Jewel in His Crown

By: Lynne Graham

In comparison, her late mother, Vanessa, had had more than a taste of excitement while she was still young enough to enjoy it, Ruby recalled affectionately. As a youthful catwalk model in London, Vanessa had caught the eye of an Arab prince, who had married her after a whirlwind romance. Ruby’s birthplace was the country of Ashur in the Persian Gulf. Her father, Anwar, however, had chosen to take a second wife while still married to her mother and that had been the ignominious end of what Vanessa had afterwards referred to as her ‘royal fling’. Vanessa had got a divorce and had returned to the UK with her child. In Ashur daughters were rarely valued as much as sons and Ruby’s father had promptly chosen to forget her existence.

A year later, Vanessa, armed with a substantial payoff and very much on the rebound, had married Curtis Sommerton, a Yorkshire businessman. She had immediately begun calling her daughter by her second husband’s surname in the belief that it would enable Ruby to forget the family that had rejected them. Meanwhile Curtis had sneakily run through her mother’s financial nest egg and had deserted her once the money was spent. Heartbroken, Vanessa had grieved long and hard over that second betrayal of trust and had died of a premature heart attack soon afterwards.

‘My mistake was letting myself get carried away with my feelings,’ Vanessa had often told her daughter. ‘Anwar promised me the moon and I bet he promised the other wife he took the moon, as well. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, my love. Don’t go falling for sweet-talking womanisers like I did!’

Fiery and intelligent, Ruby was very practical and quick to spot anyone trying to take too much advantage of her good nature. She had loved her mother very much and preferred to remember Vanessa as a warm and loving woman, who was rather naive about men. Her stepfather, on the other hand, had been a total creep, whom Ruby had hated and feared. Vanessa had had touching faith in love and romance but, to date, life had only taught Ruby that what men seemed to want most was sex. Finer feelings like commitment, loyalty and romance were much harder to find or awaken. Like so many men before him, Steve had made Ruby feel grubby and she was determined not to go out with him again.

After work she walked home, to the tiny terraced house that she rented, for the second time that day. Her lunch breaks were always cut short by her need to go home and take her dog out for a quick walk but she didn’t mind. Hermione, the light of Ruby’s life, was a Jack Russell terrier, who adored Ruby and disliked men. Hermione had protected Ruby from her stepfather, Curtis, on more than one occasion. Creeping into Ruby’s bedroom at night had been a very dangerous exercise with Hermione in residence.

Ruby shared the small house with her friend Stella Carter, who worked as a supermarket cashier. Now she was surprised to see an opulent BMW car complete with a driver parked outside her home and she had not even contrived to get her key into the front door before it shot abruptly open.

‘Thank goodness, you’re home!’ Stella exclaimed, her round face flushed and uneasy. ‘You’ve got visitors in the lounge…’ she informed Ruby in a suitable whisper.

Ruby frowned. ‘Who are they?’

‘They’re something to do with your father’s family… No, not Curtis the perv, the real one!’ That distinction was hissed into Ruby’s ear.

Completely bewildered, Ruby went into the compact front room, which seemed uncomfortably full of people. A small grey-haired man beamed at her and bowed very low. The middle aged woman with him and the younger man followed suit, so that Ruby found herself staring in wonderment at three downbent heads.

‘Your Royal Highness,’ the older man breathed in a tone of reverent enthusiasm. ‘May I say what a very great pleasure it is to meet you at last?’

‘He’s been going on about you being a princess ever since he arrived,’ Stella told her worriedly out of the corner of her mouth.

‘I’m not a princess. I’m not a royal anything,’ Ruby declared with a frown of wryly amused discomfiture. ‘What’s this all about? Who are you?’

Wajid Sulieman introduced himself and his wife, Haniyah, and his assistant. ‘I represent the interests of the Ashuri royal family and I am afraid I must first give you bad news.’

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