Rafiq Al'Ramiz returns to his home country of Qusay because his brother Kareef is about to become the King. He's been away for ten years, and he has since become a successful businessman in Australia. Upon his return, he is shocked to run into Sera (no surname is ever provided in the book). She was the love of his life over ten years ago, but decided to marry another man and told Rafiq she had never loved him. He still hates her for it.
When Rafiq's mother suggests he travel to Marresh to buy some fabrics for his Emporiums, he insists that Sera accompany him so that she can engage in the negotiations. This is his idea of punishing her, knowing how uncomfortable she will be spending several days with him.
Of course, during their time together, the trip is just as much a punishment for him, as he still wants her. As for Sera, she wants Rafiq too, but there are secrets from her marriage (her husband is now dead) that she feels she can never tell him, as it could ruin any chance at a future between them.
Romance novels are a funny thing. The "Sexy" line put out by Mills & Boon just defies understanding. For me, anyway. Every single one of them is essentially about a young woman, naive beyond belief, who becomes the obsession of a rich, arrogant jerk. His attempts at seducing her typically involve outrageous sexual blackmail. He's an asshole to her for most of the book, she decides she loves that, and they have sex, and live happily ever after. The rich alpha male is always a tycoon, aristocrat or - like this one - a sheikh.
I actually went on-line to try and find out what the fascination was with a sheikh, and why he was so prevalent in women's category romance fiction, particularly in a world that is becoming more fractured due to rising fear of muslims and Islam (however unfounded it might be). There was a lot of interesting reading to be done on the topic, but I gathered in the end that the sheikh is not that much different to the Greek or Italian tycoon in that the romance book is basically fetishizing the "exoticness" of these men and the fantasy of a white woman, an "other" in his world, being able to tame him.
The difference here is that it is strongly suggested Sera is an Arab woman herself. Her surname is never divulged, but it would appear she has never left Qusay, and her marriage to her husband was a result of her being bound by family and cultural traditions. I guess it lended a more believable aspect to the story, though I have not read enough "sheikh" romances to really provide a full, comprehensive comparison!
However, it is a fascinating thing to explore - more interesting than the book itself, in any case! Why do women want to read books in which the behaviour of the man before the happily ever after is generally the text-book definition of spousal abuse? Why do they enjoy shows like "The Bachelor" in which a man dates (and likely sleeps with) multiple women at once, when that is something they would otherwise loathe in a man? I'm a guy, so there are probably all sorts of questions you could ask about why I would read a Mills & Boon Sexy Romance.
Well, they're short, for one thing. Also, I was sick to death of British police procedurals (they keep advertising themselves as "serial killer thrillers" and I keep getting fooled), and this was about as far away a genre choice I could think of.
Finally, they are books that boil it all down to very simple elements. Two people with differing personalities, emotions and goals, how these conflict and contrast with one another, and how they are resolved. It's a great template for one's own writing.
And, I just like reading. The more I try to understand these books, the more I start enjoying them.