The Sheik's Unexpected Bride by Elizabeth Lennox

“Thank you, Ms. Sokawski,” Luna replied, extending her hand to greet the general and his wife. “You are looking radiant as well,” she added, smiling warmly at the older woman, instantly making everyone feel more comfortable.

There were four other people at the table and Luna greeted each of them with a warmth that was admirable, Tasim thought as he stepped back, allowing her to act as hostess. Tonight’s dinner was smaller than many of the events that would take place over the next week. There would be only about fifty people in attendance tonight, but as the week progressed, the attendance would grow in both size and importance. But for tonight, the gathering would be more “intimate”. At least, that’s what his aide had told him.

Standing back, Tasim had to admit that Luna was good at her role. She greeted everyone, inquiring about their children, and even their pets in some cases, ensuring each person felt welcome. Not everyone could pull it off so effortlessly.

“Please,” Luna said to the small group of people who had gathered. “Have a seat. I’m sure everyone is hungry.”

The waiters had already started serving the other tables, so everyone sat down. Unfortunately, Tasim couldn’t seem to keep his eyes away from Luna. Ealayk alleana! In addition to the distracting sight, he also noticed that she smelled delicious. She wasn’t wearing the heavy, cloying perfumes that some women doused themselves in, for which he was grateful. Those scents tended to make everyone within a six foot radius gag. No, she smelled like flowers. Maybe lily of the valley? He wasn’t sure, but he liked it. The scent was refreshing.

“This is indeed a wonderful occasion!” the general said, lifting the glass of wine a waiter had just filled. “A toast!”

Unfortunately, the waiters were still filling the glasses, so there was an awkward pause as the waiter rushed around the room.

“Sorry about that,” the general harrumphed, then lifted his glass higher. “To a beautiful end to many years of conflict!”

Tasim nodded, relieved that he’d offered such an appropriate toast. Tasim tipped his glass towards the others, then sipped the wine and set the glass down on the table.

“You don’t like the wine?” Luna asked, leaning towards him ever so slightly. The movement caused a whiff of her soft perfume to drift over him and he tightened his stranglehold on that infernal, and unwelcome, lust. He didn’t want to find her attractive! From what he’d heard, Princess Luna was selfish and spoiled. Beautiful, of course, but he’d had his fill of mistresses who were emotionally demanding or annoyingly spoiled.

“The wine is fine,” he replied tightly, then turned to speak to the woman on his right. He had no idea what his neighbor was blathering on about, but he feigned an interest, just so he wouldn’t have to smell Luna’s perfume or see her lean towards him, giving him an enticing peek at that distracting shadow.

And that perfume! What was it?

The waiters arrived, bringing steaming platters for the next course, setting elaborate plates of beautifully cooked cuisine in front of each person.

“This looks absolutely delicious,” Janice announced, slicing herself a tiny portion of the marinated turkey. “You’ve outdone yourself with the menu, Princess Luna.”

Tasim refrained from rolling his eyes. Princess Luna hadn’t had anything to do with the creation of this meal, he scoffed. Tasim doubted she even knew where the palace kitchen was located! He turned, ready to hear her claim credit for the meal.

To his surprise, he heard the complete opposite. “The chef explained that the turkey is marinated in a Cuban sauce that includes grated orange zest, orange juice, lime juice, mint, oregano, cilantro, and a variety of herbs,” she clarified, eager to try this new flavor.

He grudgingly gave her points for giving the credit to the chef.

“Sounds original,” Tasim commented, serving himself a slice of the succulent meat. Because Luna’s was back against the wall, the waiter struggled to serve her. “I’ll do it,” Tasim volunteered, stopping the waiter from attempting, and potentially dropping the entire serving onto Luna’s lap.

“That’s okay, I can just…” Luna paused, startled by the amount he’d placed right in the center of her plate. “Well, thank you.” She eyed her plate, irritated that he’d served her such a large portion. She’d have to eat all of that? Leaning closer, she whispered sarcastically, “Are you going to cut it up for me as well, Your Highness?”