Despite his betrayal, could she believe their story would have a happily-ever-after?
The Greek Billionaire’s Baby Revenge by USA TODAY bestselling author Jennie Lucas
Anna Rustoff always knew that her bubble of happiness would burst sooner or later. After all, her husband, Nikos Stavrakis, had only married her because their one night of passion had resulted in a beautiful baby boy. Amid rumors of Nikos’s infidelity, she decides to flee to Russia. But the Greek billionaire is not one to let something that is his just walk out of his lifenot his son, and not his wife. But bringing them home will take more than his money and his iron will. It will take a lifetime of love.
CHAPTER ONE – THE SHEIK’S BARTERED BRIDE
She wasn’t Miss Benning. She was Catherine Marie, captive of The Hawk, a sheikh who still lived by the code of the desert, where only the strongest survived.
He was coming now. She could hear his deep, masculine voice as he spoke in a tongue she did not understand to someone outside her tent. She struggled against the cords that bound her hands, but it was useless. The silk scarves were soft, but strong and she could not get her hands free.
If she did, what would she do? Run?
She was in the middle of the desert. The sun beat against the tent, heating up the cavernous interior. She wouldn’t last a day in the vast wasteland on her own.
Then he was there, standing in the entrance to the room in which she was held. His features were cast in shadow. All she could see was his big body encased in the white pants and tunic typical of his people. A black robe, his abayah, fell from his massive shoulders to midcalf and his head was covered with the red and white smagh that denoted his position as sheikh. The headband holding it in place was made of twisted black leather.
He was less than fifteen feet away, but still his face was hidden from her by the shadows. Only the strong line of his jaw denoting his arrogance was discernable.
Catherine Marie Benning’s head snapped up from where it had been resting against her fist and her eyes slowly focused on her surroundings. Tent walls hung with silks faded, to be replaced by cool gray cement, relieved only by the posters advertising the upcoming book drive and literacy event. They were the walls of the break room in the Whitehaven Public Library, much closer to a cold and wet Seattle, Washington than the blistering hot deserts of the Sahara.
Fluorescent light cast a harsh glow over the pointed features of the woman standing in front of her.
“Yes, Mrs. Camden?”
Straightening her double-knit polyester blazer, almost identical in color to the library’s walls, Catherine’s superior sniffed. “Your head was off in the clouds again, Miss Benning.”
The disapproval in the older woman’s voice grated against Catherine’s usually limitless patience. Perhaps if the man in her fantasies would ever show his face, she wouldn’t be feeling so frustrated, but he did not. This time had been no different. The Hawk was as elusive to her imagination as he was in it.
“I’m still on break,” she reminded the older woman.
“Yes, well, we all do what we must.”
Recognizing the beginnings of a familiar lecture, Catherine stifled a sigh at the knowledge her lunch break was to be cut short. Again.
Hakim bin Omar al Kadar walked into the library and scanned the reference area for sight of Catherine Marie Benning. Her picture was indelibly printed on his mind. His future wife. While arranged marriages were not uncommon in the royal family of Jawhar, his was unique.
Catherine Marie Benning was unaware that she was to become his wife. Her father wanted it that way.
One of the stipulations of the deal between Hakim’s uncle and Harold Benning was that Hakim convince Catherine to become his wife without telling her about the arrangement between her father and the King of Jawhar. Hakim had not asked why. Having been educated in the West, Hakim knew that American women did not view arranged marriages with the same equanimity the women of his family did.
He would have to court Catherine, but that would be no hardship. Even in an arranged marriage, a royal prince of Jawhar was expected to court his intended bride. This marriage would be no different. He would give her a month.
Ten weeks ago, his uncle had been apprised by Harold Benning of the probable deposits of a rare mineral in the mountains of Jawhar. The American had suggested a partnership between Benning Excavations and the royal family of Jawhar.
The two men had still been negotiating terms when Hakim had been attacked while out riding in the desert in the early hours of the morning. Investigation had revealed that the assassination attempt had been made by the same group of dissidents responsible for his parents’ deaths twenty years before.
Hakim was unclear how marriage for Catherine had become part of the deal. He knew only that his uncle considered it convenient. Should the need for long-term living visas arise for the royal family, Hakim would be in a position to sponsor them as the spouse of an American. There would be no need to go through regular diplomatic channels, thus preserving the privacy and pride of his family.
The royal family of Jawhar had not sought political asylum from another country in the three centuries of its reign and they never would. Already overseeing the family’s interests in America, Hakim had been the logical choice for the alliance.
Harold Benning also saw the marriage as beneficial. His concern over the continued single state of his twenty-four year old daughter had been obvious. According to him, she never even dated.
The result of the older men’s negations had been a Royal Decree: Hakim was to marry Catherine Benning.
He spotted his quarry helping a small boy on the other side of the room. She stretched to pull a book from the shelf and the button-up black sweater she wore above a long, straight skirt caught his attention. Molding her breasts, it revealed a surprisingly lush feminine form and he felt himself stir.
This was unexpected. Her picture had revealed a pretty woman, but nothing like the exotic beauties he had been attracted to in the past. That he should react so readily to such an innocent sight made him stop in his journey toward her.
What had so aroused him? Her skin was pale, but not alabaster. Her hair was blonde, but a dark blonde and twisted up on the back of her head as it was, it looked a drab, light brown. Her eyes were a shock, a gentian blue that had startled him with their intensity in the picture and were even more unusual in person.
Aside from the eyes, nothing about her stood out and yet his body’s response could not be denied. He wanted her. While he had experienced this sort of instant physical attraction before, it had been with a lot more provocation. A certain way of walking, dressing or a look in a woman’s eyes. Catherine Benning exhibited none of these.
It was a puzzling, but not unpleasant surprise. A genuine physical attraction on his part would make the job of her seduction that much easier. He had been prepared to do his duty regardless of personal attraction. Country came first. Family came second. His own needs and desires last of all.
He walked forward, stopping a little to her left. As the boy walked away, her dark sapphire gaze did a quick survey of the room, skimming over him, and then settled back on a man who had come to stand in front of her desk.
But even as she pointed to something on her computer monitor, her gaze flicked back to Hakim. And stayed. He met her eyes, noting peripherally the man she had been helping walk away. The next person in line went unnoticed as her attention remained on him.
She appeared poleaxed and he smiled.
Her entire body went taut and her cheeks pinkened, but she did not look away.
His smile went up a notch. Fulfilling his duty would be a simple matter of turning that attraction into a desire to wed.
“Miss Benning! Pay attention. You have patrons to serve.”
The martinet haranguing Catherine was no doubt the dragon of a boss Harold Benning had mentioned when briefing Hakim on his daughter.
Catherine’s head snapped around and her blush intensified, but she did not stammer as she answered the older woman. “I’m sorry. My mind wandered.” She turned to the next person in line, repeated her apology and asked how she could help them, effectively dismissing her superior.
The older woman harrumphed and marched away like a petty general deprived of his battle spoils.
He waited until the last of the line had walked away before greeting Catherine. “Good afternoon.”
She smiled, her eyes even more startling up close. The blush was back. “Hi. What can I do for you?”
“I am interested in antique telescopes and the history of stargazing. Perhaps you can direct me to a good reference.”
Her eyes lit with interest. “Is this a new hobby for you?”
“Fairly new.” As recent as the discussion Hakim had had with her father. Although Hakim’s own father had shared Catherine’s passionate interest in ancient stargazing, since his death, his books had remained unused in the observatory in the Kadar Palace.
“It’s one of my personal interests. If you’ve got a few minutes I’ll show you the section on antique telescopes and point out a few books that I think are particularly good.”
“I would like that very much.”
Catherine sucked in air, trying to calm her racing heart as she led the handsome and rather imposing, dark man to the proper nonfiction section of her library. The aura of barely leashed power surrounding him was enough to send her pulse rocketing, but the fact that he physically embodied every characteristic of her ideal fantasy tipped her senses into dangerous territory.
At least a couple of inches over six feet, his muscle-honed body towered above her own five-foot-seven in a way that made her feel small beside him. Even knowing she was not. The silky black hair on his head was only a shade darker than the color of his eyes and if he didn’t speak with such impeccable English, she would think he was the sheikh of her fantasies.
A wave of totally unfamiliar desire swept over her, leaving her even more breathless and confused.
He hadn’t touched her and somehow she had always believed this level of sexual awareness could only accompany touch. She’d been wrong.
They stopped in front of a row of books and pulled one off the shelf, to hand to him. “This is my favorite. I have my own first-edition copy at home.”
He took the book and his fingers briefly brushed hers. She jumped back, shocked by the contact. Her body throbbed in a way that made her press her legs together while trying very hard to look unaffected by his nearness.
“I am sorry.” His black gaze probed her own, leaving her even more unsettled.
She shook her head, but could feel that infernal blush crawling along her skin again. “It’s nothing.” Less than nothing. Or at least it should have been.
He flipped open the book and looked at it. She knew she should go, but she couldn’t make her legs move in the direction of the reference desk.
The book shut with a snap and his dark gaze settled on her again. “Do you recommend anything else?”
“Yes.” She spent another ten minutes pointing out different books and suggesting a couple of periodicals he might be interested in ordering.
“Thank you very much, Miss…”
“Benning, but please call me Catherine.”
“I am Hakim.”
“That’s an Arabic name.”
His mouth twitched. “Yes.”
“But your English is perfect.” What an inane thing to say. Lots of Arabic people lived in the Seattle area, many of them second or third generation Americans.
“So it should be,” he drawled in a voice programmed to melt her insides. “The royal tutor would be most displeased if one of his pupils should speak with anything less than complete mastery.”
“Royal?” The word came out sounding choked.
“Forgive me. I am Hakim bin Omar al Kadar, prince in the royal family of Jawhar.”
She was breathing, but her lungs felt starved of oxygen. A prince? She’d been talking to a prince for more than ten minutes. Lusting after him. Heavens. Her half-formed idea of inviting him to attend the next meeting of the Antique Telescope Society died a swift death. Unfortunately, the attraction he held for her did not.
She swallowed. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“I have taken up enough of your time.”
“There’s a society for people interested in Antique telescopes and ancient stargazing in Seattle,” she found herself blurting out, unable to let it go at that. She wouldn’t invite him to meet her there, but she could tell him about the meeting.
“They meet tonight.” She named the time and place.
“Will I see you there?”
“Probably not.” She would be there, but she sat in the back of the room and he was not the sort of man content to enjoy anything from the sidelines.
She wasn’t wholly content either, but she didn’t know how to break a lifetime of conditioning.
“You will not attend?” He actually looked disappointed.
“I always go.”
“Then I shall see you.”
She shrugged. “It’s a big group.”
“I will look for you, Catherine.”
She barely stopped herself from blurting out the question, “Why?” Instead, she smiled. “Then maybe we will run into each other.”
“I do not leave such matters to fate.”
No doubt. He was much too decisive. “Until tonight then.”
She turned to go and was only marginally disappointed he did not call her back. After all, he’d said he would look for her.
He checked the books out she had recommended and left the library a few minutes later.
Catherine watched him go, certain of one thing. The sheikh of her fantasies would no longer be faceless.
He would have the features of Hakim bin Omar al Kadar.