All for love 3 series.., p.55
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.55

           Kris Pearson
 

  “You know very well what it was, you little she-devil! Is there anyone else?” His eyes burned down into hers. “Because if there is, I shall have to kill him,” he added. “Strangle him.” He placed his hands gently around her neck. “Shoot him.” He drew one hand higher and mimed shooting her between the eyes with two fingers. “Poison him, run him over with my splendid new machine...”

  Laurel gazed up at him with such intensity he lost track of his threats. “Kiss you to death,” he added huskily, once more ravaging her willing mouth.

  Every part of her rioted with rapture. Her earlobes tingled, her lips felt swollen and hungry, and her skin caught fire wherever he touched it. Her breasts grew heavy and hot, and her groin flickered and pulsed as though he was already pleasuring her.

  “No-one... else,” she gasped between kisses. “It would take me... longer than three months... to recover from you.”

  He laughed then, and let her settle back against the bench. They sat hand in hand for a few silent moments.

  “I like your bike,” Laurel said, suddenly noting what was missing. “But where’s your luggage? I presume you have some?”

  “I left it in Auckland at the motorcycle shop. They promised me they’d courier the bags here by tonight.”

  “So you bought this dangerous monster just to travel to Trinity?”

  “It seemed the fastest way to get here.”

  “You’re hopeless,” she said. “You’re not normal. Why didn’t you hire a car?”

  “Because I’ve not ridden Muzaffar for too long. I miss the speed. It makes me feel alive.”

  Laurel saw the flare of excitement in his dark eyes and knew it was true. He was used to thrills, to living on the edge, to pitting himself against the odds. A small jolt of unease ran through her.

  So what’s he doing here with me? I’m not fast or exciting or glamorous.

  “Oh well,” she said, shrugging, trying to sound casual, “if your bags don’t arrive in time, at least I’ve got the underpants you wrapped around the Queen’s emerald box. And we can always hit Ash up for a T-shirt.”

  He stretched and smiled. “It’s not the Queen’s box, Laurel—it’s yours. I was pleased to have such a pretty thing to give you.”

  “Pretty!” she exclaimed. “It’s more than pretty, Rafiq. I could probably get arrested because of it.”

  “It was a gift, willingly given. To remind you of our time at the lodge.”

  Again she felt that faint wash of unease. Somehow he’d just made their time at the lodge sound rather firmly in the past. Did this mean she was firmly in the past too, despite his teasing enquiries about possible boyfriends? She looked away, not daring to ask.

  “So tell me more about your life,” he invited.

  “Things are good, Rafiq,” she said, dragging her composure back around her like a cloak. “I think Ash is enjoying having me here. I’ve started some on-line courses. The stud’s an exciting place to live. I have my own horse.” She tried to suppress a smile and failed. “I’ve called her Yasmina—she has the same lovely kind eyes.”

  “Shall I tell this to Yasmina when I next see her?”

  Laurel felt more of her happiness evaporate like the morning mists which sometimes swirled around Trinity’s lower slopes. He was leaving her and returning to Al Sounam?

  How could you give me such hope? she screamed silently. How could you kiss me as though everything was the same, and pretend you couldn’t wait to see me, and then leave?

  “Are Yasmina and Malik well?” She forced her suddenly-hot eyes to retain the tears that were threatening to spill down her face.

  “Very well when I last saw them. The lodge is... not the same... without you.”

  Well, that was some sort of compliment anyway. Taking courage from it asked, “How long are you here for?”

  He looked down at her very strangely. “For as long as it takes to arrange certain things.” He released her hand and stood to retrieve his crash helmet.

  ~♥~

  Rafiq stayed silent for several seconds. Tremors of uncertainty punctured his euphoria. Did Laurel not want him here after all? Had her warmly enthusiastic welcome been no more than relief he was safe?

  This was a problem he hadn’t foreseen. “Will you take me to Ash?” He patted the pillion seat, hoping she’d accompany him to find her grandfather and smooth the crucial meeting between them.

  He watched as she cast around for her discarded sandals. He bent to help her work the straps up over her damp feet. Such pretty little feet that he couldn’t resist lifting one and kissing her muddy ankle.

  Don’t,” she implored. “I’m so dirty.” She squinted up at the sky. “Ash will probably be in the stud office. What time is it? I left my watch in the house, knowing I was going to be sloshing about down here.”

  “Nearly one-thirty,” Rafiq said, glancing at his wrist.

  “And I’ll bet he’s so wrapped up in things he’s forgotten about his lunch.”

  ~♥~

  Laurel knew she sounded annoyed. She hadn’t meant to speak so sharply, but she couldn’t help wondering what she should sound like in this unreal situation.

  Rafiq was back in her life! Or was Rafiq back in her life? She had no idea, and wasn’t going to repeat her mistake of asking how long he was here for. He’d given her such a weird look, and muttered something about having things to arrange, and going back to see Yasmina.

  God—to lose him once was bad enough. To lose him twice would kill her. She needed to be on her guard every second. To lock her heart down safe and cold and steely so she could never be hurt like that again.

  She climbed up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, loving the closeness but fearing it would be only a transitory pleasure.

  He punched the Ducati into snarling life, roared up the slope of the lawn and swept onto the driveway again. Laurel raised her face to capture his scent, still dark and spicy and exotic. Under her hands his body felt just as good, just as taut, flexing slightly as he controlled the powerful motor cycle. It was heaven, but for how long?

  She pointed past the big old house to the stud office, and half a minute later they drew to a halt. She quickly dismounted and searched out her grandfather. “We have a visitor you won’t believe,” she told him, trying to keep her voice light. “Someone who’s really going to surprise you.”

  Ash pushed his spectacles down his nose so he could see further than his paperwork, and lurched to his feet with alarm as Rafiq’s tall silhouette appeared in the doorway.

  On one hand he was elated for Laurel. She’d been moping around for the past three long months—never as animated as he’d seen her in Al Sounam. Maybe now she’d regain her sparkle?

  On the other hand, had Rafiq come to steal his precious grand-daughter away? A surge of protectiveness flashed through him. Over his dead body! He emerged from behind his desk and extended a cautious hand.

  “I never expected to see you again, my boy,” he said. “Come to see some real horses, have you?”

  Rafiq threw back his head and laughed. “The two you saw at the lodge weren’t in their prime any longer. I could show you horses in my homeland that would astound you.”

  “And I could show you the same here.”

  Laurel glanced from one man to the other. If they were going to indulge in some sort of ridiculous masculine ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ ritual, she was out of there.

  “Lunch,” she said. “Cold lamb and salad. Five minutes.” She turned and left them to it.

  By two-thirty they were all on horseback, and Ash was giving Rafiq the grand tour.

  As though he’s a prospective customer, Laurel thought stonily as she tagged along behind them on gentle Yasmina. She wanted Rafiq all to herself, but how could she spoil her grandfather’s obvious enjoyment?

  And when she thought about the situation carefully, did she want to risk being alone with Rafiq again when he still had such a hold over her heart? Dared she tempt herself with his dazzling compa
ny when he’d probably disappear in a few days, leaving her more bereft than ever? She caught the inside of her cheek between her teeth and worried away at it as she turned her thoughts around and around.

  She was pleased Trinity looked so impressive. It was the height of summer. The earlier thunderclouds had dispersed, and the sun now shone on pastures studded with pregnant mares and capering foals. A skylark’s song cascaded down over Ash’s patch of paradise, and the distant sparkle of the ocean flashed blue and blinding.

  Eventually Laurel excused herself and left them to it. Although Rafiq had been careful to include her in the conversation, and often directed an enquiring glance or broad smile in her direction, she felt his concentration was really on Ash’s commentary.

  “I’m going to tidy the pond rubbish,” she called. “There’s still quite a lot of mess to clean up. I’ll see you both at dinnertime.” She wheeled Yasmina around and cantered back towards the stables, wondering about the real purpose of his visit, and sleeping arrangements, and whether his luggage had arrived yet.

  To her great relief the non-arrival of one delayed the allocation of the other. She escaped into the garden again and lost herself in knee deep water and soggy vegetation. Her brain seemed as liquid as the sun-dappled pond, swirling with unanswered questions and strange currents.

  As she waded through the water carrying yet another armful of rubbish, she was greeted by the unexpected sight of Ash and Rafiq ambling down the lawn. Ash carried a bottle of champagne and Rafiq held three of her grandmother’s Waterford crystal flutes by their stems. Both men were grinning fit to bust. What had happened?

  Laurel stilled, and her eyes narrowed as she watched them approach. Then she grasped the long brown arm Rafiq offered, and allowed him to haul her up out of the water. “What?” she demanded, eyes darting from Ash’s twinkling blue eyes to Rafiq’s unfathomable dark ones.

  Ash nodded to Rafiq to set the glasses down on the old lichen covered seat, and uncorked the bottle. “We have a partnership to drink to,” he beamed. “This young fellow of yours has flung a few bucks my way and become part owner of Trinity. We can really get moving now.”

  Laurel felt all sensible comment desert her. She stood open-mouthed; it had been the last thing she expected. For sure he was fond of horses, but to invest money on the other side of the world? Was he taking pity on them? Had he noticed the slightly down at heel condition of the stud and decided to help bail them out with a tiny fraction of his wealth? She couldn’t bear the thought of that. Nor could she endure having a tenuous link to him for years to come. Oh, it was too cruel!

  Rafiq seemed to sense her disquiet. He held a tall fizzing flute toward her and spoke with intense passion. “I hope we have two partnerships to drink to, Laurel. The way you greeted me before lunch gave me hope, so I’ve asked Ash’s permission to court you—properly this time.”

  They stood, fingers touching as she reached for the champagne, and he refused to relinquish it. He wrapped his other hand over hers to bind them together, then raised the champagne to her lips. “To us?” he asked.

  Laurel’s eyes never left his. She took a tiny sip as he tilted the glass, swallowed, and nodded. “You really mean it?” she asked in a small choked voice.

  “For as long as you’ll have me, Azizah. Do you not want me now?” He pulled her close and stroked her hair. “It’s taken me all this time to extricate myself from the security projects and to slide away. To speak with my uncle the King and rearrange my life so I could share it with you.”

  He really wants me!

  She poked him in the chest and said “Not one message, Rafiq! Not one little word that I should keep hoping.”

  “My Azizah, you turned me inside out. I hardly dared think this would be possible. My life was all planned—service to my people, my country. The probability I would take over as King one day if I survived the security work. Giving up my new identity and returning to my old one. That was what I expected.”

  He shook his head, frustrated. “And then you appeared. From the very first moment I wanted you to stay in my life. I was desperate to rescue you—would have tried to kill Fayez and Nazim with my bare hands if that had been necessary.”

  He set the champagne flute down on the seat again and cupped her indignant face in his long fingers.

  Neither of them registered Ash quietly retreating.

  “I had so little to offer you,” he continued in a softer voice. “No family, no certainty I would even be alive the next day. No life worth sharing.”

  “You told Ash I was a liability,” she accused.

  “And so you were. I needed to get you away to safety. Anyway, you called my country ‘barbaric’ and said the heat was unbearable.”

  A small smile lit her face. “Tit for tat,” she said. “I was getting used to the heat by then.”

  “You knew I loved you.”

  “I knew no such thing! How would I? You never told me once.”

  He took a deep affronted breath. “It’s a very hard thing to say when it matters so much. That’s why I wrote it down so you’d find it in the emerald box and have it to keep until I could come to you.”

  Recognition finally dawned. “Not the loopy-doopy-curvy-whoop-de-doo bit? The line I couldn’t read because it wasn’t in English?”

  “Loopy-doopy-curvy...?” His straight black eyebrows shot towards his hairline. “I did that? In Sounamese? Well, that tells you how serious I was if I wrote it in the most beautiful script in the world. Loopy-doopy-curvy indeed...”

  She found herself held even more tightly in his arms.

  “Miss Kiwi, I love you. Is that plain enough?” He gazed down into her eyes and then smiled at the startled expression on her muddy face. “I have told my uncle the throne of Al Sounam is now rightfully his. His sons can succeed him. The royal role for which I was destined can’t compare to the world of love I found with you.”

  He kissed her again and whispered, “You made my hard heart beat softly at last. So here I am in your very green country to ask you to share my life. To build a new life. To beg your grandfather to allow this. I have money, and a good brain, and ambition.”

  Once more her gaze meshed with his. “And a very nice body and funny handwriting.”

  “Always the last word, you infuriating little woman.” He stayed silent for a moment. “You like my body? Even with all my scars?”

  “You have one more because of me.” She reached up to touch the mark on his brow where he’d wounded himself to make her desert escape appear real to the other men.

  “Worth every twinge,” he declared. “I’d do anything for you, my lovely Laurel—even hold you in my arms while you smell like a swamp.”

  Chapter Sixteen — Wedding At Trinity Stud

  She smelled nothing like a swamp two months later as the wedding march burst from the wheezy old organ in the sunlit country church.

  Laurel tucked her arm through Ash’s, and they started up the carpeted aisle together.

  “I never expected to have a lovely grand-daughter to give away,” he said. His eyes were suspiciously moist.

  She squeezed his arm and smiled. “I never expected to have a grandfather to give me away—or to meet a wonderful man who’d want me as much as Rafiq seems to,” she whispered back.

  Later, in the huge marquee on Trinity’s lawn, and after a sumptuous wedding breakfast, Rafiq stood to make his speech.

  “Dear friends,” he said. “You have made us so happy by joining us today. Laurel and I thank you for all your good wishes, and your wonderful gifts, and most of all for your company. This is the start of many good things. Not just a new life for me and my lovely bride.”

  He raised her hand and pressed a kiss onto her fingers. “As you know, Laurel has no immediate family apart from Ash, and she has been acquainted with her grandfather only for the last few months. What you may not know is this; we’re a matching pair. I lost my own family—many years ago now.”

  A shocked murmur filled the marquee, t
hen slowly died away.

  “These people from my homeland are not my parents and my brothers as you’ve probably assumed.” He turned and bowed to the contingent from Al Sounam. “They are my King and Queen, and... members of their household staff.” He hoped that was a diplomatic description of the bodyguards.

  There was an audible gasp from many of the guests.

  “I’m honored they could join us today. Like us, they’re also setting out on a happy new future. It will give me the greatest pleasure to take my lovely new wife back to visit them from time to time.”

  Dropping his gaze to Laurel’s, he murmured so only she could hear, “and Azizah and Muzaffar, too?”

  She sent him back a smile of pure delight.

  He looked at the assembled guests again. “We also welcome two other special people—our dear friends Yasmina and Malik who traveled halfway around the world to be with us today.”

  He looked across to his old nanny and repeated his words in Sounamese. Yasmina sat taller and twitched her beautiful embroidered scarf up, obviously thrilled and embarrassed.

  Then he turned in Ash’s direction. “Trinity Stud is truly well-named because the ownership is shared three ways again—by Laurel, her grandfather, and me. Together we plan to make it the finest establishment of its kind in the whole country. Already you’ll see the improvements to the sand training track, and the foundations for the new indoor arena. You’ll know we’ve just purchased two magnificent stallions—Robert the Bruce and Charleston Star.”

  “Enough of the advertising,” Laurel protested.

  Guests at the nearest tables started to chuckle.

  “When will I ever have the attention of so many prospective customers again?” he asked her, mouth quirking and an expression of wicked innocence in his eyes.

  The rest of the guests joined in the merriment.

  He signaled for silence. “I met Laurel under the oddest circumstances you can imagine,” he continued once the laughter had subsided. He cleared his throat. “She was found wandering in the desert. I was assigned to hide her from the terrorists who had captured her, until they could in turn be captured themselves. Romantic old hideaway, two young people with little to occupy them—you get the picture?” Again he provided a rapid translation in Sounamese.

 
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