All for love 3 series.., p.43
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.43

           Kris Pearson
 

  She blew out an exasperated breath. “Prove you’re a King, then. I don’t know why you expect I’ll go along with that fantasy.”

  “Would you recognize my parents, the late King and Queen, if I showed you their photographs here in this house?”

  She shrugged. “I doubt it.”

  “Then I have no other way of convincing you right now. You’ll be well looked after but you’ll be staying here, out of sight and out of contact.”

  He spoke over the top of her next question. “The world won’t stop turning without you. Leave it for tonight. We’ll talk more in the morning. Yasmina!” He gestured for coffee.

  Laurel stayed poised with her mouth open, ready to object to such cavalier treatment. How dare he just cut her off like that? He’d stolen her freedom and apparently had no intention of giving it back. Taken her away from everything familiar and safe. A furious burn started at the back of her throat. She willed herself not to give in to tears.

  The servant hurried across with the coffee pot and poured two small cups of aromatic liquid almost thick enough to stand the spoons in. A brass bowl of fresh apricots followed.

  “Thank you Yasmina. Good-night.”

  “Good-night My Lord Rafiq.”

  She tipped his injured forehead to the light, inspected the dressing one last time, and sniffed her disapproval before leaving them alone.

  “What did she call you?”

  “What she has always called me.”

  “And what’s that?”

  A slow smile spread across his handsome face. “Do you wish to call me the same, Laurel?”

  “I doubt it,” she said with spirit, somehow sensing from the unnerving gleam in his eyes that she didn’t.

  “I doubt it too,” he agreed. “Yasmina has always addressed me as ‘My Lord Rafiq’.”

  She sniffed. “How absolutely feudal.”

  ~♥~

  Rafiq watched as she reached for an apricot and bit into the golden fruit. A savage bite. Her even white teeth sank into its softness and he imagined himself doing the same to her delicious flesh. A nip on her shoulder, a nibble on her earlobe, a sustained assault on her luscious lips. He would be much gentler with her than she was being with the unfortunate apricot. He would scrape and tease and torment her long and thoroughly to punish her for calling him ‘feudal’... for laughing at the possibility he was the rightful heir to Al Sounam’s throne.

  She owed him her life, and he hoped she’d realize that very soon and start behaving in a suitably grateful manner.

  He sipped his coffee, considering what he needed to do next day. Buy her some clothes. Some books perhaps. He wouldn’t keep her at the lodge for long. A fortnight at most. Perhaps if he showed her who was boss—a very accommodating and accomplished boss—she might soften like honey in sunshine and melt into his arms?

  He’d be kind to her. Kind and generous. He would flirt gently, flatter her, let her know he found her desirable. That should be enough? She was a pretty thing and would make a pleasant diversion. He had nothing urgent to do for the next little while. He’d deliver the phone with the second demand to the TV station at the end of the week and buy some more time. Every passing minute brought greater possibilities of success—for his undercover mission as well as his new-found personal one.

  “Shall we take a second cup of coffee somewhere more comfortable?” he asked a few minutes later when she’d finished another apricot.

  Her lashes flicked up and her startling blue eyes flashed across at him, full of suspicion. “Where did you have in mind?”

  “The armchairs in the salon. I consider it rather too soon yet to invite you to my bed,” he said, trying hard to keep a straight face.

  Laurel snatched a deep breath, which caused her perky breasts to thrust forward, giving him further tempting targets for his pleasurable contemplation. “And you needn’t think you’re sneaking along to mine,” she snapped.

  “There’s a lock on your door. You’ll be quite safe from me. I won’t be recruiting you for my harem tonight.”

  She sent him a withering look. “Right,” she said. “Absolutely right.”

  Rafiq suppressed a grin.

  He poured another two fragrant coffees from the small beaten copper pot, and stood.

  “This way.” He added a slight jerk of his head in the direction of his mother’s favorite room.

  ~♥~

  Laurel rose more slowly, having her somewhat precarious towel to contend with. Her gaze slid up and down over Rafiq’s shoulders and back as he strolled along the central hallway of the house balancing the two steaming gold edged cups. Although the magnificent old lodge held plenty else to fascinate her, she couldn’t keep her eyes off him.

  His trousers sat low on his narrow hips. He looked as lean and muscular as a panther; so much more electrifying than any of the pale flabby men she’d seen socializing around the Daniels’ noisy swimming pool. And he was criss-crossed everywhere with faint jagged scars which spoke of terrible mistreatment in the past, or devastating injuries.

  Her fingers prickled again with the need to touch his dark golden skin.

  Not her nanny’s fingers, well used to comforting small children, but her woman’s fingers—as yet untried on naked male flesh. He was unexpectedly beautiful, despite having stolen her freedom.

  Rafiq turned and entered a much larger room. He transferred both cups to one hand and reached for the wall switch. A huge chandelier cast beams of warm light in every direction.

  Laurel’s eyes swiveled from his sinuous body to the magnificent draperies at the windows, the faded splendor of several velvet couches piled with fringed and embroidered cushions, and the carved tables and screens dotting the generous space.

  The soft light reflected off gilded picture frames and the jeweled lids of a collection of golden boxes clustered together on a marble topped credenza. Two deep-buttoned leather chairs flanked the tall fireplace.

  She’d been overawed by the Daniels’ reception rooms in the capital of Al-Dubriz. They were expensively appointed with furniture brought from America, and swagged with curtains in the same heavy upholstery fabrics.

  But this lodge way out in the desert felt much more impressive—real, historic and treasured.

  She touched a finger to one of the golden boxes.

  “You chose my favorite—the emeralds.” He set the coffees down.

  She pulled her hand away as though trespassing.

  “Admire them—they’re beautiful,” he urged. “My father commissioned Al Sounam’s top goldsmiths to design one every year for my mother’s birthday. Like the Czar and his Faberge eggs for his Czarina. No-one sees them now.”

  She reached towards the box again, running a finger over the concentric rings of glittering stones. When she lifted it for a closer view its weight astounded her.

  “Solid gold,” he said, no doubt amused by her horrified expression. “And in every box there was a brooch or a necklace or a pair of spectacular earrings. He loved my mother greatly. The whole country loved her.”

  “Someone obviously didn’t if she was assassinated?”

  Rafiq’s chest rose and fell in a sigh so full of regret it almost broke her heart. “Anti-monarchists. ‘Republicans’ I suppose you would call them in your country.”

  “And they killed to get their way?”

  “They did not get their way.”

  “But they killed.”

  “And were killed in return. Al Sounam’s security service is always well informed.”

  She shivered at that. “Not well enough to stop it from happening, though.”

  “As you say... But they were only hours away from arresting the plotters. My father chose to bring us out here at short notice. Too short. We were attacked after we passed the city’s edge and left for dead. He and my mother, my two brothers and me.”

  Laurel gave a soft gasp of distress. She could almost taste the sorrow that surrounded him. How had he mentally survived something as horrendous as tha
t? Even if his body had slowly healed, his mind must have been terribly messed with. “And you were the only one left alive?” she dared to ask.

  “Miraculously.” His hand swept a graceful path through the air in front of his chest and belly as though to stroke his very life force. Her eyes followed—past smooth skin and taut muscles until she guiltily dragged her gaze up to his face again.

  Rafiq didn’t react—simply passed her a coffee and sat on one of the leather armchairs, hitching a long leg up so his foot rested on his opposite knee. He leaned back as though he’d told her nothing more outrageous than the week’s movie gossip.

  How could he put something like that behind him with such apparent ease? And now work in espionage himself? Was it espionage, she wondered? To judge by today’s situation, he took part in horribly dangerous missions with little regard for his own safety.

  She set the emerald box down again and sat in the other big chair.

  “So was that how you got shot?” she asked, indicating his shoulder.

  “That time, no. That was Army training.”

  “That time?” she gasped. “How many more times? No—I don’t want to know. How did you get shot in the Army?”

  “Not quite the Army.” He turned his attention to his coffee, causing her to regard him with extreme suspicion.

  “Some sort of Special Services thing I suppose. SAS—that kind of stuff?”

  “Near enough. It was a long time ago.”

  “How long?”

  “You want a lot of details, Miss Kiwi. Are you sure you’re not one of the insurgents yourself?”

  She glared at him. “Bad joke after today.”

  Instantly he was on his feet and had bent to grasp the hand not holding her coffee. He raised it and kissed her fingers.

  “My apologies, Laurel,” he murmured. “You’re right of course. My life has made me a hard and thoughtless man.” He sank down into his chair again, leaving her so sensitized by his lips it was like an instant drug reaction. She tingled. She sparkled and pulsed. A delicious feeling, but very distracting. She shook her head to clear it. Her hair swayed from side to side and she noticed the way his eyes fastened on it as he sat unspeaking for the next little time.

  “Eleven years ago,” he eventually continued. “They had no expectation I would live. Everyone else died. The limo was ambushed. Our escort vehicle then hit the King’s car from behind. I was... badly damaged.”

  He retreated into silence and sipped his coffee again. Laurel did the same, desperate to know more, but not liking to ask.

  His whole family—dead in one instant? She couldn’t think of a single other thing to say that wouldn’t sound nosy or intrusive.

  Eventually he stood, leaving his empty coffee cup on the small table beside his chair and reaching for hers to place beside it.

  “Enough,” he said. “I’ll give you bad dreams.” He stretched out an arm. Laurel rose as well, very slowly, apprehensive about what might happen next.

  He switched off the chandelier and the comforting spangles of light disappeared.

  Now the lodge was dim and full of shadows. He guided her along the side-passage to where her sleeping quarters were.

  “Sleep well, Miss Kiwi.”

  She stood, uncertain, beside her bedroom door. He wouldn’t try anything, would he? No more suggestive jokes about adding her to his harem?

  “So you’ll take me back to Kalal first thing tomorrow morning?”

  “You must trust me in this, Laurel. I am not a safe person to be seen with. I shall see what I can arrange.”

  She frowned with annoyance and then drifted into her room. He locked the door behind her. The unexpected noise of the key clicked sharp and loud in the quiet night.

  “Hey!”

  “Sleep, Miss Kiwi,” he called through the door.

  “You’ve locked me in...”

  “I said your door could be locked to keep you safe from my unwelcome advances.”

  “But you’ve got the key.”

  “Indeed I have, Laurel—and you will be safe, I promise. I wouldn’t want you sleepwalking out into the desert and getting lost.”

  “I’ve never sleepwalked in my life. Unlock the door.”

  “Or what?”

  “Or I’ll scream for Yasmina.”

  “Yasmina’s apartment is quite separate from the lodge. She’ll never hear you. And anyway, she’s a little deaf these days.”

  Flutters of panic danced up her spine. A cold and horribly clammy sweat broke out over her chest. “Unlock this wretched door, Rafiq!” she yelled, kicking at the planks and exclaiming with the pain of it.

  “You can’t kick your way out. The timbers are old and strong. You’ll only hurt yourself. You’re safe for the night, Laurel. Go to bed. You’ve had a day no woman should have had to live through.”

  “And this is the worst bit,” she screamed. “Rafiq—unlock the door—I can’t stand it. Years ago I used to be locked in my room, night after night. You’re terrifying me.” Tears ran from her eyes in a blinding rush. Her voice became high and panicked. “Rafiq...” Her long wavering scream sliced through the night.

  She bent double, sobbing hopelessly, fearing she’d vomit with fright. Everything from 165 Washington Street rushed back; the always-fraught atmosphere, the thrift shop clothes, the endless meals of stew and over boiled vegetables Liz Gorridge cooked to eke out the money allotted by the authorities to feed her ever changing foster children.

  And worse than anything, disgusting Gary Gorridge.

  ~♥~

  “Rafeek!!!” he heard her scream with earsplitting intensity. Her anguished sobbing pulled at his heart. Laurel was no longer his feisty little captive, prepared to spit invective as he recorded her. Now she sounded like a scared child, bullied, sent to her room, locked in as punishment.

  Rafiq compressed his lips. His face tightened as he concentrated on the sounds she made. Low moans and sniffling sobs. His own name—repeated and repeated in a desperate, breathless chant. If she was an actress she’d be entirely convincing.

  Cursing, he wrenched the key around and pushed the door part way open. Laurel yelped as it hit her on the ankles. She lay curled in a ball on the floor, arms up over her face and around her head, mewing like a terrified kitten.

  He eased the door further ajar until he could slip inside the room. Then he knelt and gathered her into his arms, pulling her against his chest, surrounding her with his warmth.

  “Be calm Laurel, be calm,” he soothed, rocking her like a baby, burying his face in her hair as though physical closeness would comfort her. He had no idea what else to do—none of his anti-terrorist skills were useful for this.

  Chapter Six — Confining His Captive

  It took several minutes before she became anywhere near calm again. Rafiq’s compressed knees burned with knife stabs of pain. He slid into a sitting position, braced his back against the wall, and settled Laurel onto his lap instead. She smelled of the French soap from her bathroom. Her sobbing breaths were fragrant with coffee, and the dark lashes on her tightly closed eyes shone with tears. He rested his face against her scented hair, rubbing his cheek to and fro as much for his own pleasure as her comfort.

  “Better?” he whispered.

  She let out a huge pent-up sigh. “You’re not the only one with bad times to remember,” she muttered. “Please don’t lock me in again. I couldn’t stand it.”

  It didn’t seem the right time to dig for details in case he fractured her fragile composure, but he itched to know more.

  He closed his eyes with resignation before he spoke again—no way was this going to please her. “Laurel—I can offer you this choice: I lock you in here on your own or you sleep in my room, tied to me.”

  He felt her jerk with surprise.

  “No funny business, I promise,” he added hastily.

  Not yet, anyway.

  “Right now I’m responsible for your safety. I’m not letting you out of my care. You have no idea how import
ant you are, or what danger you’re in. So—this room or mine?”

  She began to tremble again. He drew her more tightly into his arms, surprised when she didn’t attempt a break for freedom. What had scared her so badly?

  “Yours.” The word was only just audible.

  His? He hadn’t bargained on that...

 

  ~♥~

  She clamped her teeth down hard on her bottom lip, trying to stifle her crying. Anything would be preferable to staying locked up helpless and alone. It had been bad enough in the bunker earlier that afternoon, but then she’d been so much in shock only part of her brain was working. Now she was fully aware. And being imprisoned again would destroy her.

  She turned her head and buried her face against his chest for a few seconds... closed her eyes, used the solid thumping of his heart to centre herself. His skin burned hot and smooth against her cheek, cinnamon-brown, gently spicy.

  Then she pushed herself abruptly away. He was the enemy. The jailer. The one who had handcuffed her and now threatened to tie her up again. With a determined grimace she struggled free of his lap and allowed Rafiq to set her on her feet.

  They walked a few paces further along the dimly lit side-passage. He opened another planked door—larger and more imposing than hers.

  She gazed around in awe as she entered his huge and overwhelmingly masculine room. A vast bed dominated the space. Black iron framing suspended thick hangings above it. There were weapons displayed on the walls—vicious knives and guns and mean-looking clubs.

  Rafiq must have seen the distaste in her expression. “My mother exercised her taste in the other rooms; my father dominated their bedroom—as a man should in an Arab home.”

  Laurel didn’t want to think about that. She definitely didn’t want any dominating going on tonight.

  “Virtually nothing has changed since they last slept here,” he added. “A new mattress, a bigger TV, but little else.” He waved a hand across to the en suite. “The bathroom, Miss Kiwi?”

  She dashed across to it and slammed the door behind her. Could she do this? Share a room with him? Worse—share a bed with him—even with his guarantee of ‘no funny business’? She didn’t seem to have any option now.

  She leaned her elbows on a marble tiled bench and buried her face in her hands in a futile attempt to block out the real world. Things seemed far from real. She was locked in a bedroom—voluntarily—with a man she’d never seen before today. A Sheikh who claimed to be the rightful King of Al Sounam.

 
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