the ill-fated episode without ever discussing it.
We live in a modern world. Yet you believe that I must behave exactly as you andmy forefathers behaved and marry young to produce a son and heir,
Rashad delivered with cool, crisp diction.
I do not believe that such sacrifice is necessary. Ihave three older sisters with a string of healthy sons between them. In the future, one of those boys might stand as my heir.
But none of them have a royal father. One day, you will be king. Will you disappoint our people? What have you got against marriage?
the older man demanded in bewilderment.
You have so much to offer.
Everything but a heart and faith in womankind, Rashad affixed with inward impatience.
I have nothing against the institution of marriage. It was right for you but it would not be right for me.
At least reflect on what I have said,
King Hazar urged.
We will talk about this again.
Having defended his right to freedom as resolutely as he had once fought for thefreedom of the Bakhari people from a repressive regime, Rashad strode out through the vast ante-room beyond his father
s private quarters. It was thronged with senior ministers and courtiers, who bowed very low as he passed. One after another, guards presented arms and saluted as Rashad progressed through the ancient courtyards and corridors to his suite of offices.
I meant to surprise you, Your Royal Highness.
A very attractive brunette with almond-shaped brown eyes and creamy skin, set off by a sleek coil of dark brown hair, straightened from the refreshments she had been setting out in the spacious outer office. In acknowledgement of his arrival, she bent low as did the staff, who had been engaged in answering the phones.
We all know that you often work so hard that you forget to eat.
Although Rashad would have preferred privacy at that moment, the courteous formalities expected of a prince were second nature to him. Farah was a distant relation. With modest smiles and light conversation, Rashad was served with mint teaand tiny cakes. Evidently word of his father
s hope of marrying him off was out inthe élite court circle of Bakhar, so Rashad did not make the mistake of sitting down and prolonging the exchange of pleasantries. He knew that the whole exercisewas designed to impress him as to Farah
s suitability as a royal bride and hostess.
t help noticing your alumni magazine, Your Royal Highness,
You must be proud of having attained a first from Oxford University.
His level dark deep set eyes shadowed.
he said flatly, and dismissed her with a polite nod.
You must excuse me. I have an appointment.
Having swept up the magazine she had drawn to his attention, Rashad entered hispalatial office. He wondered how many previous issues he had ignored and left unread over the years. He had few fond memories of his time as a student in England. In defiance of that thought he leafed through the publication, only to fall still when the fleeting glimpse of a woman
s face suddenly focused his attention onone page and a photograph in particular. It was Matilda Crawford arriving at anacademic function, her hand resting on the arm of a distinguished older man ina dinner jacket.Rashad spread the magazine open on his desk with lean brown hands that were notquite steady. It was pure primitive rage, not nerves, that powered him. Matilda
spale blond hair was pulled back from her face, and she was wearing a rather primhigh-necked brown dress. But then, her natural beauty required no adornment: she had the fair hair, ivory skin and turquoise-blue eyes of a true English rose.His perfect white teeth gritted as he studied the caption below the photo. She was not named but her partner was: Professor Evan Jerrold, the philanthropist. Arich man
of course a rich man! No doubt another gullible sucker ripe for the plucking, Rashad thought with fierce bitterness and distaste.He was exasperated that he was still sensitive to the sight of Tilda and the regrettable memories she roused. It had been, however, an unsavoury incident in hislife and a reminder that he had human flaws. Five years earlier, Rashad might have been seasoned on the battlefield and idolised by his countrymen as a saviour, but his great-uncle Sadiq had succeeded in keeping him a virtual prisoner in B