Research is one of the best things about being a writer. When I first started writing it involved trips to the library, coming home with piles of books on wherever I had happened to be setting my latest story. Travellers tales, gorgeous coffee table books with photographs of deserted lagoons so luscious that you could almost feel the sand between your toes, lovely houses, background information on trades, crafts.
I had lovely conversations with helpful tourist information officers in London embassies — and always sent them a signed book as a thank you. I had a breathtaking brochure describing all the fabulous houses on Mustique where I set All She Wants for Christmas.
At the moment, tempted by my editor, I working on a new “sheikh” story — working title, The Sheikh’s Temporary Princess — and I’m having an absolute ball on my latest passion, Pinterest.
It’s a marriage of convenience story, always fun, and my Cinderella needs a “princess” dress for her transformation. This is the one I chose. And these are the jewels her prince gives her to wear on this momentous occasion...
Here’s a sneak peek—
Ruby’s heart was racing and in an attempt to slow it, reclaim control of her body if not her life, she closed her eyes. When she opened them again Bram was standing in front of her and her heart rate shot through the roof.
She had only seen in him in the most casual of clothes, a towel, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, dusty riding clothes, the chinos he’d worn with a loose, collarless shirt to travel into the city. Now he was wearing traditional robes.
Everything was simple, understated. A plain white thaub over which had been thrown the finest camel hair bisht, a fine white keffiyeh held in place by a plain black egal and at his waist he carried a knife in a traditional, curved black and silver filigree scabbard. Simple, understated, regal, he was every inch the desert prince but it was his face that held her, his golden eyes, a jaw strong enough to slay dragons, the seductive curve of a lower lip that she wanted to suck into her mouth.
No, no, no—
‘Wow…’ she said, all faux brightness. ‘Look at us.’
She frowned, distracted. ‘Rabi?’
‘It means harvest. For the contract I had to give you an Arab name. I tried to get as close to your own as I could.’
All afternoon Violet and Leila had talked about weddings. Their own, those of their friends. They’d shown her photographs of their children assuming that she would soon be a mother and she’d had to play along, smile as if she couldn’t wait.
The name he’d given her implied fertility, fecundity and the lie was like a cold hand squeezing her womb.
‘Your father will like that,’ she said as he put down the leather case he was carrying. He glanced up, frowning, clearly catching something in her tone. ‘Good choice,’ she added with the smile she’d once practised in the mirror. The smile she used to cover hurt, pain, the spiteful remarks of others. It had been so long since she’d used it that her cheeks creaked a bit with the effort, but it seemed to reassure him and, as he opened the case, she didn’t have to pretend to catch her breath as he revealed the jewels within.
Her gasp was totally real.
‘Oh, my…’ she said, staring at the art deco parure of diamonds and rubies.
At one point, feeling that she had to add something to the dress, shoe, underwear debate she’d suggested that perhaps she needed some colour to offset the silver-grey but Leila had it covered with ruby polish for her nails and colour for her mouth.
‘You approve?’ he asked.
Approve? Was he kidding? ‘It’s perfect… How did you know?’
He smiled. ‘Violet sent me a photograph of the dress, although I have to say it looks a lot better on you than a tailor’s dummy.’
She felt her cheeks warm as he continued to look at her and she said, ‘You owe her, Bram. She must have had a thousand things to do today but she and Leila have overseen every detail.’
‘I’ll repay her when I donate to her charity tonight.’ He turned to the case and picked up one of pair of bracelets that nestled against the silk. ‘Shall we begin?’
She raised her hand without a word and he fastened the wide cuff of diamonds and rubies over her left wrist. Was he taking care not to actually touch her or was that her imagination?
He repeated the performance with her right wrist and no, it was not her imagination. When the
She held out her hands to look at the result. Hers were shaking, too, she realised and he caught them and held them, held her gaze. If he thought that was going to steady her he couldn’t have been more wrong.
‘Are you going to be all right, Ruby?’ he asked.
‘Fine,’ she managed through a throat that felt as if it had been stuffed with boulders. ‘It’s just that I’ve never worn anything quite so…sparkly.’
He laughed. ‘Shall we try the collar?’
She nodded and he released her hands to pick up a necklace that was a simple V-shaped geometric collar of diamonds and rubies, with clusters of rubies forming hearts down the centre of the V.
It was set dressing, she told herself. Putting on a show to convince his father that this was real.
‘You seem taller,’ he said, as he lifted the collar to her throat.
‘It’s the shoes.’ She lifted the skirt an inch to reveal a barely-there shoe, her ruby painted toenails.
He glanced down and it seemed half a lifetime before he finally looked up. ‘Very pretty,’ he said, his face expressionless, ‘but I’m going to have to ask you to bend forward a little.’
She dipped her head and as his fingers brushed against the back of her neck she struggled to control the shiver that rippled through her body, tightened her nipples into hard buds against the lace that he would see the moment she straightened.
After what seemed like an age with his arms around her, drowning in the scent of clean laundry, warm skin, something that might have been sandalwood, the clasp finally clicked into place. He stepped back and she could breathe again. Too soon…
The backs of his fingers brushed against her skin as he lifted the collar and eased it into place so that the row of hearts was perfectly vertical and the necklace echoed the neckline of the dress where it dipped between her breasts.
‘How does that feel?’ he asked.
‘Heavy…’ There was a heaviness in breasts and low in belly. An ache between her thighs. It had been a long time since she’d shared a bed with a man but with every touch the heat was building.
‘It will soon be over,’ he said, reaching for one of the earrings — long falls of diamonds and rubies.
‘Shall I…?’ she asked, shakily. She was unravelling and if he touched her again…
‘Your hands aren’t steady enough.’
‘If you were wearing this many diamonds you’d be feeling a bit wobbly,’ she said.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ he assured her.
‘I doubt it and you wouldn’t do this for Bibi,’ she said, desperately, her knees, hips melting as women’s bodies had melted since the morning Eve woke up and discovered Adam staring down at her.
‘No, Bibi would come ready gift-wrapped,’ he agreed as he carefully fitted the earrings in place.
And it would be his duty to unwrap her. In her case he was doing the wrapping but it wasn’t going to be Christmas for either of them.
‘Are they comfortable?’ he asked. ‘Not too heavy?’
She shook her head and they brushed against her neck.
Next he took the small, matching tiara from the centre of the case and lifted it onto her head, setting it firmly amongst the ruffle of curls arranged by Violet’s hairdresser before, taking the last item from the case, a curious piece of white gold, scattered with diamonds and rubies arranged in flower shapes.
‘What is that?’ she asked.
‘Give me your left hand.’
She raised it and he took it in his, held it for a moment before sliding the confection over her hand so that the gems sparkled along her thumb and index finger. ‘A double ring,’ he said, continuing to hold it.
‘Did I say wow?’ she asked.
‘I think that’s my line.’
‘No, really. I feel like a queen,’
‘You look like one,’ he assured her. ‘No one is going to lift an eyebrow when I tell them that when you appeared, unexpectedly, at the fort yesterday morning I knew that I could never let you go. They’ll only wonder why on earth it took me so long to figure it out.’
‘A fabulous dress and a king’s ransom in jewels will work wonders.’
‘It takes more than that.’ For a moment he just stood there looking at her, then seemed to catch himself. ‘Time to go.’
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