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Authors: Kris Pearson

Taken by the Sheikh (16 page)

BOOK: Taken by the Sheikh
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“But you still have the resources of the royal family behind you?”

“I have my own family’s personal fortune. And I have the encouragement of my uncle, the King. I also have the motivation I need. To lose your whole family...to very nearly lose your own life...those are powerful incentives.”

Laurel bit her bottom lip and wondered if she should ask the next question. “So you’ll be the King one day? Will you enjoy that?”

He gave another small grim smile and passed one of the robes to her. 

“My uncle would not stand in my way. I’m heir to the throne, and have all the evidence I need to prove it. If I choose, then yes, I would be King.”

It wasn’t exactly the answer she sought.

“So will you enjoy being King?” she asked again.

“Not the ceremonial occasions,” he admitted. “My uncle and aunt are wonderful figureheads. He loves the limelight and she adores the clothes.”

He pulled a wry face and donned his robe before continuing. “My uncle’s not the King my father was. That’s not just a fond son speaking. My father instituted many reforms. They were mostly complete by the time my uncle assumed the throne. And eleven more years have passed since then. Democratic changes mean the government has the power now and the King is much more of a symbol than my father ever was. I don’t see myself rubber-stamping other people’s plans.”

“So you enjoy what you currently do?”

“I enjoy the
results
of what I do. We track terrorist cells and gather information. We trace and dispose of unfriendly agents who choose to hide in Al Sounam while they plot harm elsewhere. We prevent much death and suffering.”

“And no-one ever knows.”

“It’s the way it has to be.”

Laurel sighed and fixed her eyes on his. “I’ll hate thinking about your work when I get home to New Zealand. Never knowing if you’re safe.” Her heart gave a lurch of absolute terror, and she turned away to press her forehead against Azizah’s warm neck so no tears would show.

“I think they like to run,” she said in a small voice. “When I watched you on Muzaffar yesterday he took off so fast and just kept going and going. I could feel Azizah wanted to follow.”

And I wanted to follow, too. I wanted to be that free. I wanted to forget you’re sending me home like an unwanted parcel.

“It’ll be many more lessons before you can gallop like that.”

She shrugged and walked outside, leading the gentle mare. She didn’t trust herself to speak again for several minutes.

 

They rode, and returned to the lodge.

Rafiq led her to his father’s study and showed her family photographs as promised. She could see a slight likeness to his grandfather but none to his father. She had to agree the soft-faced Rafiq of seventeen bore no resemblance to the imperious man of twenty-eight.

They ate a light but delicious lunch, then lay in the shade of the Casuarina tree and read. And midway through the afternoon Rafiq took a phone-call which turned his face to thunder.

“Laurel, I need to be away tonight. I wouldn’t leave you alone unless it was truly important. Can I trust you to stay here where you’ll be safe? No more trying to escape?” His black eyes drilled into hers.

Panic struggled up her throat and she pushed it down again with steely determination. He was going into danger again for sure. He might never return.

She could do at least this for him; take away the worry that she was a liability. She leaned over and kissed his fingers.

“Yes, you can trust me, Rafiq. I know what the odds are now. Very small that I could escape anyway, and very large if you or I get caught. I’ll be here when you come back.”

She waited for his smile of approval—
needed
his smile of approval to make the rest of the day bearable.

Rafiq simply closed his eyes and nodded.

 

His gut churned. He would put Malik on twenty-four-hour guard, although he prayed he wouldn’t need to be away for so long. This little girl was precious now in more ways than one, but he could never let her know that.

“Come and help me pack, Miss Kiwi,” he said, hoping to dispel the intensity of the moment. He pulled her to her feet and laced his fingers through hers. “We’ve time for one more cuddle.” He raised a dark eyebrow and finally managed the smile that had refused to appear before.

“Just a cuddle?” she queried, sounding unworried and flirty.

“You think I could manage more after all the hard work you expected from me last night and this morning?”

“I think you could manage a whole heap more if you tried.”

“Then I’ll try. I wouldn’t want to disappoint a lusty woman like you.”

She poked his chest and laughed. “I’m not lusty.”

“You’re very hungry,” he said with satisfaction.

“Hungry for you. I’ve never been offered such a feast before. I need to make the most of my banquet while I’ve still got you.”

And as fast as that the levity disappeared. Without caring if his servants saw, Rafiq pulled her against him and branded her mouth with a savage kiss of ownership. She wrapped her arms around his back and ground her hips against his.

“I’ll be back here again tomorrow,” he grated when they finally drew apart.

“See that you are,” she shot back.

 

The lodge felt horribly empty without him. Laurel amused herself for a while by trying on the rest of her new clothes, but there was no joy in them without Rafiq’s dark eyes approving...his husky voice passing comment.

She untangled the chains and necklaces—more beautiful than she’d ever expected to wear—and laid them out one by one on top of the big chest under her window.

She took her book back to the shady seat under the tree, and still she couldn’t settle. What was he doing? Was he with Nazim and Fayez again? Were they giving him another grilling about her apparent escape? It would be two to one if they decided to get rough, and however fit and well-trained he was, two to one were bad odds. Her stomach roiled with apprehension.

In desperation she wandered into the kitchen where Yasmina was kneading and shaping 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 all the 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...the Queen 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 towards 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 to make distressed noises and clutch 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 there swaying backwards and forwards 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 was going to have 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 suddenly managed to look very stern for someone who was 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 tape 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 was alternating between preening at having another international item for his skite-reel 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 looked 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 now.

 

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 her 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.”

BOOK: Taken by the Sheikh
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