August 1st, 20.00-21.00, Heron Tower
TO SAY THAT Odir Farouk Al Arkrin, twelfth generation Farrehed warrior, eldest son of Sheikh Abbas and leading world business figure, was having a bad day would be a dramatic understatement. The Prince pulled the loops of his English-style bowtie together, shaking off the feeling of a noose closing around his neck, and bit back a curse. A curse that damned the wife he had not seen for six months.
But his past feelings about her didn’t matter. Her recent absence didn’t matter.
Within an hour she would return to him.
And he’d get what he needed—what his country needed.
Odir pulled the edges of the black silk fabric tight, firmly fixing the tie in place. Stepping back, he checked his image in the full-length mirror. The sun, setting over the London skyline, caught in the reflection of the mirror and briefly stung his eyes before dipping behind his broad shoulders. He tugged at the cuffs of the tailor-made tux that was equally as uncomfortable as his royal robes. Each were trappings, a costume for the role that he was required to play. And tonight, in one of England’s most renowned and expensive hotels, he’d play the role of a lifetime.
Behind him stood Malik, his personal bodyguard and a man he’d known since they had both run about the Farrehed palace in little more than nappies. A man who nearly six months before had betrayed him in the most shocking way. Frustration rose up within him, and this time Odir just couldn’t hold back.
‘Wipe the look of guilt from your face or leave. I can’t have you making people curious. Not now.’
Malik opened his mouth to speak, but Odir cut him off.
‘And if you don’t have the good sense to stop apologising then I will send you back to Farrehed and you can spend the rest of your life guarding my father’s sister. And, trust me, that is a promise, not a threat. She eats more than a camel and lives like a tortoise. You will die of boredom before your time, and that would be a waste.’
Malik didn’t even twitch. It was the first time Odir had made a joke in what felt like months, and not only had it fallen flat, but a burst of shame cut through him. Now wasn’t the time for jokes.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Malik asked.
Perhaps it was only because Malik was standing behind him that he dared to ask that question. But Odir reluctantly acknowledged that it echoed his own struggling mind.
‘Want? No. Am I sure? Yes. It must be done.’
There was a knock on the door and his personal advisor poked his head through the opening, clearly aware of what kind of mood his Prince was in and not daring to enter further into the dark aura that had surrounded Odir since that morning.
‘Has the press conference been arranged?’ Odir tossed over his shoulder, meeting his aide’s curious glance in the mirror.
‘Don’t. Don’t call me that. Not yet.’
‘Of course, Sir. Yes, the press have been called for eight o’clock tomorrow morning at the embassy. Sir...?’
‘We can still cancel the event tonight.’
‘This yearly event has been upheld through two skirmishes, one war, one financial depression and a royal wedding—and that’s just in the last thirty years. It’s taken months of planning and even if it hadn’t we cannot cancel. To do so would be seen as a sign of weakness. And that—right now—is untenable.’
His assistant nodded, but didn’t leave, instead hovering on the threshold as if he knew there was something more.
‘The invitation...it went out this morning? She received it?’
Once Odir’s security team had discovered the fake name his wife was using on her equally fake passport, it hadn’t taken them more than thirty minutes to track down her whereabouts. From there it had been easy for his consulate in Switzerland to deliver the invitation to her address. An address he’d never visited nor known about until ten hours ago.
‘You can go,’ he said, and his assistant disappeared back through the door.
Odir returned his focus to the mirror, and although a part of him wanted to close his eyes against the white printout lying on the small side table beside his bed, he forced them to remain open. Forced his gaze to scan the blurry photocopy of a passport with a face he recognised bearing a name he didn’t. The document had become the physical manifestation of his wife’s deceit and he resisted the urge to ball it up and throw it aside.