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His Stolen Desert Bride

Written by Carol Marinelli

Chapter Two

I'll see you and your pretty dress at the church,’ Alasdair said, giving his daughter one final kiss.

He really did need to push on but, as always, Ainslie didn’t want him to leave just yet.

‘Will you be wearing your kilt?’ she asked.

‘You know that I shall.’

Ainslie was six. She had the same wild dark hair and striking green eyes as her father but she had inherited her mother’s imagination. While she was very excited to be in Rome, there had been tears last night. Finally she had confessed to Alasdair that she had again been lying—and had told her school friends that she was to be bridesmaid and was worried how they’d react when they found out.

‘Did you wear a kilt when you married Mummy?’

‘Indeed I did,’ Alasdair said, doing his best to keep things light but, even four years on, the hurt was too raw to readily smile when he spoke about Catherine. ‘I really do have to go.’ He glanced over to his sister, Helene. ‘Thanks for this.’

‘You’re the one paying!’ Helene smiled as she saw him to the door.

Alasdair had flown his sister and her children to Rome and had housed them all in a luxurious hotel, though rather more family friendly than the Grande Lucia. Tomorrow they would visit the Villa Borghese estate and see the zoo and the puppets in the park, but today was about his closest friend’s wedding.

‘Ainslie just wants to talk about Catherine,’ Helene said.

‘I know that she does,’ Alasdair agreed, ‘but now’s not the time.’

‘I’m not just talking about today. She’s excited to go to the church and we’ll have a great night back here. But, Alasdair, she needs…’

‘Not now.’

His words had come out too brusque, Alasdair knew, but that was his mode of late. Today was hard enough already. Memories of this time seven years ago, when it had been James who was the best man, were swirling.

Alasdair had been an extremely successful financier living in Edinburgh with his gorgeous family when tragedy had hit. A helicopter crash had claimed the lives of both his parents and his young wife and Alasdair had been left literally holding the baby.

Overnight he had gone from husband to widower.

Family man to single parent.

Mr. to Laird.

And he struggled with each of those changes.

The only constant was his career—there he was in control. He struggled to devote the necessary time to the estate and did not need to be reminded of his shortcomings in the parenthood department.

He was already more than aware of them.

Alasdair had chosen to walk the short distance to the Grande Lucia but as he did he regretted that choice.

Rome had its own pulse.

It was vibrant and busy and the way he was feeling it would be so much easier to witness it from behind the tinted windows of a car.

Tomorrow he had promised Ainslie fun but was unsure he could deliver.

His work was all consuming; Alasdair was extremely successful. The hours were crushing but, hell, it was so much easier than having time to think.

Time healed apparently…

Alasdair was still waiting.

He had the best nannies, Ainslie attended the best school and he had the endless support of his sister but nothing could dim the fact that there was a whole lot missing.

Oh, there had been women since Catherine.

Way too many of them, though he kept all that well away from his daughter. Not one had come close to making it to a second night, let alone meeting the family.

He nodded as the doorman greeted him and walked through the impressive foyer while barely conceding a glance.

Alasdair spent a lot of time in hotels, chasing millions for clients by day and indulging in the anaesthesia of sex by night.

He never had to chase that.

Alasdair wasn’t sure if it was looks, wealth or his widower status that drew women to him.

He just knew it wasn’t his sunny personality, for the sun had long since dimmed.

He took one of the ancient elevators up to his floor and decided he would quickly ensure that the rings were in the safe before heading up to the next floor to check on James.

At least that was the plan.

As the elevator opened he was greeted by the sight of a rather perplexed maid and a young woman standing outside his suite, clearly at odds.

Alasdair would have preferred not to get involved but had little choice given that they were blocking his entrance.

‘Can I help?’ he asked, and the young woman first frowned at the interruption and then turned to him.

‘I have locked myself out.’

‘I see.’

‘Identificazioni!’ the maid said.

‘How,’ she asked Alasdair, ‘do I explain that my identification is locked inside my suite?’

‘Actually,’ Alasdair said, ‘that’s my suite that you’re trying to get into.’

‘Oh!’

She blushed.

Just a little but enough that Alasdair noted that her smooth caramel skin dusted pink and she ran a tongue over her lips.

And try as he might not to, Alasdair noticed that too.

He knew who this was.

‘Which suite is yours?’ he asked.

‘I’m not sure now,’ she admitted, more than a little embarrassed.

‘It’s an easy mistake,’ he said. ‘People make it all the time.’

He made her feel not so stupid.

Yet she blushed again.

Though for very different reasons this time.

He really was incredibly handsome, with thick black hair that was tousled and an unshaven jaw. He was wearing black jeans and a thin black jumper that hinted at a toned body. His eyes were the deepest green and his serious expression told Yasmin that he did not smile often.

She would like to see it.

‘Allow me.’ He turned to the maid and told her in excellent Italian the problem and that perhaps it might be a good idea to allow Princess Yasmin al-Lehan back into her suite.

The maid’s face paled.

Not so much at Yasmin’s royal title—the Grande Lucia often housed very esteemed guests. No, it was more her surname that had the maid tremble a little as she swiped her pass on Yasmin’s door and put on the catch to hold it open—for Alim al-Lehan was the hotel’s owner.

‘Thank you,’ Yasmin said and then turned to the man who had sorted things out so smoothly. ‘But how do you know who I am?’

‘I’m Alasdair McClelland. I know your brother James.’

‘I don’t understand all what you’re saying,’ Yasmin admitted. ‘Your English is…’ She was truly perplexed. ‘I study it, but in practice…’ Yasmin gave an exasperated shrug but again he put her at ease as he spoke a little more slowly.

‘Your English is excellent. It’s my accent you’re struggling with,’ he explained. ‘I’m actually Scottish.’

‘Ah, we don’t do accents until next year.’

‘You’ll soon get used to it.’

She would like to get used to it.

Even if her father would be cross it was nice to stand and speak with him and so Yasmin prolonged things. ‘Scotland is where you met James?’ she checked because Yasmin knew it had been Scotland where her brother had attended university.

‘That’s right.’ He nodded.

‘But I still don’t get how you knew who I was.’

‘I’m a good friend of James and he often speaks of his family. I’ve seen photos…’

That made her smile, for he must indeed be a good friend for James to have told him about his family, given the secrecy that swathed his existence. Now that she thought about it, Yasmin recalled long-ago letters she had received from James.

‘He used to go to your parents’ castle in the summer,’ she checked.

‘That’s right,’ he agreed but, Yasmin noted, there was no smile of recollection and no attempt to extend the conversation on his part. In fact, he held out his hand.

‘It’s been a pleasure to meet you.’

Her hand went to reach for his but then she pulled it back and instead tapped her heart to return the greeting, but also to let him know she would not be shaking his hand.

Alasdair took the cue and pulled his back. ‘I’ll see you at the wedding,’ he said as he made to go.

‘No!’ The word came out too fast and a little too urgent. ‘I shan’t be there.’

‘That’s right, I forgot.’

He was going to go.

Really, Yasmin thought, he could not get away fast enough.

The only reason he had helped was because she had been blocking his doorway. And the only reason he had made small talk was because of who she was.

James’s younger sister.

But then he said a word.

One she did not fully understand, but from the way it was delivered she was certain she knew what it meant.

‘Pity.’

He wished that she was going to the wedding, Yasmin was sure. There was just something in the way that he said it that matched her leaping heart.

He went then and, slightly shaken, Yasmin went into her suite, sat down on her bed and stared at the wall, and though she wanted to look up that word, for a moment she held on to her hand.

The one she had pulled back from his.

Oh, Yasmin was used to turning down such a greeting—that wasn’t the issue.

It was the potential of his touch.

For the first time she had wanted to reach out and touch another person, and she had wanted to linger and talk for a while.

Oh, there were many reasons she wished she could be at the wedding and reception, but there was now another one.

Alasdair.

The man who did not smile.

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About the author

I was born in England to Scottish parents, and then emigrated to Austr...

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Carol Marinelli

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