All for love 3 series.., p.52
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.52

           Kris Pearson
 

  “How could she just disappear? Surely she was searched for? New Zealand’s not large.”

  Laurel shrugged. “I’ve been wondering about that too. I suppose they looked for Deborah Marie Winthrop but I thought she was called Marie de Courcey.” She sighed and closed her eyes as though trying to picture her mother more clearly. “She must have dyed her hair as a disguise because I don’t remember her being anywhere near as blonde as the old photo. And there were lots of sheep and no other houses when I was little—we might have been way out on a farm somewhere. Until she got so sick.”

  Rafiq reached up and buried his hands in her hair. He pulled her down slowly for another deep kiss.

  “Let me up, Miss Kiwi,” he sighed when he released her. “I need a bath before I make love to you again.” He handed her the remote. “These buttons here. Replay your grandfather to your heart’s content, and then I’ll join you, hmmm?”

  Chapter Thirteen — A Man in Uniform

  “You have such a lovely body,” Laurel said as she knelt behind him, soaping and sponging and rinsing his long back. “I can see all your muscles working when you move.”

  “I’m a patchwork quilt,” he protested.

  “Yes,” she agreed happily, running her tongue along the scar that snaked down toward his shoulder blade. “I like your patchwork. No-one else has anything like it. It makes you unique.”

  “One of a kind,” he agreed dryly. “Who would ever want a second?”

  “If I had a sister?” she suggested, giving him an affectionate nip on the neck.

  “Another woman as cheeky as you? Who has no respect for my title or my money? Who dares to share the future King’s bath without asking permission?” He caught his breath as her hands went wandering under the water. “Who touches his private parts as though they were just any man’s.”

  “Do I need written consent for this?” she teased, closing her hand around his long erection and massaging him firmly. “Your Royal Hardness?” she giggled. “I may not respect your title or money but I have enormous respect for this friend of yours. He makes me feel very special.”

  Rafiq smiled, enjoying her taunting. When he’d returned to the lodge half an hour earlier, he’d been tense and tired. Now he was relaxed and very alive again.

  “Your King commands you to stand up, Laurel. In front of him, to beg his forgiveness.” He waited while she complied, squeezing around to face him in the huge tub. “He intends to give you a good tongue lashing for molesting him.”

  She stood there, far from contrite, rosy and wet and curvaceous. Rafiq gave a throaty chuckle as he grasped her hips and buried his face between her thighs, seeking the slippery little peak he loved to suckle and tease.

  Laurel drew a sharp breath and pushed her fingers into his hair to anchor herself.

  Much later, drowsy and very well loved, she lay sprawled across his chest in bed.

  “So have you thought yet how you’ll get him here?” she asked, idly licking one of his nipples and blowing on it.

  “If you keep doing that, I won’t be able to think of getting him here at all,” he growled. “I don’t want to share you with another man yet. I think we’ll let him go home and I’ll keep you here to play with.”

  She gave the nipple a carefully considered bite. “Don’t even think of joking. Why don’t you just kidnap him—you’re very good at that.”

  Rafiq’s inventive brain went into overdrive, even as he stroked her hair and ran his fingertips lightly across her sensational skin. Would it be possible to kidnap them? And how?

  ~♥~

  And that was why the vehicle collecting Ash Winthrop and Barry Marsh from the TV studios late next morning was not the one they’d arrived in. Neither man thought to question this until it became clear they weren’t being taken back to their central city hotel. As the business district gave way to suburbs, and the suburbs gave way to desert, Barry’s complaints became louder and more obscene.

  Rafiq smiled to himself. He’d had the measure of them after a few minutes. The journalist was young and brash, easily impressed, and with no real substance. He could be bought.

  The older man was a great deal more circumspect and harder to read. But Rafiq knew he held the ultimate trump card as far as Ash Winthrop was concerned.

  Once they were safely past civilization he slowed to a halt, removed the borrowed chauffeur’s hat, and turned to address them.

  “Gentlemen, you will now be accommodated somewhere very special. Al Sounam welcomes visitors and treats them kindly.”

  He let Barry curse and bluster for a few seconds and then ignored him.

  “I have your grand-daughter,” he said to Ash. She’s safe and well, and waiting to meet you.”

  The older man’s expression changed instantly from mild exasperation to disbelief... hope... then hunger. “This better not be some sort of stunt,” he barked.

  “No stunt at all,” Rafiq replied, and then added, “And none of that,” as he spotted Barry slipping the black mini-recorder from his pocket. “I’ll tell you the full story later,” he added, “but you can never make it public.”

  “Says who?”

  “Says a hundred thousand American dollars—paid personally to you in cash. And half that again for each year I require your silence.”

  Barry opened his mouth, thought better of it, and closed it again. “Two hundred,” he suggested a few seconds later.

  “Or fifty?” Rafiq said pleasantly. “That’s still a better offer than a bullet in the back.”

  He turned to Ash and ignored the gaping journalist. “She’s another hour’s drive away. Looking forward to meeting you immensely. Probably choosing what to wear to impress you. I bought her some clothes.”

  “And you say she’s well?”

  “Full of energy.” Rafiq let his mind drift back to exactly how energetic Laurel had been as dawn broke that morning. As he turned away to resume driving, a smile danced across his face.

  “How... has this happened?” Ash asked, leaning forward so he could talk more easily. “Dammit man, let me get in front with you.”

  Once again Rafiq slowed the big car. Ash heaved himself out of the rear seat and resettled himself to his satisfaction.

  “Is there any news of my daughter?” he demanded.

  Rafiq shook his head. “Not good news, I’m afraid. Laurel said her mother died. When she was only four or five.”

  Ash bowed his head and then stared deliberately out across the desert as the powerful vehicle picked up speed.

  “She was always a willful girl,” he said eventually. “Hard to control. Rather like young Laurel seems to be, to judge by that recording of her.”

  “You should have seen the live performance.”

  Ash’s indrawn breath came as no surprise.

  “You were there?” he demanded, pinning Rafiq with a furious glare.

  “I shot it. Three different set-ups. There’ll be another one shown tonight.”

  Ash twisted back against the door and regarded Rafiq with extreme distaste.

  “How the hell can I trust you after you’ve told me something like that? You’re one of them?”

  Rafiq shook his head and glanced in the rear view mirror to find Barry fiddling with the mini-recorder again.

  “The hundred thou I offered comes down by ten each time I see you with that from now on,” he threw over his shoulder. “The bullet option happens at eighty. Your choice.”

  Barry met his eyes in the mirror and grimaced. He shoved the recorder out of sight again.

  Rafiq enjoyed a brief taste of satisfaction and turned back to Ash. “I work in security at the highest level. Al Sounam is a peaceful country, and we prefer to keep it that way. You do realize if you ever repeat this to anyone you’re in line for a bullet as well?”

  Ash managed a wheezy chuckle at that. “Best offer I’ve had in ages,” he said. “Tell me more about Debs and Laurel. I’m not very interested in you.”

  Rafiq grinned at such dry humor.
Laurel was captured by mistake, as it happens. She’s much the same build and coloring as the daughter of the American family she’s been working for. She’d borrowed the other girl’s baseball cap because her own sunhat wouldn’t stay on in the wind. One blonde in a red cap and jeans looks much the same as another from the back. My ‘associate’ grabbed the wrong girl.”

  Ash shook his head in disbelief. “Dear God,” he said quietly.

  “I’d infiltrated the group and volunteered to make the recordings. Persuaded the two others to take the first one back to the TV studios in Al-Dubriz so I could stage her escape.”

  “Stage?”

  “They’re not fools.”

  The big SUV rocketed on for several minutes while Ash considered that.

  “Laurel said she lived with a succession of foster families,” Rafiq continued. “No father, I gather. She’s trained as a nanny, and that’s really all I can tell you.”

  Except that she’s natural and uncomplicated and affectionate. Inventive in bed and lively out of it. That I’d almost rather shoot you than let you steal her from me.

  “Mr. Marsh,” he rasped, more abrasively than he intended. “Lean back and grab the blue bag behind you. That’s your cash. I’m entirely serious about this story staying under wraps. If I hear the slightest murmur—and I’m in the business of slight murmurs—then you’re dead.” He glanced into the rear view mirror when he heard the bag’s zipper scraping open. Barry’s face became a study in disbelief and avarice. A hundred thousand was a nice pile of greenbacks—even in medium to large denominations.

  “So we’ll all have a pleasant lunch together,” Rafiq continued, as though blackmail and death threats were of little consequence. “You’ll be taken back to your hotel later to collect your luggage. Laurel and the money stay with me to ensure your enthusiastic return in time for dinner. And then we’ll arrange your departure from my beautiful country in the next day or two.”

  “With Laurel,” Ash said firmly.

  “With Laurel,” Rafiq agreed. “She’ll need to be disguised to leave unnoticed. I expect the second recording of her will be shown tonight. She’ll soon be on the celebrity A-list at this rate.”

  ~♥~

  Laurel was indeed trying on clothes. She’d gone from trousers to skirts and back again. From a metallic-printed crossover top to a high necked jade green tunic, and then back to her old jeans and T-shirt. How would her grandfather like her best?

  When Rafiq gave three short blasts on the horn to announce their arrival she shot out of the lodge with no idea of what she was currently wearing, and raced barefoot across to the gate. She’d seen Ash again and again in the interview; he was an old friend now. She launched herself into his outstretched arms and collapsed in floods of ecstatic tears. Ash ducked his face to hide the fact that his own eyes were suspiciously moist.

  Rafiq drew Barry Marsh aside.

  “So do we have a deal?” he demanded. “If the truth of this gets out, a lot of lives are at risk, including Laurel’s. And a huge amount of hard and dangerous work will have been wasted for nothing.”

  “Yes, dammit, we have a deal,” Barry muttered, thinking of the uncomfortable mortgage on his new Auckland apartment. A tax free hundred thou would certainly help, and there might be more in a year’s time if this madman kept his word. But what a story to miss out on!

  Rafiq’s black eyes stayed glued on Laurel across the lunch table. She was, of course, sitting next to her grandfather. The joy on her face was reward enough for the hard work and horrendous risks he’d endured to free her. He’d never expected to be able to produce Ash. Just as he’d never expected to lose his heart so completely and confusingly—especially to a foreign woman who’d be deserting him as soon as he could arrange it.

  He chafed to be rid of the others so he could be alone with her again. So little time remained.

  Once Malik had departed with Ash and Barry to collect their luggage, Rafiq took her by the hand and hustled her through to the bedroom. He peeled off her clothes, swung her up into his arms, and laid her on the bed.

  “I don’t like sharing you,” he murmured as he smoothed his lips over her skin, kissing and nipping to mark his progress, inhaling the sweet fresh scent that was so distinctly her.

  “He’s my grandfather,” she protested.

  “He’s a man. You kissed him. You hugged him. I’m jealous.” He pulled her legs apart and licked a trail up the silky skin from her knee, along her inner thigh, and over her belly as far as her navel and then back down the other thigh.

  “You missed a bit,” Laurel whispered, addicted now to his mouth on her flesh, his hot breath and soft lips all over her.

  “Punishment,” he grated.

  “For hugging my grandfather?”

  “That, and much more. Forcing me to spend time without you while I collected them.” He swiped his tongue exactly where she wanted it and she caught her breath.

  “For not sitting next to me at lunch.” Another hot lick.

  “For being polite to that fool of a journalist.” A long searing suck that raised her hips off the bedcover and ripped a moan from her throat.

  “Enough punishment for now,” he said. He stood and gazed down at her as he undid his trouser belt.

  Laurel didn’t think she’d had nearly enough punishment, but plainly Rafiq had something else in mind. She heard his zipper rasp down as he crossed to the bathroom.

  “I’ve heard the rumor,” his husky voice called “that women like a man in a uniform.” Seconds later he appeared again—six feet three of fiercely aroused naked man topped with the chauffeur’s officious hat.

  She lay there shaking with laughter as he strode back to the bed. “Lie down,” she giggled. “It’s your turn now.”

  He lay, but flipped her over so she sat astride his chest.

  “More punishment,” he murmured, pushing her arms up so she was braced against the headboard. He slid lower, probed with his tongue, settled his lips around her magic little bud, and suckled until she screamed.

  Chapter Fourteen — Banished and Broken

  They assembled in front of the TV to watch the evening’s main news bulletin. Rafiq kept the volume low until the hostage story appeared.

  Laurel trembled as she saw herself again. The forbidding wall of the bunker... the big clock right behind her... her wrists wrapped in chains.

  “You have to believe me,” she heard herself insisting. “I am Laurel de Courcey.”

  “So you’re intent on talking? Tell us more,” Rafiq’s voice taunted.

  “Pig!” she spat back. “I’ll tell you nothing if you’re too stupid to even kidnap the right woman.”

  Rafiq’s big brown hand clamped around her face. His off-camera voice said “Be careful who you insult, little one. It’s unwise to speak like that in your current position.”

  Laurel continued to glare at the camera until the shot ended.

  Ash reacted first. “Good God, my dear girl,” he barked. “I suspect I’m very lucky I ever got you back. Didn’t it occur to you to be polite to them?”

  “They weren’t very polite to me,” she said in a small voice. “Were you?” she demanded, looking across at Rafiq.

  “I had to make it look good,” he said, shrugging. “The other two are hard men. Not easily fooled.”

  “And then you did the third scene where you messed my hair up and put dusty smudges all over my shirt. As if I’d been locked up for ages. Will that ever get shown?”

  “If we need to buy more time, then yes. Hopefully though, another day or two should see the end of this particular group.”

  “It can’t happen fast enough,” Ash agreed. “But I suppose if Laurel had never been kidnapped, I wouldn’t have known she existed or ever met her. I’ll be very pleased to get her safely home to the other side of the world.”

  Rafiq steeled himself to be strong. You’re doing this for Laurel. “And I’ll be relieved to get rid of such a liability,” he said. “She could lead them to me
, and inadvertently to our other intelligence personnel. The sooner she’s on the other side of the world, the better.”

  He couldn’t look at her as he spoke the cold words. Knew her blue eyes would darken with pain at his apparent indifference. Could almost feel the shock rolling off her to where he sat on the other side of Ash.

  But it had to be done. Somehow he had to wrench her out of his heart so he could continue with the work. And he felt it would help her to settle into her new life if he provoked her into disliking him... gave her reasons not to look backwards to their desert idyll as though it had meant anything significant.

 

  ~♥~

  Laurel almost fainted at his cruelty. Surely she’d been more than a bit of fun to him? She’d known there’d have to be an end to their intense and joyful union, but now he sounded so casual and uncaring. Yes, it had been brief, but it had been a brilliant shining jewel to remember for the rest of her life—not something worthless to be ground under his heel until it was a smear of nothing.

  How could he dismiss it so lightly? Or—and this gave her only the slightest comfort—was he putting on some sort of macho act for Ash and Barry? Pretending there was nothing between himself and her? That he was a man as hard as Fayez and Nazim, who had no need of a woman in his life?

  “I can’t wait to be home again,” she managed to say with only the slightest quaver. “Out of this barbaric country. Away from the awful heat.”

  “As soon as you can arrange it then,” Ash confirmed to Rafiq. “I want to make up for some of those lost years.”

  And Laurel sat there trembling, thinking of the endless future where she would never know if her Sheikh was still alive.

  Yasmina served dinner in the big dining room.

  This time there were no romantic red roses or flickering candles. Instead, she’d put on a show of wealth to impress her visitors. The chandeliers sparkled... the cutlery was gold plated... course after course of exotic food appeared on the finest antique china.

  “Tomorrow I’ll show you my horse,” Laurel told Ash. “My temporary horse,” she added, not daring to glance across to where Rafiq sat opposite her. “She’s called Azizah and she used to be the—”

 
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