The words put the older couple at ease and with a smile, Lady Elizabeth said, “May I present my younger daughter, Lady Aurora?” She stepped back and drew a girl forward—-
And in that second, the sheikh’s life was turned upside down.
The girl was tall where her sister was dainty and slender where her sister was buxom. Her hair was the shade of the sun, her eyes blue gray like stormy skies.
Dipping into a curtsy, the girl said sweetly, “Thank you for the welcome, akh.” She was clearly teasing him, the twinkle in her eyes unmistakable.
It had his lips twitching, but the rest of her family was horrified.
“Aurora,” Aretha snapped while their father sighed, and their mother gasped.
Straightening, the girl said with cheeky innocence, “What?” She glanced at the sheikh. “You don’t mind, do you, Your Highness?” Her voice, even mischievous, was low and husky, a sound made for the bedroom.
Mik’hail slowly shook his head.
No, he did not mind.
In fact, he had a feeling that whatever this girl did, he would not mind at all, and that, the sheikh thought grimly, was the problem.
THE SHEIKH WAS ENCHANTED. He strove to hide it, even denying the truth to himself. But each day, the feelings became deeper, and it did not help that Aretha and he had begun to quarrel as well. Although they had never spoken about it, the sheikh suspected that Aretha was aware of his interest and considered it a personal slight. He saw it in the way she so jealously guarded him whenever Aurora was around, saw it with the way she would take out her anger and insecurities on her sister…like now.
Aurora had just entered the dining hall when Aretha started shrieking.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The younger girl froze.
“Did I not teach you how to walk? To do it like a lady instead of galloping and stomping like a horse?” Aretha gestured to the sheikh furiously. “Do you want everyone to think that the sheikh is marrying
into a family of Thoroughbreds?”
Aretha started to say more but was forced to swallow the rest of her words when she saw the sheikh turning her way with cold, dark eyes.
“Enough of that, milady,” The words, albeit softly spoken, were clearly a command. “You know it doesn’t matter to me. I do not insist on formalities with your family.”
Aretha’s lips tightened. “Don’t spoil her, Your Highness. You’re only making it worse. She needs to remember these things so she won’t mess up in our wedding.”
When the sheikh was about to retort, Aurora said hastily, “She’s right, Your Highness. Let me try it again.” Hurrying back to the doors, Aurora took care not to let her usual exuberance show as she retraced her steps, and she walked with such grace this time that she was unaware of how elegant she appeared, more so than Aretha could have ever aspired.
Aurora turned to her sister upon reaching her chair. “Is that okay, Aretha?” There was no note of sarcasm in her note. It was clear in her hopeful expression that she only yearned of the older woman’s approval.
“It’s passable.” Aretha’s voice, but the envious resentment in her gaze betrayed her true feelings.
Aurora, however, appeared oblivious to her sister’s animosity and simply shrugged as she took her seat, saying cheerfully, “I’ll be sure to improve in time.”
Mayhap so, the sheikh thought, but unfortunately the same could not be said for the rest of the evening. Aretha, used to being wooed out of her anger, was furious at the way the sheikh ignored her petulant replies and instead engaged her father in conversation about business.
Incensed beyond bearing, the sheikh’s betrothed stood up and stalked out of the room without a word.
The entreating look in Elizabeth’s eyes made the sheikh say in a gentle but firm voice, “I’m sorry, milady, but I will not go after her. It is essential my intended learns that I am not the type to reward tantrums with wooing and apologies.”
Elizabeth was visibly embarrassed, but she sought to defend Aretha’s actions nonetheless, saying anxiously, “Surely you see she only did that because she was concerned about your reputation?”
Richard was frowning at his younger daughter. “This is your fault, Aurora. You know how your sister is.”
Shooting the sheikh a pleading look when she saw that Mik’hail was about to contradict this, Aurora instead bowed her head to her father. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Richard and Elizabeth left as soon as plates from the last course were cleared from the table, and Aurora, seeing that this also angered the sheikh, quickly rose from her seat to take the one on the sheikh’s right.
She touched the sheikh’s arm gingerly. “Do not let yourself be troubled by this, akh.”
“It’s not right that your parents treat you in such a manner,” Mik’hail said grimly. And it was not right as well that, despite of the innocence of her touch, his body had become tautly aware the moment her fingers grazed his skin.