Authors: Elizabeth Lennox
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General
The War, Love, & Harmony Series: Book 1
Fighting with the
By Elizabeth Lennox
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“Get me a bottle of bourbon,” the tall, dark man snapped to the woman fiddling with flowers as he burst into the previously soothing salon. The man leaned his hands against the back of the sofa, his arms spread wide and his head bowed low.
Jalayla spun around, shocked by the command and her eyebrows snapped up. How dare he speak to her like that! She looked behind her, realizing that he’d thought she was a servant because she’d been adjusting the floral arrangement, but it didn’t matter. He shouldn’t speak to servants like that either!
“Say please,” she snapped right back, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin defiantly.
With her sharp words, that muscular back tensed and his head came partway up. Not fully though. It was as if he might be tossing her response around in his head, thinking about her words, repeating them in his mind as if he couldn’t believe she’d actually said them. To him.
Unconcerned, Jalayla crossed her arms over her stomach and glared, ignoring the creeping sensation of anxiousness that was coming over her.
But as the man stood up, his true height and brawn were revealed and she had to suppress her uneasiness. This was no regular man to be put in his place for an arrogant attitude. No, this man was of a completely different breed, she thought as she took in his broad shoulders and muscle packed arms that strained the tailored material of his shirt. She still couldn’t see his face because he was turned away from her, but this man’s body was enormous!
She shrank back slightly, but then realized what she was doing and stopped that action, refusing to let this man see her fear.
Then he swung around!
Goodness, he was gorgeous! All that black hair, cropped short but she could see how thick it was. His jaw already had a shadow of darkness to it even though he’d probably shaved only hours ago. And oh, he was tall!
And looking taller since he was walking towards her!
Jalayla refused to back down or back away. She absolutely would not allow this horrible, rude man to intimidate her! He’d been wrong to snap an order like that! She was right to point that out.
Those dark, almost black eyes traveled up and down her figure, stopping on her defiant features. “You’re trembling. Good,” he snapped. “Because you will be gone from here within the hour.” He continued to walk closer, his eyes never leaving hers and he had to admit, he was impressed with her bravado. “Your employment here is at an end.”
Jalayla’s chin went up another notch, her soft, brown eyes glaring right back at him. “You’re an idiot, sir. First of all, you don’t have the authority to throw me out of the Fortress of the Guards, sir. This fortress was built on the land of four countries, all four of which control and manage this place. You do not have final authority to kick anyone out of the fortress. Secondly, if I’m to be thrown out of this fortress, it would be worth it to know that I won’t ever have to deal with arrogant, conceited, rude and impolite jerks again!”
With that, she stepped around the enormous, terrifying man and headed for the doors. She would not stay in a room with this oaf another moment.
Tasir watched the woman with gleaming dark hair walk away from him, stunned by the surge of lust that hit him. And for a servant? Impossible! He never dallied with the help!
But she didn’t hold herself like a servant. The woman daring to walk away from him was proud and confident. Damn, even the way she walked was making his body harden with desire for her. Or maybe it was just his need to eradicate impertinence in all forms.
Before she could step out of his reach, he grabbed her arm and spun her back around to face him. “Who are you?” he demanded. “I want a name!”
She had the audacity to try to jerk her arm out of his grip, but now that he was touching her, there was no way he was letting her go.
“Princess Jalayla bin Faisal of Tularia, at your service,” she replied mockingly. She even added in a little curtsy, just for effect. “And who might be the man who is assaulting me?” she demanded. She recognized him, of course. This man was in the news much too often for her not to know who he was. She hadn’t recognized him when he’d walked in and snapped an order at her, but as soon as she’d seen his face, she’d known who he was.
“Crown Prince Tasir Al Sharhi of Lurasa,” he came right back and his eyes skimmed up and down her figure with thoroughness. “So you’re the little Jalayla,” he commented, moving closer but not releasing her arm.
Her eyes flared heatedly with his words and his continued hold onto her person. “I’m not little!”
His eyes flashed right back, standing so close that his shoes were almost touching hers. “You’re little, and you’re in danger of angering me, little one.”
Her spine stiffened with those words. “Oh, and what are you going to do? Hit me? Are you such a big, mean man that you can’t handle a woman’s harsh words or honest opinion?”
He moved even closer, a full head taller than her, but she wasn’t backing down. “You would be wise to watch your tongue,” he warned, his voice soft and threatening.
She poked a finger in the middle of his chest, ignoring his words, knowing that she was courting danger but unable to stop herself. “I know the kind of man you are.” She jerked her arm but he still wouldn’t release her. “You’re a big bully. You think that your height and your muscles make you stronger. But you can’t rely on that all the time, you big oaf. At some point, intelligence is going to be required. And since you’re severely lacking in that arena, you’re going to fail.”
Tasir had never met a man or a woman with the courage to question his intelligence. Hell, he’d never had anyone question him at all. “Would you care to put it to the test?”
She glared up at him, ignoring the crick in her neck. “I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”
There was a noise outside of the salon and he dropped her arm only moments before their fathers stepped into the room. Jalayla gave him one more fulminating glare before she turned to smile sweetly at her father as if nothing was bothering her in any way. Kissing his cheek, she walked out of the room, ignoring the tall, irritating man she knew was still glaring at her.
She dressed carefully for dinner that night. Already, she was regretting her outburst with Prince Tasir. Jalayla had no idea what had gotten into her. Sure, the man had snapped an order at her. But that was no reason to toss out insults. A simple, civil word explaining her title would have sufficed. She might have even gone so far as to gently reprimand him for the way he was speaking to the servants, but to call him names? That was beneath her.
She pulled her hair back so that it was smoothly out of her face, clipped it behind her and chose a blue dress to help calm her nerves. And hopefully his as well.
Jalayla stepped into the dining room that night and took a deep breath, bracing herself to face that man once again. At least her father and his would be with them this time. That would definitely temper their attitudes towards one another.
She spotted him immediately then looked around for her father and his. Unfortunately, the older men had not entered the dining room yet. Briefly, she considered turning around and waiting until the others could join the two of them, but Prince Tasir stopped her with his knowing gaze before she could move. She was trapped! His eyes moved up and down her figure, his gaze daring her to step into the dining room.
Taking another deep breath, she stepped further into the room. “Good evening, Your Highness. I would like to apologize for my behavior earlier this afternoon. It was inexcusable and inappropriate.”
Tasir was stunned. And impressed. He had been fully prepared to resume their conflict where they’d left off before. And in an odd way, was he actually disappointed? He’d been bracing for another battle and she was conceding the war?
He could do nothing less. Bowing slightly, he followed her lead. “I was horribly rude as well, Your Highness. Please, call me Tasir and let us be finished with hostilities. Our countries have been friends for decades. We shouldn’t be the ones to draw the battle lines.”
Jalayla smiled and her shoulders relaxed, grateful that he was conceding as well.
She nodded to the servants and he pulled out her chair then waited for her to be seated before he moved to the opposite side of the table, taking his own seat. Picking up her wine glass, she struggled to find a non-controversial subject to discuss. “How is your mother?” she started off, almost groaning with the lameness of her conversational gambit.
“My mother is doing well,” he replied, leaning back so that the servant could deliver the first course. “I will mention your inquiry to her.”
“And your uncle?” she prompted. “I know that he’s been recovering from heart surgery.”
Tasir almost laughed but he didn’t want her to stop. She looked too adorable trying to come up with a topic to discuss that wouldn’t devolve into an argument. “He, too, is doing well. Thank you for asking.”
More awkward silence.
She carefully sliced up the crostini topped with caramelized onions and camembert cheese while she searched her brain for yet another topic for discussion. He certainly wasn’t helping at all, she thought with increasing annoyance. “I’ve read several reports about the decline in violence in many of your urban areas. Congratulations. That must be a huge boon to your economy.”
He took a taste of his crostini but wasn’t really interested in the food. He found himself fascinated by the woman trying valiantly to control her temper even though he was doing everything he could to spark it. She was a charming woman, he thought. “The inhabitants of the urban areas are starting to find ways to amuse themselves other than causing problems.”
That was all he was going to say? She dropped her eyes so that he couldn’t see her temper. Taking a deep breath, she carefully laid her knife and fork down on the plate. “I’m sure that starting to eliminate poverty must make you and your father feel very proud,” she offered.
Tasir shook his head. “Our policies only ease some of the people who fall below the middle class income level. There will never be any way to eradicate poverty. It is part of life.”
Jalayla’s heart fired up with those words. She worked hard to help the poverty-stricken areas of the capital city of Tularia. She showed up to help in the soup kitchens, talked to the various people who frequented those establishments and tried to find a solution that would help their plight.
“Isn’t that a rather cynical outlook? As the future ruler of your country, shouldn’t it be your goal to try and create a level playing field for all citizens?” She tried very hard to tamp down her anger, but the patronizing look he shot across the table zapped her patience.
“Your heart might be in the right place, princess, but your goals are unrealistic. Poverty is part of the world and will never be eliminated. We can only try to curb the violent tendencies of those who would prefer to live off of their illegal efforts and harm those that are more vulnerable, such as people in the lower income levels. Anyone who thinks that poverty can be stamped out is living in a fantasy world.”
Jalayla stiffened. He was using her title in a patronizing manner and she didn’t like it. Furthermore, he had no idea that he was insulting her personally since so many of her efforts were spent on helping the poor. But she couldn’t let his words go. This was a subject on which she was very passionate. “Perhaps if rulers changed the way they viewed the world and the problems their citizens face, there would be more hope.”
His eyes showed his amusement at what he perceived as a naïve outlook on the world. “Hope is a word that silly idealists use when they can’t fix a problem.” The first course was taken away and the second brought in. “Are you one of those bleeding hearts that think in communist terms but refuse to label yourself as a communist?”
She gasped because, yes, communism had proven to be a failure. “And you call yourself a leader? I doubt that the people living in the slums of Lurasa would agree with your outlook, sir.”
He shook his head. “The people of Lurasa are well cared for because they have leaders like me who know what is realistic and helpful and don’t try to achieve ridiculous dreams that have been tried throughout history – tried and failed,” he emphasized.
She almost stumbled over her words in an effort to defend her ideals. “I can’t believe that someone in your position doesn’t believe that poverty can be eliminated. And it never will be when you won’t even believe in the possibility.”
He picked up his spoon but didn’t sample the soup, too intent on the argument. She was beautiful when she was riled up. “Name one time in history when there has been no poverty.”
She squared her shoulders, fully engaged in the argument now. “Name one time in history when leaders have been selfless enough to honestly strive for it!” she countered.
“Exactly,” he returned. “Leaders, not just political leaders but business and social leaders, don’t want poverty to end. At a very basic level, people need to know that they are better than someone else. It is an innate need to feel superior to others. Call it an instinct for survival or whatever, but it is strong and isn’t going away. Therefore, poverty will always be around.”