Jewel in His Crown

By: Lynne Graham

‘Trouble?’ Chloe asked, blue eyes bright with curiosity as Raja set down the phone and lifted his shirt.

‘I have to leave immediately.’

Chloe scrambled out of bed and pressed her lithe pale body to his. ‘But we were going out tonight,’ she protested, looking up at him with wide, wounded eyes while being careful to look and sound hurt and disappointed rather than accusing, for there was very little Chloe didn’t know about keeping a man happy.

‘I’ll make up for it on my next visit,’ Raja promised, setting her to one side to resume dressing.

He was trying not to wonder who the Ashuri representatives had found for him to marry. What did the woman’s identity matter? Hopefully she would be reasonably attractive. That was the most he could hope for. Anything more would be icing on the cake. He suppressed the thought that he was as imprisoned by his royal birth as an animal in a trap. Such reflections were unnecessarily dramatic and in no way productive.

His private jet whisked him back to Najar within hours and his brother was waiting in the limo that met him at the airport.

‘I wouldn’t marry a stranger!’ Haroun told him heatedly.

‘I do it gladly for you.’ Raja was grateful that his kid brother had no such future sacrifice to fear. ‘Right now, after a long period of instability, tradition is exactly what the people in both countries long to have back—’

‘The Ashuris are broke. Their country is in ruins. Why don’t you offer them a portion of our oil revenues instead?’

‘Haroun!’ Raja censured. ‘Watch your mouth. Until we find a feasible framework for this peace agreement we all need to practise great diplomacy.’

‘Since when has the truth been a hanging offence?’ Haroun argued. ‘We won the war yet you’re being bartered off to a bunch of boundary thieves, who were still herding sheep when our great-great-grandfather, Rashid, was a king!’

Conscious that many Najaris would agree with his sibling, for the war had sown deep enmity and prejudice between the people of both countries, Raja merely dealt the younger man an impatient appraisal. ‘I expect a more balanced outlook from a young man as well educated as you are.’

At the royal palace, the grey-haired and excessively precise Ashuri court advisor awaited Raja’s arrival with an assistant and both men were, indeed, wreathed in smiles.

‘My apologies if our timing has proved inconvenient, Your Royal Highness. Thank you for seeing us at such short notice.’ Bowing very low, Wajid wasted no time in making small talk. A man on a mission, he spread open a file on the polished table between them. ‘We have discovered that the only legal and marriageable female heir to the Ashuri throne is the daughter of the late King Anwar and a British citizen—’

‘A British citizen?’ Haroun repeated, intrigued. ‘Anwar was ruler before Princess Bariah’s father, King Tamim, wasn’t he?’

‘He was Tamim’s elder brother. I recall that King Anwar made more than one marriage,’ Raja remarked. ‘Who was the lady’s mother?’

The older man’s mouth compressed. ‘His first wife was an Englishwoman. The alliance was brief and she returned with the child to England after the divorce.’

‘And what age is Anwar’s daughter now?’ Haroun was full of lively curiosity.

‘Twenty-one years old. She has never been married.’

‘Half English,’ Prince Raja mused. ‘And still very young. Of good character?’

Wajid stiffened. ‘Of course.’

Raja was not so easily impressed. In his experience women who coveted the attentions of a prince were only looking for a good time and something sparkly to sweeten the deal. ‘Why did King Anwar divorce her mother?’

‘She was unable to have more children. It was a love match and short-lived,’ the older man commented with a scornful compression of his lips. ‘The king had two sons with his second wife, both of whom were killed during the war.’

Although Wajid was repeating information he was already well acquainted with, Raja dipped his head in respectful acknowledgement for a generation of young men had been decimated by the conflict that had raged for so long. As far as he was concerned if his marriage could persuade bitter enemies to live together in peace, it was a small sacrifice in comparison to the endless funerals he had once been forced to attend.

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