Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest(6)

By: Chantelle Shaw

She stood up. ‘I suppose I could stop off at the Admiralty Hotel and meet him before I drive to the party,’ she said reluctantly.

‘Good. And Lexi, be nice to him.’

She turned in the doorway and gave Roger a puzzled look. ‘I’m always nice, aren’t I?’

‘Certainly—’ the commander smiled ‘—but you can be intimidating. You have an outstanding war record and demonstrated your exceptional bravery, both in the RAF and as a civilian rescue pilot. Sometimes people, men especially, are in awe of you.’

Lexi visualised the Sultan of Zenhab’s haughty features and gave a snort. She couldn’t imagine His High and Mightiness had ever felt intimidated.

Driving back to the cottage, Roger’s comment played on her mind. Did people really find her intimidating? She had always been a popular member of her RAF squadron and, since coming to work for the coastguard agency, she had quickly established her place in the team. The guys treated her as one of them, yet she sensed a faint reservation in their attitude. She had thought it was because she was the only female rescue pilot. But it had been the same when she had been at boarding school. She’d got on well with the other girls but she had never made close friendships.

She telephoned the Admiralty Hotel, and when a vague-sounding receptionist told her that the Sultan was unavailable to take her call she left a message explaining that she could meet him at five o’clock rather than six.

The rest of the day was spent packing up her car with bags and boxes. Closing the door of the cottage for the last time, she felt an unexpected pang. After ten years in the RAF, constantly moving to wherever in the world her squadron was deployed, she had enjoyed making the cottage into a home—even though it had not been the home she had imagined she would share with Steven.

He had talked about them buying a house together. They had even visited an estate agent to discuss the kind of property they wanted, Lexi remembered. Just for a while she had bought into the daydream of a happy marriage, children—a family that was truly her own and a sense of belonging, after a lifetime of feeling that she did not belong anywhere. She should have guessed it was too good to be true. Steven’s betrayal had reminded her of the sense of rejection she had felt when her parents had made it obvious that they preferred their own daughter, Athena, who had been born to them a year after they had adopted Lexi.

At five minutes to five, Lexi walked across the foyer of the Admiralty Hotel, praying that she would not slip in her stiletto heels on the polished marble floor. Usually she lived in jeans and running trainers, but because she was on a tight schedule she had changed into a black silk jersey dress that was suitable for a cocktail party and wouldn’t crease while she was sitting in the car.

The hotel receptionist looked flustered as she dealt with a coach party of tourists who had just arrived. Lexi checked in the lounge and bar, but there was no sign of the Sultan. She glanced at her watch and decided she would have to take charge of the situation. Abandoning the idea of trying to catch the receptionist’s attention, she walked over to the lift and asked a porter for directions to the Queen Mary suite.


KADIR WALKED INTO his hotel suite and took a moment to appreciate the rare luxury of being completely alone. At the royal palace in Zenhab he was always surrounded by courtiers and government ministers, and a retinue of staff and security personnel accompanied him when he visited his various homes in Europe. Even while he had been staying here in a tiny village on the south coast of England he’d given in to pressure from his chief adviser and brought two security guards with him, as well as his private secretary and his manservant Walif, who, despite his seventy-one years, insisted on serving the Sultan as he had served Kadir’s father.

Since his yachting accident two days ago, his staff had driven him mad with their concern for his well-being and, fond as he was of Walif, he had struggled to control his irritation when the manservant had flapped around him like a mother hen. Earlier today, Kadir’s patience had finally snapped and he had sent everyone to his house in Windsor to wait for him.

The sense of freedom reminded him of how he felt when he raced his stallion Baha’ across the desert with the cool wind whipping his face and a million stars studding the purple sky. Free from Walif’s anxious concern for his health, he had spent two hours working out in the hotel gym.

The swelling above his eyebrow had almost disappeared, he noted, glancing in the bathroom mirror before he stepped into the shower cubicle. He had been lucky that the blow to his head from the sail boom had not knocked him unconscious, and even luckier that he had escaped from the capsized yacht with his life. Although it had not been luck, but the skill and bravery of the coastguard rescue crew, and especially the Flight Captain who had flown the helicopter in atrocious weather conditions.