Destined for the Desert KingBy: Kate Walker
Nabil bin Rashid Al Sharifa, Sheikh of Rhastaan, raised the glass in his hand high in a gesture of congratulation and angled it in the direction of the two honoured guests at the party. The couple who were celebrating today and who, in spite of everything in the past, were now his two greatest friends.
‘Congratulations on ten years together. Ten happy years.’
It was the last three words that caught in his throat and almost closed it off, choking them back from his tongue. Ten happy years they had been for his friends, but if he was given the chance there was no way he would want to live through the past decade over again.
‘To Clemmie and Karim,’ he tried again.
The elegant dark-haired woman, regal as the Queen she truly was in the scarlet robe, heavily embroidered in gold, turned a warm, generous smile in his direction while at her side, Sheikh Karim al Khalifa, like Nabil more sombrely but equally magnificently attired in the flowing robes and headdress of his country, lifted his own glass in acknowledgement of Nabil’s toast. It was a moment that no one could ever have anticipated happening ten years before, when Clemmie had been destined to be Nabil’s arranged wife, but his headstrong passion for the younger Sharmila had led him to reject her and marry his new, pregnant lover. No one then would have predicted that this huge party would be organised in the Rhastaanian palace to celebrate their ten years of love and marriage...
Abruptly Nabil put his glass down on the nearest table, the fine crystal clattering harshly against the polished surface. Even if he hadn’t already been told the happy news, it was impossible not to notice the slight swell of Clemmie’s belly under the burnished red silk of the floor-length gown. Clementina had always been beautiful. Even when he had been in the throes of the foolishly righteous—or so he had believed—anger and mutiny that had driven him to reject her, he’d had to acknowledge that. But now, with her curvaceous form enriched by her early pregnancy, she had a glow about her that was positively incandescent.
‘Congratulations,’ Nabil repeated once more, forcing himself to smile at his friends.
He wanted to smile to show that he was happy for them. He was happy for them, deep down in his heart. But at the same time he couldn’t help contrasting the richness of their life when compared with his own.
What they had in abundance, and what he needed so badly now, but he didn’t see a way of discovering the same happiness for himself.
Ten years ago, when they had been starting out on their journey into married happiness, he had thought he had it all. A beautiful wife at his side, a child growing inside her, the future of his country secured against the swirling darkness of uprising that had threatened. Young fool that he’d been—young, blind, heedless, headstrong fool!—he’d thought only of his longing to rebel against the hand that fate had dealt him.
So he’d rebelled all right, and by doing so he’d tied himself into that fate even tighter. He’d locked himself in and thrown away the key.
‘Ten wonderful years!’
Karim’s voice might have been lifted, projected to reach the whole room and the audience of his guests and peers who thronged the huge space, but his eyes were only on his wife. They were in their own private world and unconsciously Clemmie’s hand reached up to rest gently on the barely visible swell, the promise of their unborn child in her belly.
The moment seemed to hang on the air, thick with emotion and a touch of secret sensuality, until it was broken by a flurry of sound and a whirl of movement as two small bodies careered across the room and flung themselves at their parents with shrieks of delight.
‘Adnan, Sahra...’ Clemmie’s voice was soft and warm even as she tried to make her words into the gentlest of reproofs. ‘Is that any way for a prince and princess to behave at such a public event?’
‘But it’s Mummy and Daddy’s party,’ Adnan declared with all the confidence of his just five years of age. ‘Not a pub-publicked ’vent!’
Another smile passed between Clemmie and Karim at their son’s declaration, and the boy’s father let his hand drop to ruffle the mop of shining black hair with easy affection. It was the sort of warmth that Nabil had never known with his own father, a coldly distant man who barely knew his son’s name.