All for love 3 series.., p.47
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.47

           Kris Pearson

  “You know the power of military binoculars do you Laurel? Their magnification and range? Yasmina’s no fashion plate—those boutique bags are a total giveaway there’s a guest at the lodge—a woman needing clothes. If they come nearer, those bags have to be out of sight.”

  He stared up through the feathery foliage, angling his head to hear more clearly. Again it seemed there was a change in the faraway sound.

  “One machine. Grid-search. Not going to be close for a few minutes. Let’s get you and those bags inside. Then you can see all the pretty things I’ve bought you.”

  “How do you know they’re going to fit?” she demanded, wriggling out of his arms, pulling the car door open and dragging several of the shiny bags into the sunshine. He gathered up the rest and shepherded her inside the lodge and through to her bedroom.

  “I phoned Yasmina to find out the sizes on your clothes.”

  He watched her eyes as if waiting for the explosion.

  “You said there was no phone! No reception!”

  “I lied. Forgive me.” He looked so amused that no forgiveness was anywhere in sight. “Excuse me for just one moment Laurel.”

  She stood watching as he keyed a code into his rapidly produced phone and began a short intense conversation in melodious Sounamese. From his alert expression and no-nonsense manner she concluded he was sending orders or requesting instant action on something.

  “Of course we have a satellite phone,” he said after concluding his conversation. “And solar power for the lighting and hot water. We may be miles from civilization but we’re not in the dark ages.”

  “And I suppose there was a car here last night too—Malik’s car? He could have driven me back to Kalal.”

  “I chose that he did not.”

  “Because it didn’t suit your war games?”

  “Hardly games, Laurel—as you can hear from that search going on. But yes, it didn’t suit me.”

  “So you dragged me into bed with you.”

  “I have never ‘dragged’ a woman into my bed.”

  She stared at him for a few seconds. At his midnight eyes and proud bearing and undeniable aura of power. No—he would never need to drag them. They’d probably form an orderly queue...

  Laurel didn’t want to think too much about them, either. No doubt they were the exotic beauties from the capital, or further afield in the Middle East and Europe. He might spare her an occasional kiss or caress, but she knew he was just softening her up to keep her obedient to his wishes. She had no illusions she was anything but a girl who’d ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  She was a nanny, a foreigner, with no known family or impressive pedigree. Rafiq would never have looked twice at her if she’d not been mistaken for Maddie and he’d been forced to make the best of her for his filming charade.

  He’d been aroused in bed the night before, but not interested enough to respond to her tentative invitation after setting her alight with his kisses.

  She knew what men wanted, and they wanted it as often as they could get it, to judge by Gary Gorrige’s repulsive example. Rafiq could plainly pick and choose—and he hadn’t chosen her, even when she’d almost been willing and he’d very definitely been able.

  She sighed, cast her eyes down, and followed him into the lodge. Moments later she drew a tissue wrapped nightdress from one of the glossy bags.

  “I didn’t need this,” she exclaimed. She held it up by its tiny spaghetti-thin straps to reveal cinnamon colored silk with swirls of matching lace at the hem.

  “You looked so good in my shirt last night I thought I’d find you something the same shade.” His voice flowed warm and husky now—such a contrast to his recent phone call. “You prefer to sleep naked?” He didn’t seem to be joking.

  She shook her head, worried he’d picture her nude, doubly worried about how much he seemed to have spent. Was money really of no importance to him? Surely money was always important, even if you had plenty. The nightdress danced in the slight breeze from the open window, mocking her concern. She folded it up again with reverence.

  He reached for another of the bags and tipped the contents out onto the bed. “Unpacking first, or coffee?”

  For Laurel, who’d never shopped on this scale, it was no contest. “Unpacking please, extravagant Lord Rafiq.” She didn’t try to hide her cheeky smile as she gently mocked his title. And then, because she simply couldn’t help herself, she asked, “Did you really buy a whole new car?”

  “You’re not thinking of trying to steal the keys, I hope?”

  “Nooooo...” she murmured, thinking exactly that.

  “I shall put them where you’ll never find them. And I have instructed Malik to do the same with his. So—unpack and tell me what you think.”

  She blew out a frustrated breath. There seemed to be entirely too much clothing, but she felt thrilled to have something new, and relieved to have anything else to change into at all. What had he chosen for her? Or had he handed that boring task to a saleswoman or a female friend? Not a close female friend, she hoped.

  She was astonished when Rafiq sat on her bed, ankle over knee, as though expecting to enjoy a fashion parade.

  “I’m not trying everything on for you,” she objected.

  He waved a languid hand as if it was of no concern, and then surprised her by asking, “Do you swim in a bikini or a one-piece? I got both, not knowing.”

  “Swim?” she queried. “Here?”

  “The stream you followed is fed by underground springs which created a small private lake. It was the reason my grandfather chose this site for the lodge.”

  She thought about slipping into clear cool water with Rafiq, imagining him wearing only swimming briefs while she was barely clad as well, and she turned away in pink confusion.

  “Either,” she muttered. “Whatever fits.”

  She’d expected perhaps another pair of jeans and some T-shirts and new sneakers. When she opened the bags it was to find a profusion of flowing ankle length skirts and wide legged trousers and graceful tunics. The exotic fabrics and colors were straight from top designer boutiques. She ran her fingers over the glowing garments with disbelief. This was all for her?

  She also discovered cobweb-fine lace underwear the like of which she’d never imagined owning, another silk nightgown, and several pairs of jeweled sandals. Then riding boots and a black and white polka dotted bikini and a sleek blue swimsuit.

  She turned to Rafiq in consternation as she held the swimsuit against herself.

  “To match your eyes,” he said.

  “You’ve bought far too much.”

  He rose and crossed to the window, listening intently.

  “They’re somewhere this side of Akajar by the sound of things. And getting closer.”

  Laurel felt far too overcome by the magnitude of his purchases to be worried about the helicopter.

  “I thought you meant some new T-shirts,” she muttered. “Where am I supposed to wear all these things?”

  “In the King’s house—where else? I’ll enjoy seeing you looking beautiful.”

  She scuffed her foot against the floor and then angled her head up as the helicopter’s noise grew more distinct. “You really think they’re looking for me?”

  He nodded grimly. “Someone has been sent to search for you. Think, Laurel. Have you left anything outside—anything that might indicate you’re here?”

  “Magazines, maybe—but they’re under the tree.”

  “Close these shutters to be safe. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He spun away from the window and strode from the room, calling for Yasmina.

  Laurel did as he asked, and started to stow her new clothes away, listening all the time to the distant thudding of the rotors as they thwacked through the burning air above the desert. It was spookily easy to picture her body, sunburned and peeling, dead of dehydration, sprawled alone in the empty vastness.

  The monotonous muttering continued in the background, changing not
e every minute or so. She imagined the machine sweeping backward and forward with the sun glinting and flashing off it as it turned, steadied, continuing its inexorable progress over the sand and rocks.

  Rafiq’s rapid steps broke her train of thought.

  “Come,” he invited, thrusting out his hand. It seemed she had no option but to follow—along the hall, around a bend, and up an unexpected staircase concealed by a heavy fringed curtain.

  He urged her up the stone steps, suddenly all business. “Keep back from the glass,” he cautioned as she headed towards the view.

  They’d reached a lookout tower—a round room big enough to contain several rattan chairs and a great many books. At least a dozen long windows pierced the thick walls, shielded by curtains sheer enough to admit soft light.

  Stand here,” he added more gently, drawing her back against his chest and angling her so she could peek though the tiny opening beside the fabric. The desert stretched harsh and inhospitable to the horizon, pale under the baking sun. Below them, Yasmina hung out washing in the courtyard garden.

  “Won’t they see her?” Laurel asked.

  “If they get close enough to inspect the lodge in detail it would be entirely appropriate to see a servant at work; one who gazes upward at their noise,” Rafiq murmured. “If she was not there, it would be much more suspicious.” He dropped a soft kiss onto Laurel’s hair. “Can you see it?” he whispered close against her ear.

  His warm breath caressed her skin, then his long fingers brushed her hair aside and his teeth nipped at her nape. An exquisite tremor washed the length of her body.

  “Not if you keep doing that,” she objected—hearing the giveaway quaver in her voice.

  He chuckled behind her, and drew the curtain fractionally further aside.

  “There—low against the horizon.”

  The sun flashed on the dancing helicopter as it changed direction in the shimmering air.

  “I’ve arranged a little surprise for our trespassers,” Rafiq said. “One you might find exciting.” His hands slid around her waist, and his thighs pressed against the backs of hers.


  “They’re over private land.”

  She was momentarily distracted from his body’s intimate pressure. “But who would want it? It’s so bare and rubbishy. Nothing will ever grow on it.” The myriad lush greens of New Zealand swam through her brain like a mirage.

  “I would want it, Laurel. It’s my land. Its riches lie underneath.”

  “Oil?” How silly she’d not thought of something so obvious.

  “As you say. The geological surveys are all done, but the Royal Estates will be the last areas of the Kingdom to be put into production.”

  “How much land is yours?”

  “How much land can you see?”

  She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. No wonder a duplicate car and a few new clothes meant nothing.

  “And somewhere out there they hope to find you,” he murmured. “To establish I was telling them the truth—that you escaped into the desert to die of heat and thirst.”

  “But they won’t find me,” she said in sudden panic. “And that puts you in danger, doesn’t it!” She twisted in his arms, eyes wide.

  “Watch and listen,” he soothed. “They’ve no doubt overpaid some unscrupulous contractor to fly where he knows he has no right to. He’ll be given a lesson that will dissuade him from doing so again, long before he can cover all the area he needs to. Do you hear my surprise yet?”

  His dark eyes fixed on hers. One eyebrow quirked up in inquiry. And an instant later the combined assault of a trio of low-flying jet fighters pulverized the drowsy peace of the tower. Laurel screamed in panic and threw herself against Rafiq’s chest as the whole lodge reverberated with the intensity of it.

  The thunderous roar surrounded them for only a few seconds before it rolled on out into the desert toward the hapless helicopter. In disbelief she pushed herself away from Rafiq and peered through her narrow spy-gap again. The dark needle-nosed planes shot across the sky in close formation, dipped, turned, circled, and surrounded the intruder.

  “You’ll be the least of their worries now,” he said with satisfaction.

  “You did this?”

  “Nice toys to have at my disposal?”

  She glanced back at him. His grin was as carefree as a small boy’s.

  Chapter Ten — Dinnertime Dalliance

  “Now that annoyance is out of the way, we’ll go riding,” he said a few minutes later as he led her back down the stairs to her bedroom. “Your jeans will be fine for that.”

  He plucked up the new boots.

  “Riding?” she quavered. “Horses? I’ve never been on one. I don’t know how.”

  “If you can face down a gang of terrorists you can certainly ride my mother’s placid old mare. It was one of the chief pleasures my parents had—coming here and riding free and unobserved like ordinary citizens.”

  And with that Rafiq swept her outside again, through the gate, past another much smaller house which she’d discovered was Yasmina and Malik’s, and to the block of stables and garages.

  They walked in from the blinding sun to a dim world scented with hay and leather and dust. The horses whickered in greeting. To Laurel they looked enormous. “Do they live here all the time?”

  “For many years. It has been their home forever. This beautiful black gelding was my father’s.” He drew close, patted the gleaming muscled neck, and murmured endearments in Sounamese. “And this is Azizah, my mother’s mare. Come, Laurel. Let her know you.” He took her hand and laid it on the mare’s warm flank.

  “Azizah” she repeated, trying to appear much braver than she felt.

  “It means ‘precious’. She was very precious to my mother. And he is Muzaffar, which you would translate as... ‘victorious’.”

  “Black for the King, white for the Queen?”

  “Azizah is a grey. Grey horses grow whiter as they age. Yes, she’s almost completely white now,” he added, keeping Laurel’s hand under his and rubbing it to and fro over the mare. “Yasmina and Malik exercise them every day if I can’t. We all wear the same robes, so even to a trained observer the riders appear identical. If anyone is watching, they’ll see nothing different.”

  “Do you really need to be so careful?”

  “I choose to be,” he said in a tone that didn’t invite further discussion.

  Malik had already saddled both mounts. Rafiq helped Laurel into her boots.

  “Wear this,” he said, unhooking a traditional robe from a line of pegs and enveloping her in it.

  “You said there was nothing I could wear last night,” she accused. “This would have covered me.”

  “It smells of horse. I would not have taken you to my bed in this.”

  “You wouldn’t have had to take me to your bed at all if you’d been kind and reasonable and not tried to lock me in the other room.”

  “Kind and reasonable?”

  She took an involuntary step backwards at his softly threatening tone. “Kind and reasonable,” she repeated, chin up in defiance.

  “Rescuing you from those thugs and directing you to the safety of the lodge was not kind? Ensuring you did not wander again into the hostile desert was not reasonable?”

  “Telling me nothing wasn’t kind.”

  “I told you everything. I told you much more than I should have—more than I’ve ever told anyone.”

  She tipped her head on one side and glared at him. “Making me stay in your bed wasn’t reasonable. I got no sleep at all.”

  “And I got even less, worrying the whole night you would slip from my arms and try something stupid with one of the guns. They’re not loaded, by the way.”

  She huffed out an annoyed breath. “I had a knife in mind for you. A nice sharp little knife, just about here.” She prodded his chest.

  He grasped her hand and moved it. “Here. Here’s where you need to stab me. Remember that so you get it
right. I’d rather not be abandoned half dead.”

  His face was impassive, but she caught the sexy twinkle in his eyes. Without warning he dipped his head and gave her a small swift kiss on her surprised lips. “What a delicious temptation you are, Miss Kiwi. I need to cover your pretty mouth up so I’m not always looking at it and thinking of doing this.” He bent again, for a softer more languid assault, and Laurel’s legs turned to jelly as he explored her lips with the tip of his tongue. Instinctively, she rose up on her toes, clung to his shoulders, and began to seek his tongue with her own. The thrilling sensations intensified as she found it. Their flesh slid together, and her previously quiescent body tingled and flamed into a dazzling firestorm.

  So men can be like this?

  In her limited experience they were bullies or fools or animals. Disgusting Gary’s exhibitions had turned her off sex more surely than any lecture by a well meaning doctor or social worker could have done, but Rafiq...?

  He drew away with a rueful smile and a sigh.

  “You might just make me forget we’re here to go riding,” he said, voice husky.

  Laurel jerked back, embarrassed. How could she have forgotten she was his captive, and that he refused to set her free? She’d fallen into his arms so easily—totally inappropriate behavior for a prisoner to show her jailer. She wrinkled her nose and turned away from his gorgeous eyes.

  Rafiq reached for her head cloth and showed her how to adjust it so it protected as much of her face as possible.

  “That’ll keep you safe from me, you blue-eyed blonde temptress,” he said. But her still-quivering nerves told her that safety was a long way distant, and anyway she was no longer sure she wanted to be safe from his potent sexuality.

  She watched with fascination as he donned his own robe and head cloth. He left his face uncovered.

  “You can wear yours like this now you’re out of my reach,” he said. “You won’t be galloping today.”

  He led the horses out and helped her to mount, apparently enjoying the excuse this gave him to touch her again. Laurel flinched as his hands cupped her bottom to boost her up. He adjusted her stirrups and showed her how to hold the reins.

  “Your feet, Laurel,” he said, gripping her around an ankle, “go like this.” He pushed her heel lower than her toe. “Hold your legs securely around her, but don’t squeeze—and move with her, not against her. If you want her to move forward, then you squeeze with your lower legs.”

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