Lydia could not believe the ease with which she moved through airport
formalities but when you are an A-list VIP, related to the Queen even if
it was at goodness knows how many “removes”, it seemed that the ordinary
rules did not apply, the hurdles were set very low.
This wasn’t like taking a budget flight to some holiday destination.
Forget the usual hassle with the luggage trolley. She hadn’t even seen
the bags that Rose had packed for this trip.
And no one was going to make her line up at a check-in desk. Clearly,
people who flew in their own private jets did not expect to queue for
She didn’t have to take off her jacket and shoes, surrender the handbag
and briefcase she was carrying to be X-rayed. Instead she was nodded
through the formalities and escorted to the departure lounge by Lady
Rose’s security officer.
Rose had explained that he would see her to the aircraft and after that
she’d be on her own, free from all risk of discovery. And once she was in
Ramal Hamrah, ensconced in the luxury of Princess Lucy’s holiday cottage
at Bab el Sama, all she had to do was put in the occasional appearance in
the garden or on the beach to ensure that the paparazzi were able to
snatch pictures of her while she lived like a princess for a week.
It was like some dream-come-true fairytale. Check out girl to princess.
All she needed was a pair of glass slippers and a fairy godmother to
provide her with someone tall, dark and handsome to play Prince Charming.
She wouldn’t even have to flee when the clock struck twelve. She had a
whole week before she turned back into Lydia Young, whose job as on the
supermarket checkout was occasionally enlivened by a look-alike gig.
She automatically reached for the door to the VIP departure lounge, but it
opened as she approached; a “Lady”, with a capital L, did not open doors
for herself. She was so intent of covering her mistake by adjusting the
veil on her hat that she missed the fact that her escort had stopped at
‘Mr al-Zaki will take care of you from here, madam.’
She thought the word, but never voiced it.
All sound seemed to fade away as she looked up. She was tall, but the
knee-meltingly gorgeous man waiting to “take care” of her was half a head
taller and as his eyes, dark and intense, locked with hers, she felt the
jolt of it to her knees. And yes, no doubt about it, her knees melted as
he lowered his head briefly, said, ‘Kalil al-Zaki, Lady Rose,’ introducing
himself with the utmost formality. ‘Princess Lucy has asked me to ensure
that your holiday is all that you wish.’
Graceful, beautiful, contained power rippling beneath exquisite
tailoring, he was, she thought, crazily, the embodiment of Bagheera, the
bold, reckless panther from her childhood favourite Jungle Book. She’d
made her father read over and over the description of his coat like
watered silk, his voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree.
Her own, as she struggled for a suitable response, was non-existent.
Kalil al-Zaki might favour well-cut British tailoring over a fancy
Ruritanian uniform but he was as close to her own Prince Charming fantasy
as she was ever likely to come and she had to resist the temptation to
look around for the old lady with wings and a wand who’d been listening in
on her thoughts.
‘You’re coming with me to Bab el Sama?’ she managed, finally, knowing that
she should be horrified by this turn of events. The frisson of excitement
rippling through her suggested that she was anything but.
‘There and back,’ he confirmed. ‘My instructions are to keep you safe
from harm. I have a letter of introduction from Princess Lucy, but the
aircraft is waiting and the pilot will not wish to miss his slot. If
you’re ready to board?’
Lydia just about managed a nod and the noise flooded back like a shock
wave as, his hand curling possessively around her elbow, he walked her to
the door, across the tarmac towards the ‘plane. Where she received shock
When Rose had explained that she’d be flying in a private jet, she’d
anticipated one of those small executive jobs. The reality was a
full-sized passenger aircraft bearing the royal livery.
She’d fantasized about being treated like a princess, but this was the
real deal; all that was missing was the red carpet and a guard of honour.
If they found out she was a fake they were not going to be amused and as
Kalil al-Zaki’s touch sizzled through her velvet sleeve, Lydia had to
concentrate very hard on marshalling her knees, putting one foot in front
of the other.
This was anything but a fairy tale and if she fell flat on her face, there
would be no fairy godmother to rescue her with the wave of a wand.
She’d already had an encounter with one of Rose’s security guards. He
didn’t look at her the way that Kalil al-Zaki had looked and he certainly
didn’t touch. The closest he’d been was when he’d opened the car door and
his eyes had not been on her, but the crowd.
No matter what he said about “keeping her safe”, it was clear that this
man was not your standard bodyguard so who on earth was he?
Should she have recognised his name?
He’d mentioned Princess Lucy. So far, so clear. She was the friend who’d
lent Rose her holiday “cottage” for the week. The wife of the Emir’s
youngest son, who was the Ramal Hamrahn ambassador to London.
Rose had filled her in with all the important background details, a little
of their history, the names and ages of their children, so that she
wouldn’t make a mistake if any of the staff at Bab el Sama mentioned her
or her children.
But that was it.
This was supposed to be no more than a walk-on role with only servants and
the occasional telephoto lens for company.
A few minutes performing for a bunch of journalists, and getting away with
it, had given her a terrific buzz, but playing the part convincingly under
the eyes of someone like Kalil al-Zaki for an entire week was in a whole
different ball game.
Hopefully, the letter of introduction would fill in the details, she
thought as his hand fell away at the top of the steps and she was greeted
by the waiting stewardess.
‘Welcome aboard the royal flight, Lady Rose. I am Atiya Bishara and I
will be taking care of you today.’ Then, looking at the flowers she was
clutching like a lifeline, ‘Shall I put those in water?’
Lydia, back on more-or-less familiar territory began to breath again.
This was the basic look-alike stuff she been doing since she was sixteen
years old and she managed to go through the standard “How d’you do?”
routine as she surrendered the flowers and the dark pink leather briefcase
that exactly matched her hat. The one Rose had used to conceal the cash
she’d needed for her week on the lam, and which now contained her own
essentials, including her own passport in the event that anything went
‘Your luggage has been taken to your suite, Lady Rose. I’ll take you
through as soon as we’re in the air,’ Atiya said, as she lead her to an
Not that familiar, she thought, taking out her cell phone and
sending a one word message to Rose to let her know that she’d got through
security without any hiccups. Apart from Kalil al-Zaki, that was, and
Rose couldn’t do anything about that.
That done, she turned off the phone and looked around.
From the outside, apart from the royal livery, the aircraft might look
much like any other. On the inside, however, it bore no similarity to the
crammed-tight, budget airlines that were a necessary evil to be endured
whenever she wanted a week or two in the sun.
‘Would you like something to drink before we take off?’ Atiya asked.
and off, used in tandem, were her two least favourite words in the
English language. Until now her head had been too busy concentrating on
the role she was playing, enjoying the luxury of a chauffeur driven
limousine, free-wheeling around the unexpected appearance of Kalil al-Zaki,
to confront that particular problem.
‘Juice? A glass of water?’
‘Water, thank you,’ she replied, forcing herself to concentrate, doing her
best not to look at the man who’d taken the seat on the opposite side of
His suit lay across his broad shoulders as if moulded to him and his
glossy black hair, brushed back off a high forehead curled over his
collar, softening features that could have been chiselled from marble.
Apart from his mouth.
Marble could never do justice to the sensuous droop of a lower lip that
evoked such an immediate, such a disturbing response in parts of her
anatomy that had dormant for so long that she’d forgotten how it felt.
As if sensing her gaze, Kalil al-Zaki turned and she blushed at being
Nothing in his face suggested he had noticed. Instead as the plane began
to taxi towards the runway, he took an envelope from the inside pocket of
his jacket and offered it to her.
‘My introduction from Princess Lucy, Lady Rose.’
She accepted the square, cream envelope, warm from his body and although
she formed the words, “thank you”, no sound emerged. Praying that the
dark pink net of her veil would camouflage the heat that she had flooded
into her cheeks she ducked her head. It was embarrassment, she told
herself as she flipped open the envelope and took out the note it
I didn’t get a chance to
call yesterday and explain that Han’s cousin, Kalil al-Zaki will be
accompanying you to Bab el Sama.
I know that you are
desperate to be on your own, but you will need someone to drive you,
accompany you to the beach, be generally at your beck and call while
you’re in Bab el Sama and at least he won’t report every move you make to
The alternative would be
one of the Emir’s guards, good men every one but, as you can imagine, not
the most relaxing of companions.
Kal will not intrude if
you decide to simply lie by the pool with a book, but you shouldn’t miss
out on a visit the souk – it’s an absolute treasure of gold, silks, spices
– or a drive into the desert. The peace is indescribable.
Do give me a call if
there is anything you need, or you just need someone to talk to, but most
of all rest, relax, recharge the batteries and don’t, whatever you do,
give Rupert a single thought.
All my love
Which crushed her last desperate hope that he was simply escorting her on
the flight. “There and back”, apparently, included the seven days in
And things had been going so well up until then, she thought as the
stewardess returned with her water and she gratefully gulped down a
Rose’s grandfather had apparently accepted that taking her own security
people with her would be seen as an insult to her hosts. The entire Ramal
Hamrahn ruling family had holiday “cottages” at Bab al Sama and the Emir
did not, she’d pointed out, take the safety of his family, or their
The paparazzi were going to have to work really hard to get their
photographs this week, although she’d do her best to make it easy for
There had been speculation that Rupert would join Rose on this
pre-Christmas break and if she wasn’t visible they might just get
suspicious, think they’d been given the slip. Raise a hue and cry that
would get everyone in a stew and blow her cover.
Her commission was to give them something to point their lenses at so that
the Duke was reassured that she was safe and the world could see that that
she was where she was supposed to be.
Neither of them had bargained on her friend complicating matters.
Fortunately Princess Lucy’s note had made it clear that Rose hadn’t met
Kalil al-Zaki, which simplified things a little. The only question left
was, faced with an unexpected – and unwanted -- companion, what would Rose
Actually, not something to unduly tax the mind. Rose would do what she
always did. She’d smile, be charming, no matter what spanner had been
thrown into her carefully arranged works.
Until now, protected by the aura of untouchability that seemed to
encompass the Lady Rose image, she had never had a problem doing the same.
But then spanners didn’t usually come blessed with smooth olive skin
moulded over bone structure that had been a gift from the gene fairies.
It should have made it easier to respond to his smile – if only with an
idiotic, puppy-like grin. The reality was that she had to concentrate
very hard to keep the drool in check, her hand from visibly trembling, her
brain from turning to jelly. Speaking at the same time was asking rather
a lot, but it certainly helped take her mind off the fact that the
aircraft was taxiing slowly to the runway in preparation for the nasty
business of launching her into thin air. Breaking contact with solid
She normally took something to calm her nerves before holiday flights but
hadn’t dared risk it today.
Fortunately, ten years of “being” Lady Rose came to her rescue. The moves
were so ingrained that they had become automatic and instinct kicked in
and overrode the urge to leap into his lap and lick his face.
‘It would seem that you’ve drawn the short straw, Mr al-Zaki,’ she said,
kicking the “puppy” into touch and belatedly extending her hand across the
‘The short straw?’ he asked, taking it in his own firm grip, with just the
smallest hint of a frown.
‘I imagine you have a dozen better things to do than…’ – she raised the
letter an inch or two – ‘…show me the sights.’
‘On the contrary, madam,’ he replied, formally, ‘I can assure you that I
had to fight off the competition.’
He was so serious that for a moment he had her fooled.
The man was flirting with her, or rather, flirting with Lady Rose. What a
‘It must have been a very gentlemanly affair,’ she replied, matching his
gravity, his formality.
One of his dark brows lifted the merest fraction and an entire squadron of
butterflies took flight in her stomach. He was good. Really good. But
any girl who’d worked for as long as she had on a supermarket check-out
had not only heard it all, but had an arsenal of responses to put even the
smoothest of operators in their place.
‘No black eyes?’ she prompted. ‘No broken limbs?’
He wasn’t quite quick enough to kill the surprise at the swiftness of her
comeback and for a moment she thought she’d gone too far. He was the
Ambassador’s cousin, after all. One the ruling classes in a society
where women were supposed to be neither seen nor heard.
Like that was going to happen…
But then creases deepened in his cheeks, his mouth widened in a smile and
something happened to the darkest, most intense eyes she’d ever seen.
Almost, she thought, as if someone had lit a fire in their depths.
‘I was the winner, madam,’ he reminded her.
‘I’m delighted you think so,’ she replied, hanging onto her cool by the
merest thread, despite the conflagration that threatened to ignite
somewhere below her mid-drift.