Authors: Carol Marinelli
fool!’ Ibrahim strode in, straight past his mother, to where his father sat. He left a trail of black energy that had his mother standing at the door fearful to go in, for, try as she might, she could no longer halt them. She could not contain the conflict between the two men she loved most.
‘You dare to speak to me like that.’ The king rose to defend himself. ‘I am your father, I am your king.’
‘You are not my king,’ Ibrahim said. ‘You will no longer be my king, for I am done. The knife of the family should not cut—and yet you have cut my mother out.’
‘There was no choice.’
‘You are king,’ Ibrahim sneered. ‘You get to choose. You make the rules.’
He could hear his mother crying in the hallway, but he would not stop. ‘She deserves to be at home with you, not holed up in another country as some secret. She is the mother of your sons.’
‘As did you!’ Ibrahim challenged what no man
should. He stood and questioned the ways of old, the ways that chained him, his father, his family from a future. ‘You had mistresses, many, even when you were with her …’
‘I am king!’ Indignant, he roared. ‘Your mother had four young children. I was helping her so she could focus on the children, not have to worry herself attending to my needs …’
‘What about her needs?’ Ibrahim roared. ‘Clearly she had them, but you were too blind to see.’
‘Ibrahim, please,’ Sophia begged from the hallway. ‘Please, stop.’
As Georgie pulled up at Sophia’s house she could see her at the door, bent over and crying, and as she climbed out, she heard raised voices and Sophia ran to her. ‘He will kill him for how he is speaking. Stop him, Georgie. You must.’
But he would not stop and Georgie knew it. As with Felicity, there were too many words left unsaid, a confrontation that needed to be had, so she held Sophia’s hand and listened as Ibrahim roared. ‘You didn’t even give her the dignity of ending it.’ He shook his head in disgust at his father. ‘You need to bring her home.’
‘My people will not accept her and they will not respect me if I am seen to forgive her.’
‘Some won’t!’ Ibrahim challenged. ‘But there are many who will respect you a whole lot more—your son included.’
And the king looked at his youngest son, the one he could not read, the one he had accused of being the
weakest when he had wept in the desert and just would not stop. The child that wept till it choked him, till he vomited, when his body should have been spent, when he should have curled up and accepted his lesson. Still Ibrahim had not, because he would not give up on what he believed in, and the king saw then the strength in his son.
‘I love Georgie,’ Ibrahim said. ‘She will be my wife, and without her by my side, I will not return to Zaraq. I will never return and neither will our children.’ He meant it. The king knew his son meant it. ‘If I am to be a prince, she is to be royal—as my mother should be.’
‘You can’t just give it all away.’
‘I just have.’ There wasn’t a trace of regret in his voice and Georgie closed her eyes as she listened and learnt just how much he loved her.
‘You cannot just turn your back—the desert calls …’
‘There is no call from the desert. The call was from my heart.’
‘Don’t mock the ways of old.’
‘But I’m not,’ Ibrahim said. ‘The desert knows what it is doing, because it brought us together. It’s the ruler who is blind.’ He was done with his father. Now he just had to find Georgie, but even before he turned round she was there beside him and she took his hand, not just for him but because she was still intimidated by a king.
‘Is this what you want for him?’ the king challenged, and Georgie wasn’t so strong.
‘You don’t have to give it up, Ibrahim. We can work something out. I know how much you love it.’
‘They have to love me too,’ he said, and it sounded a lot like her. ‘I would be a good prince, a loyal prince. I can help them move forward and bring much-needed change, but only if they want all of me, and a part of me will always be with you.’ He meant it, Georgie realised, he truly meant it. Gone was the tension and doubt. There was no fight inside him, no wrestling with himself, and without a glance backwards he walked from the house, taking Georgie with him.
‘Do you realise what you’ve done?’ Georgie asked.
‘Do you?’ Ibrahim checked, for the first time in his life bordering on embarrassed, because all that she wanted he could not now give her. ‘You won’t even be half a princess.’
‘Am I yours?’ Georgie asked, and he nodded. ‘Are you mine?’ she checked, and he closed his eyes and nodded again.
‘Then I have everything.’
She looked down at his fingers coiled around hers, to the darkness and light that they made, then up to his eyes and the talent behind them—and there was her palace.
She had her prince.
hard part will soon be over.’
Ibrahim meant the formal part of the wedding, but as she smiled back at him, it meant something more too.
The hard part was long over, but if it reared up again, she could face it.
Could face anything with Ibrahim by her side.
‘Soon,’ Ibrahim said, ‘we can go to the desert.’ Now he looked forward to his time there. Now he understood that it was wiser than anyone could begin to understand.
But his mind did not linger there. This night his attention was on Georgie. She didn’t like the spotlight, the limelight, and he shielded her from it as best he could, and thankfully, though it was their wedding, there was another couple that dimmed the glare just a touch.
Zaraq was celebrating two happy couples today, Georgie and Ibrahim and also their king with his queen.
The people had always loved her, had mourned her son on her behalf, and now she was back, glowing and
radiant. She sat at the table by his side as the king read his speech.
He was proud of his country and people and he thanked them for sharing this day, and he was thankful to his wife too, especially, he added on a whim, for her patience. Even Ibrahim managed a wry laugh and then his father looked right at him and he was proud as he thanked both his youngest and the wildest, even for rebellion, because challenge was good, the king said, it was how we learned. And he smiled at Georgie and thanked her too—because she had taught him so much.
Then the hard part was over and seemingly now they could enjoy.
Except Georgie couldn’t.
She stood at the stop of the stairs, heard the beat of the music and the crowd urge them on, the procession that danced them, and his hand in hers.
‘I can’t do this.’
‘You are doing it,’ Ibrahim said, because she could walk if she wanted to and that would be enough, but he knew she was capable of much more. ‘You’re doing it now.’
Had the king been so jubilant at Felicity’s wedding, so happy and proud?
She could see her mother, smiling, and the radiant face of Sophia, who was home now, and her sister glowing.
But more than that there was Ibrahim beside her and halfway down the steps, with him beside her, Georgie
found her rhythm, found she could dance, even terribly, and still he adored her.
She was as she was, perfect to him.
Which gave her courage she had never imagined she could have.
To dance those last steps and accept the love that surrounded her and not care if she stumbled or fell, because Ibrahim was there to catch her. And she was there too for him.
She danced the zeffa, moved toward him and away from him, danced around him and beside him, felt the beat in her stomach that spread down her thighs to her toes, and now she could give in to it and then there was contact and she rested in his arms.
‘Take me to the desert.’
‘Soon,’ Ibrahim said, because still there was duty, so they danced one more dance then two and then headed to a loaded table, where Georgie took her time to select from the lavish spread.
He watched nosy, bony fingers pick up a pomegranate, he saw the servant move in with a knife, but he took over and tore the fruit in two.
‘Take me to the desert,’ Georgie said, because she hadn’t been there since that night and her womb ached for him.
And Ibrahim was about to remind her, but he checked himself. Yes, there was duty, except he had other priorities today. They had posed for the photos, had waved to the crowds, had feasted and danced—had done
every last thing Georgie hated—and his duty was now to her.
‘You can’t just leave,’ her mother chided, as Ibrahim spoke with the king. ‘You can’t leave midway through your own wedding.’
‘Yes, she can.’ Felicity hugged her sister as Ibrahim returned.
‘What did he say?’ Georgie asked, but it was too noisy for him to answer. They were supposed to dance again, and with the end in sight, she did. Out of the palace and to a waiting helicopter, and they flew into a desert that looked like an ocean and for a while there were no words, just his kisses as they flew over it.
‘What did he say?’ Georgie asked, when finally they were alone in the desert and she still worried that they’d caused trouble. ‘What did the king say when you told him we were leaving?’
‘To look after you.’ Ibrahim replied. ‘Which, I told him, goes without saying.’
She stepped into his tent and braced herself for servants, for Bedra, for bathing and petals and all the drama that was a royal wedding, consoling herself that in an hour or so they could escape to bed, but it was Ibrahim lighting the lanterns that led them.
‘Where is everyone?’
‘Gone,’ Ibrahim answered. ‘It’s just you and me and no one waiting, no one watching to make sure we’re safe …’ He looked at his bride, at the broken mould that
was Georgie, and he wouldn’t change a single thing just to have this moment. ‘Which you are.’
Safe in the desert, alone with him.
All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all the incidents are pure invention.
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First published in Great Britain 2011
by Mills & Boon, an imprint of Harlequin (UK) Limited,
Eton House, 18-24 Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1SR
© Carol Marinelli 2011