The Desert King's Housekeeper Bride(2)

By: Carol Marinelli

Soon, he would get his revenge on Aegeus for what he had done to Anya.

Haughty, razored features remained immobile as still he sat, then his full mouth softened in a ghost of a smile.

Revenge was so close he could taste it.

Craning her neck, Effie took a final lingering look at the palace as the helicopter lifted her into the late afternoon sky.

It was her first helicopter ride, and Effie knew she should be nervous, except she was too terrified at what lay ahead to worry about flying. The whole afternoon, in fact, had been like a wild roller-coaster ride.

It had started with whispers that Christobel—King Zakari’s personal housekeeper—had, while the King was in the desert, run off with her latest boyfriend.

Christobel was always getting into trouble. In the two years Effie had been at the palace, it had always amazed her that Christobel was the King’s personal housekeeper. When the staff had first heard that she’d run off, it had been more giggles and whispers, until the news had filtered through that Christobel was expected today to join the King on his retreat in the desert. A frantic search had ensued to find a suitable replacement, which had proved harder than usual. Two of the senior palace domestic staff were on leave, another was pregnant, another had children sick, until finally, to her absolute shock, Effie had been hastily considered for the position. With her mother dead and no other family to speak of, there was no reason she had to stay in Calista; the only blight had been her lack of experience with the actual royals. Effie was one of the lowliest palace maids, and her duties were usually reserved for tending to the more general areas of the palace.

‘Nothing can be too much trouble for the King!’ Stavroula said. ‘For your time there you are on call day and night…’

‘Of course!’

‘The King has asked for no contact with the palace or his aides—he has demanded complete isolation. Christobel would have been the only one who would have assisted him with meals and housekeeping after his first week there. With all the troubles, he wants time alone right now.’ Stavroula ran a worried hand over her brow.

‘There is just so much trouble at the moment, Effie…’

There was.

Since King Aegeus’s death, scandal abounded on the neighbouring island of Aristo, but Calista wasn’t without its share of drama too. King Zakari’s betrothed bride, Kalila, had, to everyone’s shock, married the King’s brother, Aarif, while their younger brother, Sheikh Kaliq, had recently married a lowly stable girl.

Oh, Stavroula was right, Effie knew that much—with so much unrest on both islands, there would be a lot for the King to think about.

‘He demands complete solitude,’ Stavroula explained. ‘He has insisted there be no contact with the palace, so you cannot change your mind once you are there.’

‘What if the King were taken ill?’

‘He may well be.’ Stavroula gave a worried shrug. ‘But King Zakari, better than most, knows the test and demands of the desert… He feels it is what he needs right now—and what the King wants, the King gets…’ Stavroula gave a pale smile—compromise wasn’t exactly a word that equated with King Zakari. ‘A helicopter is booked to bring you back next week. Until then it will be just you and the King.’

‘I’ll work hard.’ Effie nodded eagerly.

‘None of your chatter!’ Stavroula sternly warned.

‘He won’t even know that I’m there,’ Effie said earnestly.

Looking up at Effie’s kind, plain, eager face, her dancing black curls and honest bright blue eyes, Stavroula relented a touch, because she knew that Effie would do everything possible for the King. ‘These are turbulent times, Effie—we need our King to make wise choices. Our role seems meagre to many, but if the King is not troubled, if we can soothe his way, then he can come to the right decisions.

‘Come now.’ Clapping her hands, Stavroula stood up. ‘There is no time to waste. Christobel was supposed to leave more than half an hour ago—the helicopter is waiting.’

‘I need to pack.’

‘There isn’t time,’ Stavroula said, hurrying Effie through the palace and dragging Christobel’s pale blue suitcase behind her. ‘You’ll just have to make do with Christobel’s things.’