|Название||The Sheikh's Bought Wife|
|Автор произведения||Sharon Kendrick|
|Жанр||Короткие любовные романы|
|Серия||Mills & Boon Modern|
|Издательство||Короткие любовные романы|
‘A treat?’ she echoed doubtfully.
‘Indeed. I don’t imagine you frequent the capital’s high spots every night of the week.’
‘I’m not really a “high spot” sort of person,’ she said stubbornly.
‘No. I can tell.’ Fleetingly, Zayed thought her reaction might be almost amusing if it weren’t so insulting. But she would soon learn to be grateful. ‘I will send a car for you shortly before eight. Make sure you’re ready.’
She opened her mouth as if she was about to say something else but maybe something in his eyes stopped her for she nodded, even though her expression made her look as if she’d been asked to do some sort of penance. In fact, he was almost certain that she’d just stifled a resigned kind of sigh.
‘Very well, Your Royal Highness,’ she said stiffly. ‘I will be ready just before eight.’
HER MOBILE PHONE clamped tightly to her ear, Jane paced up and down in her small sitting room as she willed her sister to answer. She had been trying in vain to get hold of her all day—ever since she’d been forced to leave work early in order to prepare herself for a dinner date she didn’t want with the arrogant Sheikh. An arrangement which was still puzzling her as she couldn’t work out why he should want to spend time with her, since she was confident that the work she did for him and his country was of the highest possible standard. And especially since he made no attempt to hide the fact that he found her company about as appealing as she found his.
But an evening with Zayed was far less worrying than the two calls she hadn’t dared pick up, from the same number as the man with the threatening voice who’d called this morning. Suddenly Jane’s safe and contained world felt as if it were spinning out of control.
‘Hello?’ The connection clicked and a cautious female voice came onto the line. ‘Is that you, Jane?’
Cleo! At last. ‘Who else did you think it would be?’ Jane questioned, drawing in a grateful breath as she heard her sister’s sexy voice. ‘What’s going on? Why have I been getting threatening phone calls on your behalf from some man who says you owe money?’
There was a pause. A disturbingly long pause from her normally garrulous sister. For a moment she thought the connection had been lost before a single word split the silence.
Something in the delivery of that word sent a shiver of apprehension quivering down Jane’s spine. ‘Cleo? Are you going to start telling me what’s going on?’
Cleo began to speak, a little hesitantly at first—and then it all came out in a babble which seemed perilously close to tears. And Jane felt she could have written the script herself, because it was all so predictable. Her dizzy, impractical twin sister, whose big dreams had always been way too big, had decided to start living those dreams. Inspired by too much time spent monitoring the lives of minor celebrities on social media, her out-of-control spending had ended in a pile of debts which looked now like mountains.
‘Can’t you go and speak to your bank manager?’ said Jane, trying to keep her voice steady. ‘And pay the money back in instalments?’
There was a hollow kind of laugh in response. ‘It’s gone beyond that. If I’d borrowed from the bank in the first place, maybe. But I didn’t. I borrowed from a man down the pub. Turned out he’s a loan shark.’
‘Oh, Cleo? Why?’
There was a pause. ‘Because he was willing to lend to me—why else? I’m not like you, Jane. I don’t think everything through to within an inch of its life. I don’t spend my life wading through dusty textbooks and wearing thrift shop clothes and letting life pass me by. So I...’ Cleo’s voice faltered. ‘I decided I wanted to see the world. I went on a fancy cruise and bought myself a wardrobe to match and I...’
‘You pretended to be someone you weren’t,’ said Jane slowly, because this was a familiar pattern going right back to their childhood. Gorgeous Cleo who wanted to be a famous model—only she wasn’t quite tall enough or thin enough. Cleo who had been the apple of their mother’s eye. Who had been so devastated when Mum died that everyone had gone out of their way to cushion her from the tearing pain of her emotions. Maybe they had tried too hard, Jane conceded now. Made too many allowances. Bailed her out one time too many. Accepted with a resigned shrug when Cleo dropped out of yet another course and just gone ahead and enrolled her on another—as if they were all waiting for some magic solution to fix her life for her. It had become even worse after their father had died and Jane had been left feeling like the responsible one, the one who needed to take care of Cleo. But that was the story of her life, wasn’t it? Everyone leaned on Jane. Good old reliable Jane.
Closing her eyes, she pressed the phone against her ear. ‘How much do you owe, Cleo? And I don’t want rough estimates designed to shield me from the truth. How much exactly?’
The sum her sister mentioned made Jane feel quite sick and for a minute she actually thought her knees might give way. ‘You’re kidding?’ she questioned hoarsely.
‘I wish I was. Oh, Jane, what am I going to do?’
It was an all too familiar cry and what could Jane do but respond to it, as she had responded so many times before? Tightly, she gripped her phone. ‘You’re going to sit tight and wait for me to get back to you.’
‘But you haven’t got that kind of money.’
‘No. I haven’t.’ Jane swallowed as an image of Zayed’s face swam before her eyes—all flashing black eyes and cruel, mocking lips. ‘But I know somebody who does.’
Slowly, she put the phone down. Did she dare ask the impossibly wealthy Sheikh for some kind of loan to help tide her sister over? A loan which she could pay back over the next however many years? She was so lost in thought that she didn’t realise the time until she heard the clock chime out seven times and realised that Zayed’s car would be here in less than an hour.
Dashing into the shower, she sluiced tepid water over her fleshy body realising that she’d been so worried about her sister that she’d barely stopped to wonder just why Zayed had been so insistent about taking her out for dinner. No doubt she would find out soon enough. Opening up her wardrobe, she cast an uninterested eye over its contents but clothes had never been important to her and, anyway, she doubted the arch-seducer Sheikh would notice what someone like her was wearing. She gave a faint shudder of distaste as she thought about the Kafalahian ruler’s reputation with women, before pulling on a warm sweater and thick tights to go with her tweed skirt—because the autumn evening had a decided nip to the air.
There was a knock at the door and Jane didn’t miss the chauffeur’s look of astonishment when she opened it, though—to the man’s credit—he instantly tried to disguise it with a polite smile, especially when she greeted him in fluent Kafalahian. Looking glaringly out of place, the royal limousine was parked outside the small house owned by a college friend of hers, which had been divided into two apartments—the top one of which Jane rented. Still. At least her friend was working abroad and not around to witness the bizarre spectacle of a Kafalahian flag on the bonnet of the car, flapping in the light breeze.
It felt weird to have the driver open the door for her and for her to slide somewhat awkwardly onto the soft leather seat, because she’d never travelled in one of the royal cars before. There was a small fridge in situ, along with a glittering row of crystal glasses—as