All for love 3 series.., p.51
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.51

           Kris Pearson
 

  In desperation she wandered into the kitchen where Yasmina kneaded and shaped dough into small rolls. Perhaps having company would help? She attempted to read again, but her eyes ran over and over the same page until finally she set the book aside and sat staring into space.

  ~♥~

  Yasmina glanced across to where Laurel sat.

  Love-sick of course, she thought. Her own two daughters had gone through the same sad dreamy routine before they were safely married. The old nanny knew there was nothing like an unobtainable man to set a woman’s heart yearning and scatter all sensible thoughts from her head.

  The master’s work allowed little spare time for women. Laurel had had two nights in his bed at the lodge, and now he might be gone for several weeks—he often was, even though he’d said this time it would be only one day. She’d heard that before. The poor girl might be on her own for ages.

  She tipped boiling water onto tea leaves and took the pot and a cup and saucer across to where Laurel sat brooding.

  “TV?” she suggested. It was about the only English she knew. She turned on the set facing the casual dining area. The early evening news would be on in a few moments, and perhaps Laurel might be distracted by some of the international items, even though she didn’t speak Sounamese.

  The set sprang to life. The news theme blared through the room. Yasmina adjusted the volume down a little in deference to her guest.

  More trouble in Baghdad... more oil riots in Nigeria... Prince Charles of England being presented with a magnificent bay stallion by a well-known Sheikh... a girl in a red cap screaming in a language Yasmina couldn’t follow...

  And Laurel suddenly sitting bolt upright, dropping her tea so the cup smashed on the stone floor, gasping and clawing wide-eyed toward the TV set.

  Yasmina had no doubt the girl on the screen was the girl sitting right there in her kitchen. She listened intently as the newsreader returned. Laurel continued making distressed noises and clutching her face in her hands.

  The picture on the screen changed again—to a split shot of Laurel and another young woman who looked remarkably like her. Laurel gave an incoherent cry and abruptly became silent. Her eyes froze on the screen image. The newsreader appeared once more with a brief announcement, and then the shot dissolved to a journalist interviewing an elderly man whose replies always started with a couple of words in English and were then translated into Sounamese. Behind the elderly man were the blown up shots of Laurel and the other young woman.

  “Mom!” Laurel screamed. “Mom!”

  Even Yasmina understood that. She cupped a hand around her ear to indicate she was still listening, and padded across to rest a comforting arm around Laurel’s shoulders.

  The two women watched the rest of the short item in stunned silence. A football game appeared.

  “What was it? What did they say?” Laurel begged.

  Yasmina made baby-rocking motions with her arms and looked intently at her guest.

  “Yes! My mother! And who was the man?”

  “He is your mother’s father. Your grandfather. He has come to find you because your picture was on the TV in New Zealand.”

  Laurel could make nothing of the rapid rattle of unfamiliar language. She wrapped her arms around her body and sat swaying backward and forward in huge distress, eyes imploring Yasmina to somehow switch to fluent English.

  “Who was the man?” she demanded again, more slowly in case it helped. “Why was my mother on TV in Al Sounam?”

  “Malik!” Yasmina decided, and bustled off to find her husband.

  Malik’s English wasn’t good, but it was better than nothing. Yasmina gabbled away and he valiantly attempted to translate.

  “Laurel-mother-father,” he tried, lifting his hand in the air to indicate three steps.

  “Laurel, mother, father,” Laurel repeated. Nothing would come clear in her brain. “Laurel,” she said, pointing to herself.

  They nodded.

  “Mother. Mother of Laurel—yes. Dead a long time.”

  Malik translated this back to Yasmina who clutched her breast and went into a keening string of ai-ai-ais.

  “Father?” she asked blankly. Her father? The never seen de Courcey?

  “Mother-father,” Malik insisted.

  Slowly the truth dawned on her. “Grand-father? Father of my mother?”

  “Yes!” he beamed. “Father of mother. He look in Al Sounam for you.”

  Laurel was suddenly wracked by huge trembles as the shock hit her. She had a grandfather?

  Yasmina enfolded her shivering house guest in a motherly hug. The master needed to sort this out, even though he’d made it very plain they were never to interrupt him while he was working.

  “Bring the telephone,” she ordered Malik.

  He shook his head, shocked.

  “Bring the telephone,” she repeated. “Emergency, Malik!” She looked very stern for someone only four-feet-ten.

  He brought the phone, sighing mightily and gnawing his lower lip.

  Yasmina dialed and handed it to Laurel.

  Someone answered with one sharp word.

  “My Lord Rafiq—”

  The line went abruptly dead.

  Yasmina re-keyed the number.

  He didn’t answer a second time.

  ~♥~

  “No-one of importance,” Rafiq said, re-pocketing the phone and praying as hard as he ever had that Nazim and Fayez and the two other men present had not heard the voice—or his title. Currently the odds were a great deal worse than Laurel’s previously calculated two to one. “We continue as we planned—the grandfather turning up makes no difference at all. Let them spend their money on airfares and television broadcasts if they wish. She’s undoubtedly dead, but no-one knows that except us. We need to put more pressure on. I’ll release the second recording tomorrow. Yes?”

  Hard eyes surveyed him. Hands fingered guns.

  One cold bead of sweat started its slow journey down Rafiq’s long spine.

  ~♥~

  “You handled it like a pro,” Barry Marsh said. “If a sob story like that doesn’t find her, nothing will.”

  He and Ash were having a late dinner at their hotel. Barry alternated between preening at adding another international item to his portfolio and bemoaning the lack of alcohol.

  Ash still shook. He’d put everything he had into imploring the terrorists to return his beloved but never seen granddaughter. And he’d begged the people of Al Sounam to be alert for any unexpected glimpse of the young woman with the long blonde pony-tail.

  He’d been pleasantly pleased when he saw the item played back in the viewing booth. He hadn’t appeared as nervous as he had on TV in New Zealand. But would it help locate Debs or bring Laurel safely back? He could only wait and hope.

  ~♥~

  It was well after midnight when Rafiq finally pulled up at the lodge. Malik greeted him with relief.

  “You’re back earlier than you thought, My Lord.”

  “How is she?”

  “Bad, poor young lady. A terrible shock for her.”

  “She’s still here?”

  “Of course. Yasmina has given her something to help her sleep.”

  He hurried to his room. The big bed was empty. A cold panic washed through him. Had she made another stupid attempt to escape—this time to find her grandfather? Was she even now wandering dangerously lost, somewhere out in the vast sandy space beyond the lodge?

  Or—and this was so offensive to his manhood—had she simply deserted his bed, and therefore him as well. Could she do that so easily? Did she really sense nothing of the bond that he felt burning so hotly between them? He strode down the hallway and, without knocking, shoved open the door to her room.

  Her eyes glittered in the near darkness.

  He gave a silent prayer of thanks and felt the cold panic ebb away a little. At least she was still in his care.

  “Why aren’t you sleeping, Laurel?”

  “I didn’t take he
r pill. How can you expect me to sleep, given what I’ve just found out? I suppose you knew the whole time?”

  “I had no idea. That phone call I received this afternoon was from a friendly contact. By the time I knew what was happening I couldn’t even get word to the lodge to warn you. Not until much too late.”

  “Yeah, right! Why would I believe a lie like that, you horrible pig?”

  Rafiq compressed his lips. At least her anger seemed to be caused by the grandfather shock and wasn’t aimed at him personally. He could work on changing her ‘horrible pig’ image of him. He was willing to bet she’d thought worse after being thrown into the van two days ago, handcuffed, insulted and threatened.

  He drew a very deep careful breath and planned how best to explain the situation.

  “He came into the country as a private citizen, Laurel, not as part of a TV crew. No-one had any idea it was him. We didn’t even know his name.”

  “So what is it?”

  “Ash Winthrop. Ashley Randal Winthrop, according to his passport. He’s seventy-four. That’s all we currently know.”

  She considered for a few seconds.

  “Winthrop,” she repeated, trying the name for size. “Have you brought him back? Where is he?”

  “In Al-Dubriz, in his hotel. This has complicated everything.”

  “What?” Her scathing tone almost flayed the skin off him. “Is that all you can think of—your bloody intelligence work?”

  “And your safety.” He sat on the bed beside her and she reared up in fury.

  “I don’t give a stuff about my safety right now. I had no family, no background, no history forever—and now suddenly, maybe I have. I want to meet him.”

  “And you shall—as soon as I work out how it can be done.”

  “It can be done by driving me to his hotel first thing in the morning,” she insisted.

  “It can be done once I have put some sensible thought into it,” he said wearily. “Everything is different now. Yes—I’ll find a way for you to meet him. Of course I will. But he has a journalist with him who’s sniffing for a story. That’s another factor to consider.”

  She left a small thrumming silence.

  “What’s my grandfather like?” she asked in a much less aggressive voice.

  “I’ve no idea, Laurel. I haven’t met him. I managed to get a recording of the interview so you can see him again. I’ll play it early tomorrow for you. Will you come to bed?”

  “I am in bed.”

  “To my bed—our bed.”

  Her reply was a furious snort before she flounced over, turned her back on him, and dragged the cover up over her head.

  Not willingly, he thought, gathering her up complete with the top layer of bedclothes and carrying her, protesting furiously, to his room.

  “I suppose you’re going to tie me up again?” she challenged, sitting on the bed and glaring at him.

  “I was hoping I wouldn’t need to this time.” His tone was mild but his grip had been steely.

  “You can’t just make off with me like this!”

  “And who will stop me, Laurel? Not Yasmina. Not Malik. They will never hear us, even if you scream loudly. And I was hoping you’d you scream softly. Just for me.”

  “Dream on, Your Lordship. Not everything happens just because you want it to. Take me to my grandfather and then I’ll think about it.”

  “I may not take you there at all—

  “Rafiq!” she protested.

  “—because it might be better to bring him here instead. We could be private here.”

  “That would be okay,” she allowed.

  “And I need to keep you hidden. Perhaps it is better you stay here. Your grandfather’s broadcast will have half of Al Sounam on the lookout for long haired blondes.”

  “I want to meet him as soon as possible. If he’s seventy-four, anything could happen to him. A stroke or a heart attack. It’s too hot here for elderly men.”

  He gave her an amused smile. “Nonsense Laurel, there are thousands of elderly men all leading perfectly healthy lives in my country.”

  “He looked nice... I got such a quick look at him because I was so shocked. I’d like...” She took a deep breath and knelt up towards him.

  “Please, Rafiq,” she begged. “I want to see him again right now and not wait until morning.”

  “It’s already morning, Laurel. It’s a quarter to one. Have pity on me—you kept me up all last night and now you seem determined to do the same again.”

  But even as he said it, he was moving towards the electronic gear in the corner of the bedroom and preparing to play the interview for her.

  “I suppose you wish me to translate as well?” A black eyebrow lifted in mock exasperation.

  Laurel smiled reluctantly at his teasing. “I didn’t understand a word, and that was so frustrating. I saw my mother’s photograph and just lost it. Yasmina tried to explain things but... It wasn’t until she got Malik I understood anything at all, and even then, not much.”

  “You’re the image of your mother. I can see why Ash presumed you must be his grand-daughter. He’s not mistaken?”

  She shook her head, and her hair rippled in the lamplight.

  “I have this little old locket with exactly the photo they showed...” She fingered the gold trinket at her throat, and then caught her breath as the big flat screen sprang to life and the newsreader appeared.

  “A further development,” Rafiq translated “in an unfolding hostage story. Footage of New Zealander Laurel de Courcey was shown in her homeland and has brought a surprising response. Seventy-four year old Ash Winthrop’s daughter, Deborah, disappeared twenty-four years ago when she was eighteen. Mr. Winthrop—”

  Rafiq froze the image on the screen as it changed to Laurel, handcuffed and yelling at the camera.

  “Look how fierce you were,” he said. “You took my breath away with your anger.”

  Laurel couldn’t believe what she was seeing. That was her on TV—on both sides of the world—utterly furious, disheveled, and terrified. What a way to impress her grandfather.

  He restarted the interview. “—recognized that twenty-three year old Laurel must be his daughter Deborah’s child. The physical resemblance is quite startling. He has come to Al Sounam in the hope of meeting her when—if—she is released.”

  Rafiq paused the image again.

  Laurel gazed raptly at the screen. Any second now she would see her grandfather being interviewed. “So my mother ran away from home at eighteen, ashamed because she was pregnant?” Her eyes brimmed suddenly with unshed tears. “I wrecked her life.”

  Rafiq, who’d moved to stand beside her, placed both hands on her arms and rubbed gently to and fro. “You’ve made a huge assumption there Laurel. The truth may be very far from that.”

  “No,” she insisted, shuddering beneath his hands. “I wrecked her life. I must have.” She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Can I see more please?”

  He continued to caress her with one hand as he allowed the recording to run on. Ash appeared. Rafiq immediately froze the shot again and watched with compassion as Laurel rose from where she knelt on the bed and approached the TV. She crouched in front of it, as though it might be possible to climb through and meet the man on the other side of the screen. The yearning hunger radiating from her shocked him.

  After giving her a few seconds to gaze, he let the interview portion run through without translating anything further. Her eyes followed every move Ash made—each wave of his hands, each shake of his head. Unconsciously she mirrored his movements; tipping her head on one side as he did, wagging a finger as he wagged his. Rafiq, who had extensive training in body language, watched in awe as Laurel tuned in to her grandfather.

  He ran the interview again, this time translating Ash’s wording in its entirety.

  “He really wants to meet me,” she said, turning back to him with tears in her eyes. Her lips had softly parted in astonishment and anticipation.
/>
  “Of course he wants to meet you. You’re his flesh and blood. All he has left, by the sound of it. You’re quite sure your mother’s not still alive?”

  He hunkered down beside her and searched her face as she shook her head.

  Ran his thumb along her drooping bottom lip.

  Lowered his head to ravage her sweet hot mouth yet again. And was rewarded by her turning, leaning into his embrace, and kissing him back with much more passion than he’d expected.

  “Thank you!” she gasped between kisses. “Thank you so much, Rafiq. Thank-you for bringing me my grandfather.” She pressed closer to him, causing him to lose his balance and collapse backward onto the rug so they landed together in a breathless heap.

  She wriggled so she was sitting astride him, laughing at her superior position. There was such life in her eyes now. Even though there were tears on her lashes, there was genuine joy in their sparkling blue depths. At least he’d been able to give her that.

  “I want to watch him again and again,” she insisted. “He looks lovely. Such a kind face, and with crinkles beside his eyes, and not with awful big ears the way some old men have.” She bent and stroked Rafiq’s small neat ears and inspected them closely. “You won’t have big awful ears either. Or a horrible bulgy nose.” She cupped a hand over the dressing on his brow. “And hopefully no scar from this.”

  “It won’t show among all my others.”

  Suddenly the hectic gaiety deserted her and she stared down at his face with tender concern.

  “But this one would be caused by me. And I’d never want to hurt you after the wonderful thing you’ve done.”

  It seemed as though the beating of his heart skidded to a halt deep inside his chest. If he could have said then ‘stay with me, never leave me, let’s make a whole new secret life,’ he would have.

  But dreams were dreams, and there wasn’t a hope in hell of that being possible. She had to leave. There was no freedom here for her. No safety for him if she stayed.

  She had the chance now of a future and a family. Knowing he’d made that possible for her would be all he could take from the situation.

  “Poor Ash will never see his daughter again,” she murmured, remembering what they’d been discussing before they’d landed on the rug in such a tangle. “My mother died in Wellington hospital nearly twenty years ago. I suppose she can be traced through the system. He’ll finally have closure on that, anyway.”

 
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