The Purest of Diamonds?By: Susan Stephens
TENSION COILED IN Leila’s stomach as she peered out of the cab window to weigh up the party guests pouring into the hotel. This time of year wasn’t great for holding an event in the frozen north. Leila’s home town of Skavanga was beyond the Arctic Circle in the land of the midnight sun, but when her sister Britt threw a party no one cared about the weather. Sky-high heels and bodycon was the order of the day for the women, while the men rocked formal suits beneath their silk scarves and alpaca overcoats. The mantra for the packs of girls heading up the steps to the hotel appeared to be: if you’re going to freeze, do it on the way to Britt’s party.
Leila was the only one of three Skavanga sisters who didn’t shine at parties. Small talk wasn’t her strength. She was happiest in her office in the basement of the mining museum, gathering and recording fascinating information—
Relax, Leila instructed herself firmly. Britt had lent her a gorgeous dress with a pair of spindle-heeled sandals to match, and she had a fleece-lined jacket sitting next to her in the cab. All she had to do was run up the steps of the hotel, breeze into the lobby and get lost in the crush.
‘You have a good time now!’ the cabbie insisted as she paid the fare, adding a hefty tip because she felt sorry for him having to work such a filthy night.
‘Sorry I couldn’t get you any closer to the hotel,’ he added, pulling a long face. ‘I’ve never seen so many cabs here before—’
The Britt effect, Leila thought as she smiled. ‘Don’t worry. This is fine for me—’
‘Careful you don’t slip, love—’
‘You all right?’ The cab driver leaned out of his open window to take a look at her.
‘Fine, thank you.’
Liar. She had just performed a series of skating moves that would have done any ice star proud—if that ice star were a clown, that was.
The cabbie shook his head with concern. ‘The roads are really icy tonight.’
She’d noticed. She was currently lodged in an inelegant squatting position at the side of his cab, her tights were ripped, and her dress was...thankfully not completely ruined after a close encounter with the side of a mud-streaked cab. Thank goodness her dress was blue-black. Navy was a great colour. It could be sponged.
Picking herself up, she stood waiting for a gap in the traffic. The cabbie was also waiting for the cars to clear. ‘Aren’t those the three men in the consortium that saved the town?’ he said, pointing.
Leila’s heart lurched. Sure enough, heading in arrow formation up the steps of the hotel were her elder sister Britt’s husband, the Sheikh of Kareshi; her middle sister Eva’s fiancé, the impossibly handsome Italian Count Roman Quisvada; and the third man in the consortium, who drew her gaze like a heat-seeking missile to its target. Powering up the steps ahead of the other men, Raffa Leon. Dangerously attractive. Currently single.
Turning away from more trouble than most women could handle, Leila shook her head with impatience for allowing herself to indulge in a moment of sheer fantasy. She was the shy, virginal sister in a family of out-there go-getters, and Raffa spelled danger in any language. Even the most experienced woman would think twice before falling into his lap, and she was more of a small-town mouse.
But the cabbie was right in saying the three men had saved the town. Leila and her two sisters, Britt and Eva, along with their long-lost brother, Tyr, had used to own the Skavanga mine outright, but when the minerals ran out and diamonds were discovered, they couldn’t afford the specialized equipment required to mine the precious stones. The town of Skavanga had always depended on the mine for its existence, so the future of everyone who lived there had been at stake too. It had been such a relief when the powerful consortium had moved in, saving both the business and the town.
‘There’s one billionaire left, if you hurry,’ the cabbie commented with a wink. ‘The other two are married—or about to be, I heard.’
‘Yes.’ Leila smiled. ‘To my sisters—’
‘So you’re one of the famous Skavanga Diamonds,’ the cabbie exclaimed, clearly impressed.