The Sheikh's Secret BabiesBy: Lynne Graham
KING JAUL, WHO HAD recently acceded to the throne of Marwan on the death of his father, Lut, glanced across the date-palm-filled courtyard beyond his office. A beautiful brunette was playing ball there with her niece and nephew. Her name was Zaliha. Educated, elegant and as sweet-natured as she was well-born, she would make a wonderful queen, he knew. So why hadn’t he broached the subject yet? he asked himself grimly.
Marwan was a Gulf state, small but oil-rich and deeply conservative. A single king was not expected to remain single for long. Government officials had made no secret of their eagerness for him to take a bride. A royal dynasty was not seen as secure until there was another heir in the offing and Jaul was an only child, the son of a man who had been an only child.
The newspapers were full of constant speculation. He could not be seen even talking to a young woman without rousing suspicions. His wide, sensual mouth compressed, uneasy memories surfacing of the wilder and more hot-headed young male he had once been. If he was honest with himself, he knew exactly why he was being indecisive about getting married. Moreover he was well aware that beautiful though Zaliha was, there was not the smallest spark of chemistry between them. But shouldn’t that be what he wanted now? A marriage shorn of the wild attraction and excitement that had once led to his downfall?
A measured knock sounded on the door heralding the arrival of Bandar, who served as the royal family’s senior legal adviser.
‘My apologies if I’m a little early,’ the little man with the balding head said earnestly, bowing with solemn dignity.
Jaul invited him to sit down and lounged back against his desk, restless at the prospect of an in-depth discussion of some obscure piece of constitutional law, which fascinated Bandar much more than it fascinated anyone else.
‘This is a very delicate matter,’ Bandar informed him uneasily. ‘But it is my duty as your adviser to broach it with you.’
Wondering what on earth the older man could be referring to, Jaul studied him with unsullied assurance. ‘There is nothing we cannot discuss—’
‘Yet this is a matter which I first raised eighteen months ago with my predecessor, Yusuf, and he instructed me never to mention it again lest I caused offence,’ Bandar told him awkwardly. ‘If that is the case, please accept my apologies in advance.’
Yusuf had been his father’s adviser and had retired after King Lut’s passing, allowing Bandar to step into his place. Jaul’s fine black brows were now drawing together while a mixture of curiosity and dismay assailed him as he wondered what murky, dark secret of his father’s was about to be unleashed on him. What else could this very delicate matter concern?
‘I am not easily offended and your role is to protect me from legal issues,’ Jaul responded. ‘Naturally I respect that responsibility.’
‘Then I will begin,’ Bandar murmured ruefully. ‘Two years ago, you married a young Englishwoman and, although that fact is known to very few people, it is surely past time that that situation is dealt with in the appropriate manner.’
It took a lot to silence Jaul, whose stubborn, passionate and outspoken nature was well known within palace circles, but that little speech seriously shook him. ‘But there was no actual marriage,’ Jaul countered tautly. ‘I was informed that the ceremony was illegal because I did not obtain my father’s permission beforehand.’
‘I’m afraid that was a case of wishful thinking on your father’s part. He wished the marriage to be illegal and Yusuf did not have the courage to tell him that it was legal...’
Jaul had lost colour beneath his healthy olive-tinted complexion, his very dark, long-lashed eyes telegraphing his astonishment at that revelation. ‘It was a legal marriage?’ he repeated in disbelief.
‘There is nothing in our constitutional law which prohibits a Marwani Crown Prince from marrying his own choice of bride. You were twenty-six years old, scarcely a teenager and that marriage still stands because you have done nothing since to sever that tie.’
Wide, strong shoulders now rigid beneath the long cream linen thobe he wore, Jaul frowned, trying to calculate the sheer immensity of the wrecking ball that had suddenly crashed into his marital plans. He was already a married man. Indeed he was still a married man. As he had only lived with his bride for a few weeks before parting from her, what Bandar was now telling him naturally came as a severe shock. ‘I did nothing to sever the tie because I was informed that the marriage itself was illegal and, therefore, void. Like a bad contract,’ he admitted.