His Defiant Desert Queen

By: Jane Porter

PROLOGUE

  SEETHING, SHEIKH MIKAEL KARIM, King of Saidia, watched the high fashion photo shoot taking place in the desert—his desert—wondering how anyone could think it was okay to enter a foreign country under a false identity and think he, or she, as it happened to be in this case, could get away with it.

  Apparently the world was filled with fools.

  Fools by the name of Copeland.

  Jaw tight, temper barely leashed, Mikael waited for the right moment to intervene.

  He’d been pushed too far, challenged directly, and he’d meet that challenge with swift retribution.

  A king didn’t negotiate. A king never begged, and a king refused to curry favor.

  Saidia might be a small kingdom, but it was powerful. And the government of Saidia might tolerate the West, but Westerners couldn’t enter Saidia, flaunt Saidia law, and think there would be no repercussions.

  Jemma Copeland was a foolish woman. So like her father, thumbing her nose at the law, believing she was above it.

  Perhaps Daniel Copeland had got away with his crimes. But his daughter would not be so lucky. Miss Jemma Copeland was going to pay.





                        CHAPTER ONE

  NECESSITY HAD TAUGHT Jemma Copeland to shut out distractions.

  She’d learned to ignore the things she didn’t want to think about, to enable her to do what needed to be done.

  So for the past two hours she’d ignored the scorching heat of the Sahara. The insistent, hollow ache in her stomach. The stigma of being a Copeland, and what it meant back home in the United States.

  She’d blocked out heat, hunger, and shame, but she couldn’t block out the tall, white-robed man standing just a foot behind the photographer, watching her through dark, unsmiling eyes while a half dozen robed men stood behind him.

  She knew who the man was. How could she not? He’d attended her sister’s wedding five years ago in Greenwich and every woman with a pulse had noticed Sheikh Mikael Karim. He was tall, he was impossibly, darkly handsome, and he was a billionaire as well as the new king of Saidia.

  But Mikael Karim wasn’t supposed to be on set today. He was supposed to be in Buenos Aires this week and his sudden appearance, arriving in a parade of glossy black luxury SUVs with tinted windows, had sent ripples of unease throughout the entire crew.

  It was obvious he wasn’t happy.

  Jemma’s gut told her something ugly could happen soon. She prayed she was wrong. She just wanted to get through the rest of the shoot and fly out tomorrow morning as planned.

  At least he hadn’t shown up yesterday. Yesterday had been grueling, a very long day, with multiple shots in multiple locations, and the heat had been intense. But she hadn’t complained. She wouldn’t. She needed the job too much to be anything but grateful for the chance to still work.

  It still boggled her mind how much things had changed. Just a year ago she had been one of America’s golden girls, envied for her beauty, her wealth, her status as an It Girl. Her family was powerful, affluent. The Copelands had homes scattered across the world, and she and her gorgeous, privileged sisters were constantly photographed and discussed. But even the powerful can fall, and the Copeland family tumbled off their pedestal with the revelation that Daniel, her father, was the number two man in the biggest Ponzi scheme in America in the past century.

  Overnight the Copelands became the most hated family in America.

  Now Jemma could barely make ends meet. The fallout from her father’s arrest, and the blitz of media interest surrounding the case, had destroyed her career. The fact that she worked, and had supported herself since she was eighteen, meant nothing to the public. She was still Daniel Copeland’s daughter. Hated. Loathed. Resented.

  Ridiculed.

  Today, she was lucky to get work, and her once brilliant career now barely paid the bills. When her agency came to her with this assignment, a three day shoot with two travel days, meaning she’d be paid for five work days, she’d jumped at the opportunity to come to Saidia, the independent desert kingdom tucked underneath Southern Morocco, and nestled between the Western Sahara and the Atlantic Ocean. She’d continued to fight for the opportunity even when the Saidia consulate denied her visa request.

  It wasn’t legal, but desperate times called for desperate measures so she’d reapplied for a new visa as her sister, using Morgan’s passport bearing Morgan’s married name, Xanthos. This time she’d received the needed travel visa.

  Yes, she was taking a huge risk, coming here under a false name, but she needed money. Without this paycheck, she wouldn’t be able to pay her next month’s mortgage.

  So here she was, dressed in a long fox fur and thigh high boots, sweltering beneath the blazing sun.

  So what if she was naked beneath the coat?

  She was working. She was surviving. And one day, she’d thrive again, too.

  So let them look.

  Let them all look—the disapproving sheikh and his travel guard—because she wouldn’t be crushed. She refused to be crushed. The clothes were beautiful. Life was exciting. She didn’t have a care in the world.

  Despite her fierce resolve, perspiration beaded beneath her full breasts and slid down her bare abdomen.

  Not uncomfortable, she thought. Sexy.

  And with sexy firmly in mind, she drew a breath, jutted her hip, and struck a bold pose.

  Keith, the Australian photographer, let out an appreciative whistle. “That’s beautiful, baby! More of that, please.”

  She felt a rush of pleasure, which was quickly dashed by the sight of Mikael Karim moving closer to Keith.

  The sheikh was tall, so tall he towered over Keith, and his shoulders were broad, dwarfing the slender Australian.

  Jemma had forgotten just how intensely handsome Mikael Karim was. She’d modeled in other countries and had met many different sheikhs, and most had been short, heavyset men with flirty eyes and thickening jowls.

  But Sheikh Mikael Karim was young, and lean, and fierce. His white robes only accentuated the width of his shoulders as well as his height, and his angular jaw jutted, black eyebrows flat over those intense, dark eyes.

  Now Sheikh Karim looked over Keith’s head, his dark gaze piercing her, holding her attention. She couldn’t look away. He seemed to be telling her something, warning her of something. She went hot, then cold, shivering despite the heat.

  Her stomach rose, fell. An alarm sounded in her head. He was dangerous.

  She tugged on the edges of the coat, pulling it closer to her body, suddenly very conscious of the fact that she was naked beneath.

  Sighing with frustration, Keith lowered his camera a fraction. “You just lost all your energy. Give me sexy, baby.”

  Jemma glanced at the sheikh from beneath her lashes. The man oozed tension, a lethal tension that made her legs turn to jelly and the hair prickle on the back of her neck. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

  But Keith couldn’t read Sheikh Karim’s expression and his irritation grew. “Come on, focus. We need to wrap this up, baby.”

  Keith was right. They did need to wrap this shot. And she was here to do a job. She had to deliver, or she’d never work again.

  Jemma gulped a breath, squared her shoulders, and lifted her chin to the sun, feeling her long hair spill down her back as she let the heavy fur drop off her shoulder, exposing more skin.

  “Nice.” Keith lifted his camera, motioned for his assistant to step closer with the white reflective screen, and began snapping away. “I like that. More of that.”

  Jemma shook her head, letting her thick hair tease the small of her spine even as the fur fell lower on her breasts.

  “Perfect,” Keith crooned. “That’s hot. Love it. Don’t stop. You’re on fire now.”

  Yes, she was, she thought, arching her shoulders back, breasts thrust high, the nipples now just exposed to the kiss of the sun. In Sheikh Karim’s world she was probably going to burn in the flames of hell, but there was nothing she could do about it. This was her job. She had to deliver. And so she pushed all other thoughts from mind, except for giving the image they wanted.

  Her shoulders twisted and the coat slid lower on her arm, the fur tickling the back of her bare thighs.

  “Lovely, baby.” Keith was snapping away. “So beautiful. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a goddess. Every man’s dream.”

  She wasn’t a goddess, or a dream, but she could pretend to be. She could pretend anything for a short period of time. Pretending gave her distance, allowing her to breathe, escape, escaping the reality of what was happening at home. Home. A sinking sensation filled her. What a nightmare.

  Battling back the sadness, Jemma shifted, lifting her chin, thrusting her hip out, dropping the coat altogether, exposing her breasts, nipples jutting proudly.

  Keith whistled softly. “Give me more.”

  “No,” Sheikh Mikael Karim ground out. It was just one word, but it echoed like a crack of thunder, immediately silencing the murmur of stylists, make-up artist, and lighting assistants.

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