'Who are you?' She was relieved to hear her voice revealed none of the emotions roiling inside.

An instant longer that clear, cold gaze rested on her, then he bowed, surprisingly gracefully. It made her wonder what he did when he wasn't trespassing and threatening unarmed women. There was a magnetism about him that would make him unforgettable even if he hadn't barged, uninvited into this inner sanctum.

'I am Huseyn al Rasheed. I come from Jumeah.'

Huseyn al Rasheed. Ghizlan's stomach plunged and her brow puckered before she smoothed it into an expression of calm.

Trouble. That was who he was.

Trouble with a capital T.

'The Iron Hand of Jumeah.' Fear prickled her nape.

'Some call me that.' Ghizlan sucked in a surreptitious breath between her teeth. This grew worse and worse.

'Who can blame them? You have a reputation for destruction and brute force.' She paused, marshalling her thoughts.

Huseyn al Rasheed was son to the Sheikh of Jumeah, leader of the furthest province from the capital. Though part of Jeirut it was semi-autonomous and had a reputation for fearsome warriors. Huseyn al Rasheed was notorious as his father's enforcer in the continuous border skirmishes with their nation's most difficult neighbour, Halarq. It had been her father's dearest hope that the peace treaties he'd been negotiating with both Halarq and their other neighbouring nation, Zahrat, would end generations of unrest. Unrest Huseyn al Rasheed and his father only fed with their confrontational behaviour.

Ghizlan gripped the leather arm rests tight, wishing her father were here to deal with this. 'Did your father send you?'

'No one sent me. My father, like his cousin, your father, is dead.'

Second cousin, Ghizlan almost blurted, wanting to deny the connection he claimed, but a lifetime's training stopped her.

'My condolences on your loss.' Though she saw nothing in that tough, determined face remotely resembling grief.

'And my condolences on yours.'

Ghizlan nodded, the movement jerky. She didn't like the way he stared at her. Like a big cat who'd found some fascinating new prey to torment. She curled her fingers until her nails dug into leather. This was no time for flights of fantasy.

'And your reason for entering here, armed and uninvited?' Was it imagination again or did something flicker in those grey eyes? Surely not because she'd called him on his deplorable behaviour? If the rumours surrounding this man were true she needed to tread very, very carefully.

'I'm here to claim the crown of Jeirut.'

Ghizlan's heart stopped then sprinted on frantically. 'By force of arms?' Vaguely Ghizlan wondered at her ability to sound calm when horror was turning her very bones cold. A man like the Iron Hand in control of her beloved country? They'd be at war in a week. All her father's work, and her own, undone. Pain lanced her chest and her lungs cramped. She blinked and forced herself to breathe.

'I have no intention of starting a civil war.'

'Which doesn't answer my question.'

He shrugged and Ghizlan watched, mesmerised, as those impossibly broad shoulders lifted. Terror, loathing, anger. That's what she should feel. Yet that tingling sensation across her breasts and down to her belly didn't seem like any of those. She ignored it. She was stressed and anxious.

'I have no intention of fighting my own people for the royal sheikhdom.'

The constriction banding her chest eased a little. Yet she didn't trust this man. Everything about him set alarm bells ringing.

'You think the elders will vote for a man like you as leader?' She couldn't sit still. She surged to her feet, her hands clenched in fists on the desk as she leaned forward. How dared he walk in here as if he owned the place?

'I'm sure they'll see the wisdom of choosing me.' He paused, long enough for a flicker of heat to pass between them. Banked fury, Ghizlan decided. 'Especially given the other happy circumstance.'

'Happy circumstance?' Ghizlan frowned.

'My wedding.' Ghizlan opened her mouth but realised she would only parrot what he had said. Instead she stood, tension racking her body as she watched his mouth curve up in a smile that was painfully smug. It transformed his face enough that she wondered how he'd look if something genuinely amused him.

Heat drilled through her. She could almost see traces of a handsome man beneath that fierce beard and the threat he represented. Then she reminded herself this man didn't do light-hearted. And even if he did she wasn't interested in seeing it.

'That's my other reason for coming to the capital. To claim my bride.'

Ghizlan loathed his superior, uber-confident air, the gloating note in his deep voice. She pitied his bride, whoever she was, but clearly he wanted her to be impressed. What would it cost her to play along at least until she got to the bottom of this?

'Who are you marrying? Do I know her?'

His smile widened and she saw the gleam of strong white teeth. Fear scudded down her spine as she read his expression.

'That would be you, my dear Ghizlan. I'm taking you as my wife.'

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