She’d seen a red and white checkered head covering in his suitcase and couldn’t help wondering if he wore it when he was amidst his grandfather’s Bedouin tribe.

Her eyes flicked between him and the home of his youth. Even the gray tinting on the windows could not disguise the bright colors of the domes, walls and revealing archways of the huge complex.

Her heart started to hammer.

She was going to meet a king in less than five minutes.

She smoothed a miniscule wrinkle out of the overdress of the caftan ensemble she was waring. She’d adored it on sight. The underdress was the simplest component. It was floor length and cream in color with wine roses embroidered around the hem and sleeves. The matching overdress had a V-neck outlined in the roses and was sleeveless. Both sides were slit up to her waist for ease of walking, and to expose more of the underdress’s fancy work.

It, along with several other gorgeous things to war while on their honeymoon in his homeland, had been Hakim’s gift to her that morning.

She tugged her sleeves so they fell past her wrists.

“If you don’t stop fidgeting, you dress will be in tatters by the time we reach my uncle’s palace.” She gave Hakim a wry grimace, “I’ve never met a king before.”

“Now you are married to a sheikh. It is expected.”

“Have you noticed that since arriving in your country, you’ve gotten more arrogant?” And that was saying a lot. She thought he’d been pretty imposingly confident before.

He smiled. “Is that so?”

“Even your voice has changed. You’ve always had a certain air of authority, but since getting off the plane you just exude power.”

“I am considered one of the rulers of my country. I am the only remaining sheikh of Kadar.

I’m surprised your uncle encourages you to live in the States then.”

“There are some duties only family can perform.”

Those were the last words between them before the limousine slid to a halt outside the Royal Palace of Jawhar.

Hakim helped her from the car, but then removed his hand from her arm and maintained a distance of at least ten inches between them as they made their way inside the palace.

The incredible splendor, vibrant colors and grandiose size surrounding her, registered even as she kept her eyes fixed firmly on the huge wooden double doors as they were headed towards. Just before they reached them, a servant wearing a headdress and flowing garments stepped forward to open the one on the right so that she and Hakim could walk through.

If the entranceway had been impressive, the format reception room was overwhelming. Mosaic patterns interspersed with ornate carpets dyed a predominant red covered the floors that stretched at least fifty feet in each direction. Her eyes only skimmed the furniture and no doubt original statuary surrounding the room, before they settled on the man sitting in a chair that could only be described as a throne on a raised wooden dais.

“Bring your bride forward, Hakim.”

Hakim took her hand then and led her forward until they stood only a foot from his uncle, the King.

The next two hours were a complete haze as she first present to King Asad bin Malik al Jawhar and then introduced to Hakim’s other relatives on his fahter’s side and expected to converse with them. Where her wedding had been both exciting and terrifying, this was worse. She did not know these people, did not speak their language and every single one of them had their attention fixed firmly on her.

She’d been shy all her life and her fist instinct was to hide behind a wall of reserve or a nearby pilar, but she refused to let Hakim down. So, she forced herself to smile and talk to the intimidating strangers.

King Asad came up and hugged Hakim at one point. “Your duty is more pleasing than you at first expected, hmm?”

“Yes, uncle. I am content.”

Since both men were looking at her, Catherine assumed the comment was directed to her in some way and felt herself blushing at its implications.

She is charming. The King’s tendency to speak of her as if she wasn’t there made her want to smile. He was much more traditionally Arab than Hakim, who had been educated in France and then America. “Her fair skin reveals her blushes and innocence I think.”

“Can you doubt it?”

She felt like melting through the floor. They couldn’t be discussing what she thought they were discussing, but after the big deal Hakim had made over her virginity she suspected they were. He’d said that it was important to his family, she remembered.

“No, I do not doubt it. Assurances were made.”

Assurances were made? What the heck did that mean? She wasn’t about to ask in front of his uncle, but she was going to find out if Hakim had told the other man that she’d admitted to being a virgin. Just the thought of them talking about her like that made her skin heat with a truly mortified blush.

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