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Authors: Kris Pearson

Taken by the Sheikh (21 page)

BOOK: Taken by the Sheikh
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“I’ve been looking after myself perfectly well,” Ash said, bristling a little. “I’ve had a cleaner in once a week. I’m not living in squalor.”

“No, of course you’re not, but I’ve never had a house to play with.”

He saw the longing in her eyes.

“Do anything you like then. Let me know if there’s much money involved because Trinity needs a bit spent on it—and now I’ve got you to bequeath it to I’d better get on with the maintenance.”

 

And so she cooked and cleaned and polished, doing a considerably better job than the previous woman. Rearranged furniture and rugs and pictures in the main sitting room. And gathered bunches of foliage and old-fashioned flowers for the vases when the staff were out of sight in the evenings.

Ash took her riding then, too—on a white mare he bought a few days after she arrived at Trinity. Laurel renamed her Yasmina.

Four weeks after she’d arrived she took a phone-call from Barry.

“That mad Arab has asked me to arrange a follow-up TV interview,” he crowed.

“Have you got his address?” she demanded, almost sick with anxiety.

“Nah, he got me through the office. Said to tell you your memory’s coming back. That we should do a little item to show you’re home safely and you don’t remember a thing. Or not much, anyway. How about Thursday morning?”

“Did he say anything else?”

Oh please, please let there be a message?

“Your baddies are dead and the horses are well.”

She squeezed her eyes closed. “He was successful then. Thank God for that.”

She saw the white birds flying up into the desert air the first time she’d ridden Azizah by the lake. Her spirits soared with them. 

He’s alive. He’s still safe.

 

It was like being released from prison. Much as she hated the attention, she stumbled through the interview with Barry, claiming she could remember wandering through desert country, being intensely thirsty, and having scrapes on her wrists—presumably from being tied up. She proffered her now-unmarked hands to the camera.

...“I just want to live quietly and never really recall what happened.”

...“It’s wonderful to find I have an unexpected grandfather. It was so nice flying home with him. We talked all the way.”

...“Yes, I’ve watched those pictures of me again and again but I can’t remember that room or those men.”

“Magic,” Barry said, winking.

She politely declined any further interviews with magazines or radio stations, and emerged from hiding to take her rightful place at the stud. Living so far out in the countryside on a big private property had its advantages. The media eventually lost interest.

Ash had arranged for the big curved driveway to be re-asphalted, and Laurel made it her personal project to repaint all the post-and-rail fencing close to the house, and to tidy up the gardens. Little by little Trinity started to look loved again.

While she was weeding around an old Forsythia bush just after Christmas, a long black limo swept up the driveway and disgorged a dark-skinned man in traditional Arab dress. Laurel half-rose from her grubby knees in disbelief. It was him?

But no—this man was too short, too stocky, obviously used to being fawned over. She sank back onto the lawn, heart hammering.

That night she dreamed of the desert, and the lake, and the first time Rafiq had taken her into his arms to truly make love. She awoke aching and sobbing and lonely—snapping on the bedside light so she could once again read the little note in the Queen’s emerald box to convince herself he’d been real.

At breakfast next morning she said shakily, “I saw someone who reminded me of Rafiq yesterday.”

Ash shot her a keen glance.

“Sheikh Ahmed? He’s very keen on his horses. I’ll stake mine against any in the Middle East. He likes to check out the thoroughbreds we’ve got destined for the yearling sales.”

“It was only the white robes,” she murmured. “They’re nothing the same otherwise.”

She bit her lip and stared unseeing out of the window.

“You’ll no doubt spot a few more of our customers from the same part of the world. Don’t get your hopes up too high, darling girl.”

“No,” she agreed vaguely.

He reached across the sunny table and laid a hand over Laurel’s. Her pain and yearning had been obvious ever since they’d left Al Sounam.

 

Ash was right with his predictions. Twice more in the next few weeks men from the Middle East arrived to talk with Don Charleston the stud manager; to run expert eyes over the broodmares with Libby Westmore; to conduct long discussions about bloodlines with Ash.

Both times Laurel’s heart lurched behind her ribs until she was close enough to see they were not Rafiq.

On the last day of February—a hot sultry day with thunderclouds massing inland—she waded barefoot in Trinity’s big lily pond, pulling out rotting leaves, hacking back overgrown rushes and cutting off slimy old lily stems.

Suddenly a throbbing roar filled the humid air, and a throaty Ducati motorcycle swooped up the long driveway, slowed, and then sped across the lawn to where Laurel was working.

She stood and pushed her hair out of her eyes with a dripping hand.

The rider swung a long leg over the seat, kicked the stand out and rested the bike on it. He made short work of removing his black leather jacket and crash helmet, then strode the few steps towards the pond.

He held out his arms to her.

“Are you coming out or am I coming in?” he challenged.

“Rafiq?” she whispered.

After a stunned second or two she surged through the water, churning up plants and scattering sleepy goldfish from their basking.

“Rafeeeek!”

Soaked and slimy, she launched herself into his embrace.

He held her close, pulling her head in under his chin, smoothing her tangled hair and dropping kisses anywhere he could. Laurel pressed her face against his hard chest and inhaled the beloved scent of him.

“I smell like a swamp,” she wailed.

“A memorable greeting,” he said gravely. “I will treasure it always.”

He tipped her appalled face up to his and kissed her—softly at first and then with unrestrained passion.

“We’ve had,” she gasped between kisses “all these Arab men, and each time I hoped it was you.”

“All these Arab men?” he growled, pulling her even closer. “What did you do with them?”

“Nothing, because they weren’t.”

“Weren’t what?”

“Weren’t you.”

“This is me,” he murmured against her mouth.

“Yes, I know,” she said, pulling back from him and drinking in the sight of the glorious lover she’d never expected to see again. “You’ve shaved some of your beard off,” she added, running her hands down his face.

“I’m a new man, a different man.”

“Kiss me some more and I’ll think what to say next.”

She smoothed her fingers again over the sexy dark stubble and ruffled his hair up from where the helmet had flattened it.

Rafiq grinned at her. “Kiss you some more?” he teased. “Like this?”

Time swirled by in hot moist ecstasy as lips and tongues met and parted and stroked and slid.

Finally, with that first fierce appetite assuaged, they drew back from each other, breathless.

“Come and sit,” he said, indicating the old lichen-covered bench under a nearby tree. “There are things I must know. How is Ash? Are you well? Are you happy?”

And after a slight pause—“do you have a new boyfriend?”

Laurel couldn’t keep the smile off her face. He’d come halfway around the world to see her. He was safe and alive and even more gorgeous than she’d remembered. She pressed close beside him on the seat.

“Ash is well,” she said, nodding. “I’m well—although not looking too great right at this moment.” She picked a strand of pond-weed off her bare leg. “Yes, I’m happy. I have a home and some family at last. I’m useful here and that feels good. What was the last question?”  She turned very innocent blue eyes up to his.

“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. “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 Laurel 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, 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 Laurel 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 got 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.

BOOK: Taken by the Sheikh
5.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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