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Excerpt: The Sheikh’s Love-Child

After the stuffy heat of the crowded reception room, the cool night air felt like a balm. Lucy saw she was on a small balcony that hung over the mountainside. She rested her hands on the ornate stone railing and took a deep breath, surprised to recognise the scents of honeysuckle and jasmine.

The moon glided out from behind a cloud and squinting a bit in the darkness, Lucy saw that the mountainside was covered in dense foliage. Gardens, she realised, terraced gardens like some kind of ancient wonder.

She breathed in the fragrant air and let the stillness of the night calm her jangled nerves. From beyond the half-open doors she could still hear the strains of discordant music, the drifting sound of chatter.

I didn’t expect this to be so hard. The realisation made her spirits sink. She’d wanted to be strong. Yet here she was, unsettled, alarmed, and she hadn’t even spoken Khaled, hadn’t even told him yet…

And what would happen then? Lucy didn’t let herself think beyond that conversation. Message delivered. And received? She couldn’t let her mind probe any further, didn’t want to wander down the dangerous paths of pointless speculation. Perhaps it was foolish or even blind, but she knew the current limitations of her own spirit.

Footsteps sounded behind her, and Lucy straightened and turned, half-expecting to see Eric frowning at her once more in concern.

Instead she saw someone else frowning, his brows drawn sharply together, his eyes fastened on hers.

“Hello, Khaled.” Lucy surprised herself with how calm and even her voice sounded. Unconcerned. She turned all the way round, one hand still resting on the stone balustrade.

“I didn’t think anyone was here,” he said tersely, and Lucy inclined her head, gave a small smile.

“I needed some air. The room was very hot.”

“I’m sorry you weren’t comfortable.” They were the words of a cordial host, impersonal, distant, forcing Lucy to half-apologise.

“No, no, everything has been lovely. I’m not used to such star treatment.” She paused, and gestured to the moonlight-bathed gardens behind her. “The palace gardens look very beautiful.”

“I will have someone show you them tomorrow. They are one of Biryal’s loveliest sights.”

She nodded, feeling somehow dismissed. There was a howl inside of her, a desperate cry for understanding and mercy.

After everything we had…

But in the end, it—she—had meant nothing to Khaled. Why couldn’t she remember that? Why did she always resist the glaring truth, try to find meaning and sanctity where there had been none? “Thank you,” she managed, and then lapsed into silence as the night swirled softly around them.

Khaled said nothing, merely looked at her, his gaze sweeping over her hair, her face, her dress. Assessing. “You haven’t changed,” he said quietly, almost sadly, and surprised by what felt like a confession, Lucy blurted,

“You have.”

Khaled stilled, and Lucy hadn’t realised there had been a touch of softness to his features in that unguarded moment until it was gone. His smile, when it came, was hard and bitter. “Yes, I have.”

“Khaled...” She held one hand out—in supplication—then dropped it. She didn’t want to beg. There was nothing left to plead for. “I’d like to talk to you.”

Khaled arched one eyebrow. “Isn’t that what you’re doing?”

“Not now,” Lucy said, suddenly wishing she hadn’t started this line of conversation. “Tomorrow. I just wanted you to know… perhaps we could arrange a time…” Her voice trailed away as Khaled simply stared, his lips pressed in a hard line, a bleakness in his dark eyes.

“I don’t think we have anything to say to each anymore, Lucy.” Startled, she realised he sounded almost sad once more.

“You may feel that way, but I don’t. I just need a few minutes of your time, Khaled. It’s important.”

He shook his head, an instinctive gesture, and Lucy felt annoyance spurt through her. She hadn’t come to Biryal to be rejected—again—and for something so little. Was he not willing to give her anything? Would she always feel like a beggar at the gates when it came to Prince Khaled el Farrar?

“A few minutes,” she repeated firmly, and without giving him time to respond—or time for her to betray herself with more begging, pleading—she moved past him. Her shoulder brushed his and sent every nerve in her body twanging with remembered feeling as she hurried back into the palace.

Excerpt From: THE SHEIKH'S LOVE-CHILD by Kate Hewitt
Copyright © 2009 by Kate Hewitt
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. All rights reserved.

January 2008