The Tarnished Jewel of Jazaar
From one desert prison to another…
Jeweled veil weighing heavily on her head, Zoe Martin waits for her sheikh husband-to-be. The shame of her adoptive family, orphan Zoe has endured six years of being kept a slave – now she's being sold into marriage… to a man known as The Beast!
The stakes couldn't be higher … or more sinfully pleasurable!
Being discarded to the sheikh has one bonus – this could mean freedom! Zoe must play along with the three-day–and three-night–ceremony, but she isn't expecting the blazing attraction from just one stolen glance at playboy sheikh Nadir….
Zoe Martin’s blood raced painfully through her veins as she stared into dark, hypnotic eyes. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t look away. The eyes darkened. She felt as if she was caught in a swirling storm.
Please don’t let this be the man I am marrying! She needed to trick and manipulate her husband throughout the honeymoon, but she could tell immediately this man was too dangerous for her plans.
Sheikh Nadir ibn Shihab wasn’t handsome. His features were too hard, too primitive. His face was all lines and angles from his Bedouin nose to the forceful thrust of his jaw. His cheekbones slashed down his face and a cleft scored his chin. There was a hint of softness in his full lips, but the cynical curl at the edge of his mouth warned of his impatience. She had no doubt that everyone kept a distance from him or suffered the brunt of his venomous barbs.
The pearl-white of the Sheikh’s dishdasha contrasted with his golden-brown skin and it couldn’t conceal his long, tapered body. Every move he made drew her attention to his lean and compact muscles. Zoe decided that his elegant appearance was deceiving. She had no doubt that he had been brought up in a world of wealth and privilege, but this man belonged to the harsh and unforgiving desert. He had the desert’s stark beauty and its cruelty.
The Sheikh showed no expression, no emotion, but she felt a biting hot energy slamming against her. Zoe flinched, her skin stinging from his bold gaze. She wanted to rub her arms and wrap them protectively around her. She felt the inexplicable need to slough off his claim.
Claim? A flash of fear gripped Zoe as her chest tightened. Why did it feel like that? The Sheikh hadn’t touched her yet.
She had the sudden, overwhelming need to turn and run as fast as she could to escape. Her heart pounded in her ears, her breath rasped in her constricted throat, and although every self-preservation instinct told her to flee she couldn’t move.
“As-Salamu Alaykum,” Nadir greeted as he sat down next to her.
Zoe shivered at the rough, masculine sound. His voice was soft, but the commanding tone coiled around her body, tugging at something dark and unknown inside her. The muscles low in her abdomen tingled with awareness.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said with cool politeness.
Zoe gave a start, her excess of gold jewelry chiming from her sudden move. He’d spoken to her in English. It had been so long since she’d heard her mother tongue. Unshed tears suddenly stung her eyes and she struggled to regain her composure.
She shouldn’t have been surprised that the Sheikh spoke English. He’d been educated in the United States, traveled frequently and knew several languages as well as all the dialects spoken in Jazaar. His need to travel internationally was one of the reasons why she had agreed to marry him.
But curiosity got the better of her. She couldn’t imagine this man doing something thoughtful without getting something in return. Her voice wavered as she asked, “Why are you speaking to me in English?”
“You are American. It’s your language.”
She gave a curt nod and kept her head down, her gaze focused on her clenched hands. It had been her language once. Until her uncle had forbidden it. “It isn’t spoken here,” she whispered.
“That’s why I’m using it,” Nadir said in an uninterested tone as he surveyed the courtyard. “English will be just our language and no one will know what we’re saying.”
Ah, now she understood. He wanted to create an immediate bond between them. Or at least the illusion of one. It was a clever strategy, but she wasn’t going to fall for it.
“I’m not supposed to talk during the ceremony,” she reminded him.
She sensed his attention back on her. The energy crackling between them grew sharper. “But I want you to talk.”
Right. Was this some sort of test to see if she was a good Jazaari bride? “My aunts gave me strict orders to keep my head down and my mouth shut.”
“Whose opinions are more important to you?” She heard the arrogance in his voice. “Your aunts’ or your husband’s?”
Neither, she wanted to say. It was tempting, but she knew she had to play the game. “I will do as you wish.” She nearly choked on the words.
His chuckle was rough and masculine. “Keep saying that and we’ll get along just fine.”
Zoe clenched her teeth, preventing herself from giving a sharp reply. She swallowed her retort just in time as the first elder came onto the dais. As she expected, the older man ignored her and spoke only to the Sheikh.
She stared at her hands in her lap and slowly squeezed her fingers together. The bite of pain didn’t distract her from her troubled thoughts. She was never going to pull of the demure look. It was just a matter of time before she messed up. Her family knew it, too. The disapproving glares from her aunts were hot enough to burn a sizzling hole in her veil.
Zoe knew her appearance and manners didn’t meet family expectations. They never had. Her face was much too pale and she lacked refinement and feminine charm. It didn’t matter if the veil concealed her features, or if her bent head hid her big, bold eyes. They knew she wasn’t a proper young woman. She talked louder than a whisper, walked faster than she should, and no matter how often she was told she never knew her place.
She was too American. Too much trouble. Simply too much.
Her relatives thought she should be timid and subservient, and they had tried to transform her using every barbaric punishment they knew. Starvation. Sleep deprivation. Beatings. Nothing had worked. It had only made Zoe more rebellious and determined to get out of this hell. If only she had a better escape plan. If only her freedom didn’t rely on pretending to be the perfect woman.
As the last elder left the dais, Zoe felt the Sheikh’s intent gaze on her. She tensed but kept her focus on her hands. Did he find her lacking or did she pass inspection?
“What is your name?” the Sheikh asked her.
Zoe’s eyes widened. Seriously? This was not something a woman wanted to hear from her husband on her wedding day. Zoe held back the urge to give him a false name. A stripper name, she thought with a sly smile. If only she could. But it wouldn’t be worth the punishment.
“Zoe Martin,” she answered.
“And how old are you?”
Old enough. She bit the tip of her tongue before she blurted out that reply. “I’m twenty-one years old.”
How was it possible the Sheikh didn’t know anything about her? Wasn’t he curious about the woman he married? Didn’t he care?
“Did I detect a Texan accent?” he asked.
Zoe bit her bottom lip as a memory of her home in Texas bloomed. The last time she had felt as if she belonged to a family. Once she had been loved and protected; now she was chattel for her uncle.
“You have a very good ear,” she answered huskily. “I thought I had lost the twang.” Along with everything else.
“Texas is a long way from here.”
No kidding. But she knew what he was really asking. How the hell had she wound up in Jazaar? She’d wonder that many times herself. “My father was a doctor for a humanitarian medical organization and he met my mother when he visited Jazaar. Didn’t anyone tell you about me?”
“I was told everything I needed to know.”
That made her curious. What had been said about her? She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know. “Such as?” she asked as she watched the servants bringing plates of food to the dais.
He shrugged. “You are part of this tribe and you are of marriageable age.”
She waited a beat. “Anything else?”
“What else do I need to know?”
Her eyes widened. His indifference took her breath away, but she knew she should be grateful for it. It was better that he had not asked any questions or dug for information. He would have discovered what kind of woman he was marrying.
End of the excerpt. Like it?
Mass Market PaperbackNorth America: Amazon USA Amazon Canada Barnes & Noble Chapters/Indigo Harlequin
United Kingdom: Amazon UK Waterstones Mills & Boon
India: Mills & Boon India
Australia: Mills & Boon Australia
DigitalNorth America: Amazon Kindle B&N Nook Harlequin eBook iTunes
United Kingdom: Amazon Kindle UK Mills & Boon iTunes UK
Australia: Booktopia Mills & Boon Australia iTunes Australia