This is the first book in The Princess Brides Trilogy
"You're not going to go." Princess Nicolette tossed the heavy parchment paper into the garbage can. "You just pick up the phone and tell the sultan -- or sheikh -- or whatever he is that you're not doing this disgustingly barbaric arranged marriage thing again. For heaven's sake, Chantal, you're a woman -- not a human sacrifice!"
Chantal's mouth curved, but the tight smile didn't touch her gray eyes, or her tense expression. "He's wealthy, Nic. There's a chance he might be able to buy Lilly's freedom, and if this is the way --"
"It's not the way! Absolutely not the way. You barely survived one hellish marriage. How could you even consider another?"
"Because our country needs it. Our people need it. "Chantal's slim shoulders lifted, fell, as did her voice. "My daughter needs it."
Chantal's resignation killed Nic. Her sister had lost her spirit, her backbone, her courage. The last couple of years had virtually annihilated the elegant princess, the eldest of the Ducasse royal grandchildren.
"You have needs, too," Nic shot back. "And you need to be treated kindly, lovingly, with respect. Another marriage of convenience -- to another playboy -- will only crush you." Nic's emotions ran high. If Chantal couldn't fight anymore, than Nic would have to do it for her. "And I know you want to help Lilly, but your daughter needs to come home to Melio, Chantal. She doesn't need another foreign country, another foreign culture, or another foreign nanny saying no princess, you can't princess, don't smile princess, we don't approve of laughter, princess!"
Chantal winced. "You're not helping, Nic."
Nic dropped to her knees, and wrapped her arms around Chantal's legs, holding her sister close. "So let me help. Let me do something for a change!"
Chantal's fine dark brown eyebrow arched and she lifted one of Nicolette's long blond curls. "You'll marry the sultan?" Chantal gently mocked. "Come on, Nic. You'd never agree to a marriage of convenience. And you're not even close to being ready to settle down. You're still sowing all your wild oats."
Nicolette pressed her cheek to Chantal's knees. "I'm not sowing wild oats. I'm just dating--"
Her sister laughed and tugged on the long blonde curl. "You don't date, love. You hunt and destroy."
"You make me sound like the Terminator! I don't destroy men. I just haven't found Mr. Right yet."
"And how are you going to find the right man when you sleep with all the wrong ones?"
The Sultan's translator turned to the Princess. "The King thanks you for your concerns, and assures you that you need not worry, or troubled. As the wedding details are set, there is nothing for you to do in the next two weeks but relax and familiarize you with our life here in Baraka."
Nothing to do in the next two weeks but relax? Nicolette puzzled over the king's answer. "What's happening in two weeks?"
The translator bowed his head. "The wedding, Your Highness."
The wedding already planned. The ceremony here. In two weeks. It couldn't be. Surely this was a language problem, an issue with the translation. "I'm afraid we're losing something here. Are you telling me that the wedding date-and all detail -- has already been set?"
Nicolette touched the tip of her tongue to her upper lip. She'd been in Baraka, King Malik Nuri's North African kingdom, less than two hours and already things were wildly out of control. What had happened to her plan? What about the quiet, private ceremony she'd dreamed up in America? "How can it be set?"
The robed translator bowed head politely. "His Highness has chosen a date blessed by the religious and cultural calendar."
Nicolette glanced past the slim translator to King Nuri reclining on the sofa. This was going to be far more difficult than she'd anticipated. King Nuri was the kind of man she'd assiduously avoided -- smart, suave, sophisticated-and far too much in control. "But the King hasn't consulted my calendar," she said firmly, turning towards the sultan, meeting his gaze directly to convey her displeasure. "He can't set a wedding date without my input."
The translator nodded again, his expression grave, and still unfailingly polite "It is customary for the King to consult with his spiritual advisors."
"The King is very religious then?"
The translator paused, appeared momentarily at loss for words before recovering. "The King is the King. The ruler of Baraka --"
What nonsense was this? "And I am Princess Chantal, of the royal Ducasse family." Her temper was getting the best of her. She hated double-speak, especially hated royal double speak. This is one reason she'd always dated commoners. Playboys, her sister's voice echoed in her head. "Perhaps you'd care to remind your king that nothing is set until I say it's set."
The translator hesitated. He didn't want to translate this.
Nicolette's jaw hardened. "Tell him. Please."
"Your Highness --" the translator protested.
She shifted impatiently, set her cup on the low wood table. "Perhaps it was a mistake coming to Baraka. I'd assumed King Malik Nuri was educated. Civilized --"
"Western?" the King concluded, languidly rising from his sofa to again dominate the royal chamber.
Nic's jaw dropped even as her stomach flipped.
So he spoke English. But of course he spoke English. He'd gone to Oxford for heaven's sake. Yet he'd allowed all introductions, all awkward conversation, to be made via the translator. He'd had their first meeting conducted like an interview.
"Why did we have a translator?" she demanded, head tilting, scarf sliding back, revealing her long dark hair.
He didn't look a bit apologetic. "I thought it might make you more comfortable."
Wrong. It was to make him more comfortable. A passive display of power. Nic scraped her teeth together. Think like Chantal, she reminded herself. Be Chantal.
But Chantal's become a doormat.
And yet it's Chantal he wants, not you.
The sultan was waiting for her to speak. Her eyes flashed fire even as she struggled to retain her flimsy smile, nodding her head the way she'd seen Chantal nod graciously so many times on official state business. "How considerate," she said from between clenched teeth, rising as well. "I really ought to...thank you."
King Nuri's lips curved faintly. "My pleasure." He lifted his hand in a small imperial gesture and the translator discreetly exited the room.
They were both standing, far too close for Nic's comfort, and the sultan studied her fierce expression for a long moment before knotting his hands behind his back and slowly circling her.
It was an examination. A study before a purchase.
Like a camel at an open-air market, she thought uneasily, as he circled a second time, his hawk-like gaze missing nothing.
"Do I meet your approval, King Nuri?" She choked, her sarcasm lost as her voice broke. This was not going to be a two-week vacation. She was scared. Not for Chantal, but for herself. King Nuri had a plan, and as the wild beating of her heart reminded her, his plan was swiftly annihilating her own.
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Read the excerpt from Book 2 in The Princess Brides trilogy.