The Desert King's Housekeeper Bride(8)

By: Carol Marinelli

Staring down at her own body, Effie could see the coarse hair on her legs, the thick curls that hid her womanhood, and for the first time she cared—cared that they were there. Wishing her body were smooth and soft and beautiful enough… Then cursed herself for even daring to think such things. Ramming the lid back on the container, she angrily turned off the light, refusing to think about it, except her mind wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t give her the quiet she craved.

She had entered a different world today, seen things she’d never thought she would. Effie screwed her eyes tightly closed and willed sleep to come, only it wasn’t the King or the desert that worried her… Her wildest dreams were a pale version to today’s events.

         * * *

              Here in the desert Zakari liked to prepare his own simple breakfast—

But this morning he was greeted with a feast.

He returned to the aroma of fresh fatir, a sweet pancake pastry Effie had prepared. Tiny bowls with ground almonds in argan oil and honey waited on the table for him, along with cheeses, sweet syrupy fruits and the usual strong, sweet treacle of coffee, but she had also made a refreshing mint tea.

‘This is good,’ Zakari said with unexpected enthusiasm as he took a bite of the fatir. He had the best chefs, was used only to excellent food being served to him, yet fatir, properly prepared, well, there was little better.

‘It’s my mother’s recipe.’ Effie smiled.

‘She is a good cook!’

‘She was.’ He watched her smile falter. ‘She died two years ago. She was once a palace maid at Aristo. She used to make it—’

‘They would not have fatir there,’ Zakari interrupted with a sneer. ‘There it is all French pastries, and croissants. At least here on Calista we have tradition still!’

‘I’m sure you’re right,’ Effie duly agreed, ‘but my mother worked there many years ago, before I was born.’

‘When King Christos was alive.’ Zakari smiled at the memory of a man he had never met, then graciously conceded the point to Effie. ‘They would have had fatir in the palace then. And argan…’ He dipped the pastry in the rare oil, and offered it to her. Shocked, Effie refused.

‘Sit,’ Zakari ordered. ‘For days I have spoken to no one. As a housekeeper here in the desert you can speak with me when I choose.’ He held out the pastry dripping with oil and she took it. ‘However,’ Zakari reminded, ‘when we return to the palace I will ignore you.’

‘Of course!’ Effie demurred, stunned when he smiled, and lost, just lost, by the effect of that coveted smile when aimed at her.

‘That was a joke,’ Zakari said. ‘If I see you, of course, I will greet you. So how is the argan?’ he asked, as Effie glowed at the thought of the King acknowledging her back at the palace!

‘It’s wonderful.’ She had eaten fatir before, but hers was always sweetened just with honey. The argan oil was a luxury, liquid gold, produced from trees that grew only in Southwest Morocco. It was a delicacy and it tasted divine.

‘It is good for energy,’ Zakari explained. ‘It is also considered…’ he hesitated when he saw a dull flush spread on her cheeks, realising that after yesterday’s goings-on an aphrodisiac perhaps wasn’t required at breakfast this morning ‘…to have many medicinal benefits,’ he offered instead, and as Effie watched that handsome, unscrupulous face again soften with a smile it was easy for her to smile too. ‘My mother too always insisted on fatir.’

‘Your real mother or Queen Anya?’

It was an innocent question, the easiness of their chatter, the informality he had engineered all serving to knock her off guard, but seeing his eyes narrow, the sudden rigidity of his features, Effie could have bitten off her tongue, inwardly cursing herself for forgetting Stavroula’s stern warning, because once again she was in trouble.

‘Your job is to listen!’ Zakari snapped. ‘Not to question.’

‘Of course, Your Highness…’ Effie stood, cheeks flaming, busying herself with clearing dishes away, rueing that she had mentioned a subject that was clearly out of bounds. But as she turned for the staff area Zakari’s words halted her.