September 1, 2015
Bound to the Warrior King
The warrior she tamed…
Wild and untamed, Tarek al-Khalij was never meant to rule Tahar. More familiar with a sword than a crown, this lethal warrior must now heal the suffering his brother's rule inflicted. To do it, he needs his most precious—and dangerous—weapon yet…a royal bride!
The widow he conquered
Elegant and poised, Queen Olivia will educate Tarek in the civilized art of political warfare. But in exchange, Tarek unleashes an unrestrained, primal passion she could never have guessed at possessing. Soon Olivia realizes that she has become inescapably bound…to the warrior king!
She was frail. And pale. Her blond hair pulled back into a tight and elegant bun, the long sleeves of her dress, and the hem that brushed the floor, were likely an attempt at sparing her European skin from the full brunt of the Taharan sun.
It would not do. A few moments out in the environment he’d spent his past decade in and she would perish.
Nothing more than a white lily drying on the sand until she returned back to the dust, sent away on the next dry, hot breeze.
Whatever advisor had imagined she would make a suitable wife for the Sheikh of Tahar was clearly yet another man he needed to have removed from his position.
When it came to his staff, Tarek’s needs were not Malik’s. As was becoming clearer and clearer every day.
A political alliance. That was what this potential marriage had been called. As Tarek knew nothing of politics he’d been more than willing to investigate the possibilities of the union.
But no. Seeing her now…it would not stand.
“Take her away from my sight,” Tarek said.
She looked up, her expression smooth yet shot through with steel. “No.”
He arched a brow. “No?”
“I cannot leave here.”
“Certainly you can. The same way you came in.” It was he who could not leave. He who could not go back and seek the solace of the desert.
He, who had been kept in isolation for most of his life, who now had to find a way to rule a population of millions.
She tilted her chin upward and he could see her regal bearing, the aristocratic lines of her profile. And he realized he had not bothered to hold on to her name.
He was certain he had been told when, two weeks previously, he’d been informed a princess from a European kingdom would be coming to offer herself in marriage. And yet, his brain had sifted through and retained some things, but not others.
Her name was not essential, and therefore it had been dropped.
“You do not understand, my sheikh,” she continued, her voice steady, echoing in the vast throne room.
He rather liked this room. It was very like a cave.
“Do I not?” he asked, still unaccustomed to the title.
“No. I cannot return to Alansund without this union secured. In fact, it would be best if I did not return at all.”
“And why is that?”
“There is no place for me. I am not born of royalty. I am not even native to the country.”
“Are you not?”
“I’m American,” she said. “I met my husband…my late husband, the king, when he was at school. Now he is dead. His brother is in his place, and is set on taking a wife. One who isn’t me, thank God. But he has determined my value is in a dynastic marriage abroad. And so…here I am.”
“Your name,” he said, because he was tired of not knowing it.
She blinked. “You do not know my name?”
“I have no time for trivialities, and as I am not keeping you, your name did not seem important. However, now I will have it.”
She tilted her chin upward, her expression haughty. “Forgive me, your highness, but my name is not considered a triviality in most settings. I’m Dowager Queen Olivia, of Alansund. And I had thought we were going to discuss the merits of marriage.”
Tarek shifted in his seat, lifting his hand and smoothing his beard. “I am not entirely certain there is any merit to marriage.”
She blinked her large, luminous blue eyes. “Then why am I here?”
“My advisors felt that it would be beneficial for me to speak to you. I am not certain.”
“Is there another woman you prefer?”
He wasn’t certain how to answer the question. Because it was a foreign thought. Women had never been a part of his life. Of his exile. “No. Why do you ask?”
“You do require an heir, I would assume.”
She was not wrong in that. He was the last of the al-Khalij family. All that remained of a once mighty bloodline. Curse his brother for not taking a bride. For not procreating when he had the chance. Now it would fall to Tarek and nothing in his life had prepared him for the task. Quite the contrary he had been told that family would be nothing more than a weakness to one such as him. Had been trained to cast off the lusts of the flesh. In order to protect his country he’d had to become something more than a man. He had had to become a part of the rock that grew out of the dry, impassable desert. Asking him to become blood and bone again was a tall order.
And yet, he was all that stood between Tahar and her enemies. All that stood between his nation and ruin. He had long been the sword for his people, but now he was the head. A duty he could no more shirk than the previous assignation.
“With all due respect, Sheikh, the delay in producing an heir is what finds us both here today. I failed to have a child with my husband when I could have, and your brother failed to do so, as well. Therefore I find myself displaced, my brother-in-law is as uninterested in taking me as his bride as I am in becoming her, and you are here on the throne permanently when it should likely be a nephew of yours assuming the position. If I’ve learned one thing over the past year it’s that delay in procreation can be quite a costly error.”
Tarek leaned back, his muscles aching. This past month in the palace had done nothing to acclimatize him to modern furnishings. He found the positions they required him to hold unnatural.
His original assessment of this queen Olivia was that she was fragile. He was beginning to wonder if he had been blinded by appearances. He knew better than that.
A man who had spent as many years out in the desert as he had knew better than to trust his eyes alone. Mirages were more than the stuff of legend. As he well knew.
In the desert you were far more likely to find more sand than any respite from the heat. Still, when news of Malik’s death had been brought to him by the leader of the Bedouin tribe he spent some of his time with, he had been reluctant to return.
What could he offer the country as a diplomat? This country that was a part of his soul. A nation left devastated by his brother’s rule. By the loss of his parents all those year ago to an assassin’s bullet.
This country he had sworn to protect at all costs. Because it was all that remained. The throne, the protection of Tahar, were the very reasons his parents had lost their lives.
Which was why he had to return. Why he had to rule. Why he had to continue on. Why he had to heal this nation left broken and in ruin by Malik.
And why, no matter how distasteful it might seem, he had to consider the merit of taking a bride. One who would fill in the gaps he could not.
“On that you present a well-made point. And yet, I have other options. At the very least I have proven I am much more difficult to kill than my brother.”
She arched her pale brow. “Is anyone actively trying to disprove that? Because my own safety is paramount in my mind. If you have enemies I find it won’t do to put myself, or any potential children, in that sort of situation.”
“I appreciate your self-interest. However, my brother’s death was nothing more than an accident. There are no enemies. Any detractors he might have had he dealt with harshly. None remain.”
“The manner of ruling ensures that many in fact remain. It’s just they are silenced. Hopefully, you do not bear the brunt of their anger.”
“I am not Malik. I do not intend to follow his example.” Far from it. He intended to rule for the people, not for himself. Malik had intimidated the masses. Had ignored the economy. Had turned a blind eye while people starved. Spent money on lavish parties and bought jewels and penthouses for his latest courtesan. He had served no master but his own lust, and Tarek refused to walk down that same path.
Far better to resent power than to crave it. As Tarek now knew his brother had done from when he was a very young man. As he had learned in greater depth since he’d returned.
His brother was a murderer. Thankfully, now a dead one.
She nodded slowly. “I see. Change can cause its own issues.”
“You speak as though you have experience with this.”
Pale pink lips curved upward. She was such a refined creature. Foreign to him. He had spent very little time in the company of women, less so women such as this.
The females who populated the Bedouin camps he frequented were strong, accustomed to a harsh way of life. To fending off the elements and intruders, both from nature and enemy factions. They were not like this ridiculous and impractically designed specimen before him. Willowy, slim, with a neck that was too long and fragile in his estimation. She appeared far too easily broken.
“My husband made quite a few changes when he took the throne. He was responsible for a great deal of modernization. Alansund was one of the more outdated countries in Scandinavia and King Marcus did quite a lot to change that.” She swallowed, that lovely, impractical throat working. “Change is always painful.”
He nodded slowly. “And your country faces another change. A new king.”
“Yes. Though I trust Anton will do his best for the country. He’s a good man, my brother-in-law.”
“Not good enough for you to marry?”
“He is involved with someone else and wishes to marry her. Anyway, it’s a bit biblical. Taking your dead brother’s wife. Not to mention, it didn’t settle well with me.”
Tarek could not imagine why she would find that specifically objectionable. He tried to imagine what it might have been like if Malik had been in possession of a wife. He couldn’t fathom why it should be more distasteful than any other method of acquiring a sheikha. It didn’t matter to him who the woman had been married to previously.
But then, he had to acknowledge his ignorance when it came to relationships between men and women. Perhaps, it was one of those things that escaped him due to the singular nature of his existence prior to coming back to live in the palace.
“It was he who sent you here? Your brother-in-law?”
She nodded slowly, taking a step toward the throne, the sound of her shoes on the black marble unique to his ears. Something to do with the high-heeled style of her footwear. Intriguing. Unfamiliar.
“Yes. He realized you might be in need of a queen. And it so happened, we had an extra.”
He recognized the bit of strange humor in that statement. He might have laughed had he been a man given to such things. As it was, he had forgotten how.
“And we are short one. I can see where this appeared to be a logical solution. But, regrettably I find I’m in no space to make vows. Now, are you able to see yourself out or shall I call some guards to assist you?”