A defiant woman… in a desert king’s world!
Inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow – to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced… as Miss Stephanie Darvill!
Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind – she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways…dare she give in to her wildest desires?
Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, February 2017
Time and Setting: Arabia 1815
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Wendy
If there’s one thing readers can be sure of with a Marguerite Kaye novel it’s superb writing, in-depth and expert research and captivating storytelling. In The Harlot and the Sheikh the third in her Hot Arabian Nights series we meet another of Ms. Kaye’s capable, independently-minded heroines. And even though I’ve never been attracted to ‘sheikh’ stories in general – I adored this one with its delectable but flawed leading-man and a heroine ahead of her time with nothing left to lose but maybe everything to gain if she can only pull off her audacious ploy.
Miss Stephanie Darvill has left home under a cloud after a liaison with an officer in her father’s regiment left her reputation in tatters. Her father has a considerable reputation as a veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars and Stephanie has worked alongside him most of her life and is now almost as knowledgeable as he. Prince Rafiq al-Antarah’s string of valuable blue-blooded race horses are in danger from a mysterious disease which has beset his stud and which thus threatens his bid to win the prestigious Sabr, the famous endurance race that is key to the prosperity and prestige of his people. Some years earlier, Rafiq’s father lost the race in a moment of madness which has had far-reaching consequences not only for Bharym, but for Rafiq personally. Forced to make a decision based on his father’s actions, the prince is now severely troubled and feels that winning the race is the only way to make amends for his own actions.
When Stephanie arrives and declares herself to be at the palace at his invitation Rafiq is astonished and not a little displeased, because he had expected her father to respond to his request for help. Stephanie persuades him that she is up to the job and as time is short and there is no one else he can call on, Rafiq gives her a contract as his Royal Horse Surgeon. Besides which, he is not a little impressed by her temerity, determination and strength of character not to mention her attractiveness and an ability to speak his language like a native, a fact for which she can thank her Egyptian mother.
These are two of Marguerite Kate’s most compelling characters yet. Stephanie has been badly hurt but is strong and determined to gain her independence, a fact she thinks will help her to rise above her fall from grace and repay the faith her parents’ have placed in her. She is highly intelligent, determined and shows she is no pushover as she fronts up to the prejudices she faces in Rafiq’s stables where a woman’s presence is considered to be unlucky. Rafiq is immediately struck by her uncompromising honesty, not a quality he has experienced much in his dealings with others. Stephanie doesn’t promise to save his beloved horses but she promises to try. Rafiq is utterly honourable as well as being the most deliciously handsome man that she has ever encountered and it isn’t long before the two are exploring their physical attraction to each other, although after her previous experience, Stephanie is naturally wary and anxious not to make this relationship into something it is not.
I loved the way Ms. Kaye developed the romance between Rafiq and Stephanie; the attraction between them simmers from their first meeting and builds slowly and sensually. He winkles out her past – bit-by-bit – and shows her by word and deed that he is not remotely shocked, and gradually helps her to rebuild her sense of her self-esteem by his actions and attentions to her. In turn she teaches him a little about bending his long held views and rules and relaxing the strictures in his everyday life and in his palace. In short, Rafiq begins to see Stephanie as a breath of fresh air and she quickly becomes a necessity in his life.
Marguerite Kaye has a special ability to drop the reader into place and time, the sights, smells, soft sand beneath feet, even the tinkling of water from a fountain – all are an experience one can almost see, smell, feel and hear – it is one aspect of her writing that I have always admired. The Harlot and the Sheikh boasts a beautifully crafted romance between two captivating characters and a clever, plausible plot which Marguerite Kaye has backed up in her author’s notes showing us her extensive research into many of the areas covered in this story. I highly recommend this novel and after meeting Christopher Fordyce towards the end of novel I am really looking forward to meeting him again when he gets his own story in the last of the series.