All for love 3 series.., p.39
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.39

           Kris Pearson
 

  “The hair’s a bit different,” she said, desperate to break the silence that had settled between them.

  He raised a hand and ran it over the soft bristles. “Fundraising scheme for cancer research. With my wife the way she was...”

  Ellie nodded, still disconcerted.

  “... some of us volunteered to have our heads shaved in public at a local charity auction a couple of weeks ago. Raised thousands. Easier than selling raffle tickets or whatever. It was in the papers.”

  She must have missed it in the staff-room. She didn’t pay out even the small amount for a newspaper if she could save it toward her soon-to-be new house, and she’d been too busy to spend much time on the internet news sites lately. But she could picture all too clearly the cruel clippers buzzing over his scalp, and the dark silk of his hair cascading onto the floor.

  Years ago she’d run her fingers through it, delighting in its thick softness. “You had lovely hair.” She bit her lip, angry she’d let slip such a telling comment, but he took no apparent notice.

  “It’ll grow. Not a great price to pay in summer.” He changed the subject abruptly. “And you became a teacher? You said that’s what you wanted, back in Sydney.”

  Ellie was surprised he’d remembered. “Yes,” she said, thinking of the sacrifices she and her mother had both made to bring it about. Going without the daily newspaper had been the least of it.

  “And there was a fire? Ginny said something about that. She’s out picking flowers to arrange at the local church, by the way. She’ll be back inside soon.”

  Ellie nodded. Ginny had welcomed her yesterday, shown her to her room, and provided a delicious dinner. She’d been surprised not to see her this morning. Just as well she hadn’t been in the kitchen a few minutes ago!

  “The place I was renting burned down,” she murmured, remembering the panic-stricken night, and Cal’s screams, and the crackling pitiless flames. “There wasn’t much that escaped. I grabbed a few clothes and the photo album, but that was all I saved.”

  And my lovely son, she added to herself. Your lovely son from all those years ago. The best thing in my life.

  She took a deep breath, hoping to relax the searing tension out of her spine. “I’m close to moving into a new house I’m having built. When I’ve finished my contract here, it should be ready.”

  “So—the job you wanted. A new house. A husband, too?”

  The query hung between them like a monstrous multi-coloured elephant.

  “Two out of three ain’t bad,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level and non-committal, but not managing to hold his gaze.

  *

  See more, and all the e-store links to buy the book at

  https://krispearson.com/christmas-holiday-hearts

  TAKEN BY THE SHEIKH

  Kris Pearson

  The first of the ‘Sheikhs of Al Sounam’ books

  Abducted. Seduced. Purring. Laurel de Courcey is captured by terrorists, chained up in a disgusting bunker, and videoed for a ransom demand which is shown worldwide. Ooops—wrong hostage! Who’d expect a shy Kiwi nanny to be worthy anything?

  For more information visit https://www.krispearson.com

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is co-incidental.

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the US Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the author.

  Chapter One — Hostage Horror

  Laurel de Courcey stared at the cliff in dismay. After her exhausting trek through the desert she had to climb that?

  The unexpected barrier at the end of the gully rose up steep and crumbling. The tiny stream she’d been following seeped out from under the daunting rock face. What was on the other side? Rafiq hadn’t warned her about this—simply ordered her to walk, and said she’d find ‘a house’.

  Well, there was no house in sight. And did she trust him anyway? He might be all taut muscles and flashing eyes, but she had to remember he was only the lesser of two evils. The other men in his group? Her body convulsed in a sudden shudder just thinking about them.

  She tried to banish the hideous memory and gulped the last of her water, refilled the bottle from the life-saving trickle, clenched her teeth, and attempted the hazardous scramble up out of her temporary hiding place. How she wished she had his strength and endurance!

  Long minutes later she hauled herself over the top and lay panting. Black spots whirled across her vision. She squeezed her eyes closed, and still the spots flickered and jumped. Finally she raised her head.

  Indeed there was a house—or some sort of half concealed building anyway. A high plastered wall hid much of it, but an arched gateway, softened by cascades of pink blossom from a gnarled tree, looked inviting.

  She rose wearily and staggered onward. Palm fronds and other lush greenery came into focus as she limped nearer, and she feared the unexpected oasis might be a mirage after the endless inhospitable miles of sand and rock.

  But no—the gate was real. She stood in the dancing shade of the blossoms and tugged the bell-rope. Within seconds a small wrinkled woman appeared, bustling toward her with colorful long skirts fluttering around her legs.

  Laurel pulled Rafiq’s note from her jeans pocket and smoothed it out. Would this be the woman she was supposed to give it to? She held it forward.

  The impassive dark face lit up. The gate swung open. The little woman whisked the note from her fingers and became extremely animated, urging her in and rattling away with great enthusiasm.

  “Laurel,” Laurel said, tapping her chest with a finger.

  “Yasmina,” the woman replied, thumping her own.

  “Yasmina,” Laurel tried. This brought nods and smiles.

  “Rafiq?” she asked. More nods and smiles, but also an unmistakable gesture of ‘not here now’.

  Oh darn.

  Yasmina re-read the note with close attention, all the while chattering in her own language, and drew Laurel along the path and in through the doorway of a turreted old house with thick stone walls. The blinding light outside made the interior seem dim and restful, and the relative coolness washed over her skin like a blessing.

  After progressing through a long hallway, they arrived in a high-ceilinged bedroom. Yasmina threw open a further door, and Laurel stood amazed as the servant started water gushing into a marble bath from an ornate gold spout. She must look desperately hot and dirty if this was how she was welcomed!

  The little woman emerged—smiling and gesturing that Laurel was to treat the room as her own. She trotted off, and Laurel sank down on the bed before her legs gave way under her. What on earth would happen next?

  The bath looked blissful once she managed to rise to her weary feet again. Yasmina had thrown a handful of fresh rose petals into it. Laurel assumed she’d been tidying up full blown blooms as they proceeded up the path together, but plainly the flowers had been intended for this. Fragrant foam grew ever deeper in the water as the bath filled. A selection of French soaps spilled from a basket at one end of the huge tub. It all seemed way over the top for a semi-deserted relic so far from civilization.

  She stripped and bathed, shampooing the gritty sand from her long fair hair and letting the delicious warm scented water soothe away her aches. When she returned to the bedroom she found all her clothes had disappeared and a gauzy mauve robe had been laid on the bed. She slipped it on, admired its bands of amazing gold embroidery, stretched out on the bed to consider the strange turn her life had taken, and plummeted into an exhausted asleep.

  ~♥~

  At once the nightmare hit again. The wind from the desert moaned eerily. Palm fronds clattered, but otherwise very little moved as the small seaside resort of Kalal
drowsed in the afternoon heat.

  A solitary vehicle coasted to a halt just behind her.

  Laurel turned when she heard the door creak open, but she had only a split second to register the fast-moving dark shape of a man before brutal hands dragged a bag down over her face. As quickly as that, she’d been trapped.

  A scalding cascade of horrendous possibilities flooded her brain. Terrified, she screamed at top volume, dropped her sketching pad, and kicked backward with every ounce of her considerable determination. The heel of her shoe connected with what she hoped was her captor’s shin.

  It caused a guttural male voice to let loose a vicious curse in the local language, and she enjoyed a fleeting flash of triumph. But then an iron-hard hand closed over her face, pressing her lips painfully back against her teeth. And a steely arm wrapped around her waist and heaved her forward and face down.

  Her scrabbling fingers told her she’d landed on a slab of foam rubber on a hard floor.

  Doors banged, a motor revved, and she jerked backward as the vehicle took off at high speed.

  Shudders of panic took over then. Huge fluttery tremors ran up and down her spine.

  She was blind. Cruel hands had yanked a drawstring tightly around her neck so the bag was closed, and cut off any vestige of light... any hope of seeing where she was being taken.

  She struggled and kicked in the swaying vehicle, and suffered the further insult of a warm weight moving to pin her down to the no doubt filthy mattress.

  “Be still!” a man’s deep voice growled close against her ear.

  She was so astounded to hear accented but obvious English she momentarily froze before resuming her frenzied bucking and struggling. But she had no hope of escaping from under his strong body.

  Hard hands grabbed her wrists, and she heard the snick of handcuffs and felt the smooth hard metal against her skin. Her whirling brain registered she was now one step more helpless.

  Fingers trailed from her wrists to her elbows and back to her useless hands. It was almost a caress. Her heart thudded even more rapidly as the implication sank in.

  “Be still,” he muttered again. “We do not mean to hurt you as long as you cooperate.”

  With her shoulders flattened down under his chest, Laurel’s breasts were squashed against the floor. The man’s hips were exactly above hers. His bony pelvis ground against her bottom as the vehicle swayed and braked. A long hard thigh clamped either side of her own, pinning her down, holding her captive.

  And between those impressive thighs the firm masculine bulge felt all too obvious. Desolation engulfed her then.

  “Lie still and it will go easier for you,” he growled, lifting his upper torso off her which at least gave her poor breasts some relief.

  But the shift in weight drove his hips even more firmly into hers, and there was no escaping the intimate press of his body. She willed her legs to weld together as shattering images exploded across her brain.

  What did they want from her? One minute she’d been wandering happily in the sun, thinking of the children she was caring for, and inventing a family of her own. In an instant, future imaginings had been ripped away and replaced with the desperate danger of the present moment, and this cruel man, and not nearly enough air.

  Blind and half deaf, she used the senses she had left to get some sort of fix on her situation. There was him—who was strong and muscular because he now had her firmly confined. There was the driver. And there seemed to be another hoarse voice in the front seat, too. Presumably that was the man who’d grabbed her in the street and pushed her in to be held down by this one?

  So three of them at least. Awful odds. She didn’t stand a chance.

  Absolute terror engulfed her as she tried to drag big gulps of dead air into her laboring lungs.

  “I can’t breathe,” she shrieked in a panic—almost more scared of suffocating than of any other eventual fate.

  Hands slid around her neck, probing until they located the drawstring holding the bag fastened. She shuddered to feel callused fingers on her exposed nape... on the tender skin under her jaw. Her heart thudded with a fast panicked beat.

  “Not another sound,” the man grated. But at least he’d loosened the drawstring and let in a little light and some much fresher air.

  Laurel lay there gasping like a stranded fish, gulping in oxygen—oxygen laced with the oily smell of the vehicle and a soft spiciness from the man who pinned her down on the mattress.

  She heard a hoarse and somehow dirty comment from the front seat. Her captor chuckled above her. The vibrations from his body travelled down into hers, setting her nerves even further on edge if that was possible.

  “What?” she snapped, with little hope of a translation.

  “He says I have the best job,” came the unexpected reply in that deep husky voice. “But only as long as you remain sensible. I don’t want to hurt you, but if you struggle I may have to.”

  To her horror a terrified moan escaped from her throat, and a cackle of laughter erupted from the man in the front.

  The vehicle—some sort of van, she assumed—continued to career along, swaying from side to side, bumping into hollows, grinding up slopes and tipping down again. They’d left the dusty level streets of Kalal miles behind, and must be out in the desert country by now.

  The endless empty inhospitable desert country—where it would be very hard to find her.

  The man eased his weight away to one side, which provided a small increase in comfort.

  “Thank-you,” she muttered. For surely she should co-operate as fully as possible to ensure her eventual safety?

  “My pleasure,” his voice murmured right beside her ear.

  His pleasure to move to a more comfortable position for himself? Or to have enjoyed the proximity of her body to his?

  Pig! she thought. Utter pig. Disgusting criminal kidnapping terrorist pig.

  She tensed as his hands slipped around her neck again, sliding in under her jaw and up over her mouth. The temptation to bite his hateful fingers was almost beyond her conscious control.

  But somehow she held still and was rewarded by her suffocating blindfold being eased upward until the air flooded in and her face was in daylight at last. Her red cap—or rather Maddie’s red cap—had been knocked askew when the bag was forced down over her head. Finally she nudged it back up into position so the stiffened peak no longer rasped at her nose.

  She turned and glared at her captor.

  He was so close it was difficult to focus, and she wrenched her face away again—but not before she’d registered a pair of very dark eyes under determined straight black brows, and tobacco-brown skin stretched over high cheekbones.

  A cruel imperious face—ancient, proud, and unyielding. It could have been carved from stone for all the softness it showed.

  Laurel’s heart shrank. It truly seemed to shrivel inside her ribs. There was no compassion evident on his harsh features... no hint she was in anything but the most dire danger.

  And then he started stroking her hair, and she shuddered.

  “So pale,” he growled. “Not like the women of my country.” He tugged gently at the long blonde tail she’d threaded through the gap at the back of the cap to keep the heat off her neck.

  “Leave it!” she snapped, pushed to her limit by his unwelcome attention. Sudden tears spilled down her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes closed and burrowed her face down into the mattress to hide her fear.

  The mattress, she noticed in her few seconds of proper vision, appeared to be perfectly clean—probably brand new and bought for the job. At least that was better than being held helpless on something filthy and vermin ridden. She felt almost willing to be grateful for such a small mercy. But oh, she didn’t want to cry and let him know how terrified she was.

  His hand continued to move over her hair as if it might soothe her, and Laurel had no fight left to repel him.

  Would she ever see Mrs. Daniels and the children again? Ever walk once mo
re on New Zealand’s green grass under tall trees? Or would this be the end of her life—in a strange dry foreign land, far away from everything she’d grown up with?

  She trembled and shivered as the three men began a rapid conversation in a language she couldn’t hope to comprehend. The faint spicy fragrance continued to waft past her nose, just discernible over the oily smell of the vehicle. At least her captor was civilized enough to use soap or cologne.

  After what seemed like forever the vehicle changed to a lower gear, ground up a slope, slowed and braked. The engine coughed and died.

  “We’re here. It’s time to get out.”

  Laurel’s heart increased its frantic hammering. Where was ‘here’? And what were they planning to do to her? She raised her head and gazed around, knowing her eyes must be wide with fear.

  The van looked hard used, the backs of the seats scuffed and pocked. The mattress only partly covered a bare metal floor. And the windows were heavily tinted, giving the sky an odd greenish tinge.

  She heard a rattle and a clunk. Behind her, the van’s doors swung open on squealing hinges.

  “Out,” her jailer repeated, rearing above her and clamping his hands around her waist. He lifted her without apparent effort, and twisted to set her down with her feet dangling only inches above the sand.

  And the blinding desert stretched for miles. She saw nothing but pale rocks and golden sand under harsh sunlight, all the way to the hazy horizon. Undulating dunes and higher hillocks rose up occasionally, but no signs of civilization at all.

  Laurel scrunched up her eyes and stared aghast at the short thick-set man who’d opened the doors. Roughly dressed, he cradled a huge black automatic weapon in his arms. Fabric swathed his face to hide his features. Only his keen cruel eyes were visible. Presumably he was the street-grabber? She hoped his shin ached like fury.

  He jabbed the black monstrosity viciously higher as a signal she needed to stand.

  Laurel shrank back against the man who had, until now, been so terrifying. His whipcord body and husky voice were infinitely preferable to the alternative outside.

 
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