A couple of my readers reached out to tell me they had no idea I had a romantic suspense out there in the digital book world. And that they loved it. DESERT ORCHID was released around the time my mother passed away, so I didn’t do a lot of promotion for it. This story has been a bit of a slow burn, but the reviews are stellar right across all the distributors so I thought I’d give peeps a gentle reminder.
What readers are saying –
‘Regarding the suspense aspect, there were enough twists and turns and heart-pounding scenes to keep me, a mystery writer, intrigued. There are hints at the end of more stories to come about these characters. I cannot wait!’
Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington mysteries
‘In this book expect the unexpected it does everything you want, it makes you laugh, makes you cry and the steamy parts are all there. It is the total package. And while you think you make have already read a book similar, let me assure you, you have not!
I won’t repeat the jacket cover as what help is that,you already read that. The Heroine is no push over and she has a thing or two to teach her “rock star”.
If you love romance, laughter some intrigue and HEA then this is not a suggestion, its a must read. The book is a total delight and I have read it three times already. Thank you C C Mackenzie’
There are plenty of thrills and spills in this one, here’s the back page and a sneak peak:
Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’
He doesn’t want a country. He doesn’t want a wife. He doesn’t want love. He wants to forget.
A young Arabian Queen must marry a wild, wicked and wilful Prince to save her people from civil unrest and protect the wealth of her Kingdom.
Charisse never expected to find love with a darkly brooding man who looks and lives like a rock star.
Growing up as a member of royalty isn’t everything it’s proclaimed to be. Khalid El Haribe learned that heartbreaking lesson five years ago and isn’t interested in ruling a small desert kingdom or marriage but he cannot forget the debt he owes his family. Perhaps doing his duty will atone for past mistakes? Meeting the beautiful and feisty Charisse comes as a pleasant surprise…the attraction between them burns as hot as the desert.
But tragic events in Charisse’s past threaten to destroy her Kingdom and her life, too. Can their fragile love survive?
Unfolding the stiff pages of the letter written by the fragile hand of her late husband, Charisse El Haribe’s fingers shook with the emotion that squeezed her lungs, her throat, and stung her eyes.
She shivered even though the temperature outside the palace, under a relentless sun, scorched the land at a steady forty-two degrees. Asim’s passing had been a blessed release for the ravaged shell of his body. But she still found it hard to believe he was gone. Poor Asim, his had been a life filled with suffering. His heart condition had been congenital, which meant no heir for the kingdom of Onuur. And Asim had borne his infirmity with grace, with a highly developed sense of humour and with fortitude.
As was the custom in her adopted land, Asim had been buried within twenty-four hours of his death.
Now she wondered how she could possibly carry on her life without him? The phrase was a cliché, but it was nevertheless very true that Asim had been her rock. And it wasn’t overly dramatic to say he’d saved her life, her heart and even her soul from certain destruction.
Had it really been six short years since he’d brought her, a traumatised sixteen year old, to this fabulous white palace? The structure had been built with Asim’s needs in mind, two thousand feet above sea level on the top of a mountain where the air was cool and clear, and where clouds sprinted across a magnificent expanse of a sky so blue it hurt the eye.
The faint scent of Asim’s signature cologne clung to the thick papers and his presence returned to her in an instant. With a deep inhale, Charisse pressed the missive to her lips. The scent eased the unremitting agony in her heart. And an extraordinary sense of Asim standing at her shoulder overwhelmed her. Even as the feeling brought her comfort, she knew he would expect her to face an uncertain future with bravery, with dignity. After all that he had suffered, the way he had courageously coped with the personal insults of a body reduced to skin and bone, the memory gave her strength.
Asim used to say that she’d given him extra years of life and Charisse hoped he’d been right. He’d been like a beloved father to her, a teacher, and most important of all, a true and loyal friend. And she’d loved him deeply with all of her fractured heart.
Ever since Charisse had been handed the letter from her darling Asim, by a stern-faced Minister of the Interior, she’d had the distinct sensation of waiting for an axe to fall.
The two women who sat opposite stared at her with eyes filled with grief and concern.
With a snuffle and a deep sigh, Boris’s immense head rested on Charisse’s knee. Big hazel eyes locked on her face. They were filled with unconditional love and an intensity that had her press a kiss to his shaggy head of fur the colour of tarnished silver. Charisse raised her index finger. The dog moved with a reluctance that made her bite down hard on her lip to lie on the floor beside his brother Rufus. Her raised brow had Boris hide his face in his paws and heave another great breath from his massive chest. Her Irish Wolfhounds were suffering the loss of Amir, too. She’d take them out for a run later with Diablo. Her stallion needed to vent his excess energy, and it would do her good to escape from the palace for a little while.
Clearing her throat, Charisse blinked to clear her vision and read the letter aloud to her captive audience.
“My darling, Charisse,
I am sorry to leave you. Please find it in your heart to forgive me, but God has need of me in heaven.
You brought joy, laughter, companionship and love to a lonely old man. You opened my eyes and my heart to what is possible for our people and for the future of Onuur. Namely, the children.
It is crucial that you continue your work, Charisse. And you must resume your studies! I know – nag, nag, nag.”
Charisse smiled into the swimming eyes of her sister-in-law, Yasmin. And into the brown eyes, sharp with a ruthless intelligence, of Arabella Faulkner, her bodyguard and trusted friend. Then she took a deep steadying breath and continued,
“You cannot return to the land of your birth. HE now wears a cloak of respectability and has become too powerful. You know too much, and that is dangerous. As I await to leave this earth, my greatest fear is that HE will attempt to strike you down. To prevent such an event I have already set in motion plans to secure your future. Plans that even a man such as HE dare not defy.
I have named Prince Khalid El Haribe as my heir. You must marry him within six weeks.”
Stunned disbelief had Charisse blink once, twice.
Her heart rammed to an emergency stop then roared too loud in her ears. She shook her head in denial of what she held in her hands written in black ink by that fragile hand.
She read it twice, three times.
Why on earth would Asim do such a terrible thing to her, to Onuur?
Looking up, she read her incredulity mirrored in the shocked eyes of her companions.
The dogs whined, and she silenced them with the lift of her forefinger.
A deep frown creased her forehead as she continued more slowly,
“I know you will be confused, even dismayed, by my choice of a husband for you, child. But please permit me to explain. Yes, Khalid is flawed. Yes, he is a womaniser. Yes, he is wild, wilful and out of control. But Charisse, there is nothing and no one you cannot tame if you can find it in your heart to forgive him and open your clever mind to his potential. Believe me, he has potential to be a great man and a good husband.
Now I am gone the stability of the country and the region is at risk. Greedy eyes are turned to Onuur. They will surely inflame unrest and undo all the good work we have achieved. Bloodshed, pain and loss must surely follow for the people of this land, which is why I have chosen Khalid.
He will bring with him the security and the stability of the house of El Haribe. The King and his sons are powerful and will protect you and our Kingdom. The King is in agreement with my plan. Look upon him as your father. The Queen will come to love you, too, if you give her a chance.”
Charisse gasped and jumped to her feet, the correspondence fluttering to a floor of polished white marble.
Two giant heads snapped to attention as the dogs rose as one and their butts hit the floor.
“I will not!” she cried.
The wolfhounds’ eyes, the colour of jet, tracked her as she paced to the open balcony and back. Wearing a loose top and flowing pants of ivory silk, her soft leather ballet pumps made little sound.
With a fluid movement of her long and lean body, clothed in black military fatigues, Arabella picked up the pages from the floor.
She stood and held out the letter to Charisse.
“Read all of it, Your Highness. We can have a nervous breakdown, if we need to, after we have all the facts.’
Charisse took a steadying breath even as her pulse was hammering in her throat and her eyes stung.
Arabella was quite right.
Where was her self-control?
Having a temper tantrum like a child changed nothing.
She wanted to cry enough tears to fill an ocean.
But tears changed nothing.
With a single nod, she took the letter and sank to the edge of the chair.
The dogs didn’t relax and their black eyes, anxious and watchful, never left her face for a moment. She couldn’t help it, her hand shook as she cleared her throat.
“Should you find yourself unable to marry Khalid, the White Palace shall remain yours in perpetuity. On your death it will return to the State. A sum of (she gasped) has been placed in banks in Switzerland for your personal use.
There are conditions to the marriage:
Khalid must not take concubines or another wife whilst you live.
He must provide you with a child within one year of marriage.
If the marriage is annulled, the child will remain with you.
So you see, Charisse, you have a choice to make. Get to know Khalid. Open your mind. Help him find joy in service to our people. And at all times remember you are a Queen, beloved by the people of Onuur.
I die a happy and contented man, my darling, and for that I thank you.
All my love, Asim.”
Eyes stinging and with a hot rock lodged in her throat, Charisse folded the letter with great care and placed it on the table.
She felt the eyes of her companions on her as she stood, shoulders back and head held high. Like an automaton she moved towards open vast doors and stepped onto a wide stone terrace, which soared high above the valley below. Her sumptuous apartments covered the entire top floor of the palace. Asim had spared no expense ensuring her comfort, providing rooms that were light and spacious with the added luxury of private balconies. There was her office, a state-of-the-art kitchen, gymnasium, a lap pool, and covered deck for lazy days.
Not that she had many of those.
Charisse gazed out, unseeing, over the mountain tops and into the sea, miles beyond.
Up here, the climate was never still, never quiet.
A brisk wind toyed with the long tail of her platinum hair, whipping it around her face. The salty tang of the sea mixed with the scent of jasmine and tea roses planted in huge terracotta pots. A cry from above had her look up and narrow her eyes. A single raptor circled, gliding in the updraft of a cloudless sky.
Dear heaven she missed Amir so much.
But why had he never discussed his plans for the future with her?
They’d agreed never to keep secrets.
The ache in her heart swelled into unbearable pain as her face crumpled.
Her delicate fists pounded the top of the balcony.
A sympathetic hand touched her shoulder.
“Why didn’t he talk to me about this? Why am I not given time to grieve?” Charisse turned into Yasmin’s wiry arms and sobbed into her neck.
As she would an infant, her sister-in-law rubbed her back in lazy circles.
Her voice, filled with sorrow, was the merest whisper, “Hush, child. It has always been thus for the rulers of this land.”
Yasmin’s hand, the skin paper thin and wrinkled with age, tipped up her chin. Dark eyes identical to Asim’s stared into hers and Charisse recognised grief and a hideous loss. Gentle fingertips wiped the tears from her cheeks. Yasmin had lost her favourite brother and here she was acting like a spoilt child. And shame for her selfish outburst smacked her too hard. Yasmin kissed one cheek and then the other. “He prepared you for this day. The men have buried him and the women will weep. Asim was revered in this land. Your Prince has large shoes to fill.”
Charisse couldn’t stop the sting of outrage.
She whirled, blue eyes blazing as she paced back and forth.
Alert, the dogs took positions in the shade and sat on their haunches like sentinels, one either side of the ornate arched doorway. Not once did their eyes leave her face.
“He’s a tom-cat,” she spat the words. “A drunk. A waster.”
“That’s right, your Highness, tell it like it is,” Arabella drawled and added. “Apparently, his art sells for a small fortune.”
Temper won the war of attrition with grief, and surged through Charisse.
She spun to face her friend with wide eyes.
“Have you seen what he calls art? If I want a visual lesson in what the intimate body parts of the female form look like, I’ll refer to a gynaecological compendium for facts, not fiction.”
Arabella winced at the tone.
“To be fair his work in oils has gathered critical acclaim.”
Charisse wasn’t having that.
“Yes, by men who need to be titillated by Khalid’s so called interpretation of a clitoris, labia and perineum.” Utter fury spiked through the top of her head as her eyes pinned Arabella’s and it took everything she had to stop her voice shaking, to articulate every syllable, “There are children living in this continent who do not know what it is like to live without the unparalleled burn of an empty belly, who cannot imagine a future further than their next meal.” She took a very deep breath. “While he, who’s never known anything but health, wealth and a fawning society, does nothing but piss away his opportunity to make a real difference to his people.
“Oh, they might not have the good fortune to be born within the hallowed borders of Dhuma or Quaram, but our people are nomads. We are all brothers and sisters and we who rule have a responsibility to the hungry, the sick and the vulnerable of this region.”
Having heard it all before, and more, Arabella nodded.
“I’m not defending him. But he’s not had an easy time of it…”
Charisse flicked a hand, rudely interrupting her bodyguard and friend.
She wasn’t having any of that, either.
“He needs to get over himself and grow a pair. Onuur needs a real man, not a dick-swinging fool who cannot go six hours without a drink or a woman or three.”
“Charisse!” Yasmin’s soft voice held a censure that had anger leak out of Charisse like a deflated balloon.
God, she felt physically ill at the mere thought of such a man touching her.
She couldn’t do it.
Arabella frowned now, and sat at a stone table in the shade, drumming her fingernails on the table top. “You know we can’t believe absolutely everything they print in the press? Much of it is bound to be exaggerated.”
Charisse let out an unladylike snort that had Yasmin send her a look of mild reproach.
“If it swims like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck.”
Charisse’s temperament was usually easygoing. But now her temper bubbled and brewed quite nicely. And her chin tilted.
“He is not fit to lick my feet. And in my bed?” She hissed out a breath of sheer temper. “Never. I’d rather sleep with a…”
The shrill ring of the telephone, the land line, brought an abrupt end to her rant.
Arabella paused, waiting for her Queen’s nod of assent before picking up the receiver.
“Hello?” The bodyguard listened with a deepening crease on her forehead as her dark brows met over her nose.
Now what? Charisse wondered.
Arabella’s dark eyes flicked to hers. “Yes, I will inform her Highness.”
Arabella replaced the receiver and opened her mouth to speak when the distant whop- whop-whop of helicopters brought their attention to the land to the north of Onuur, to Dhuma.
Charisse stepped into her apartments, covered herself with a white hijab and stalked out to observe the approach of three vast military helicopters.
Vultures, she fumed.
As a mere woman, even as a queen, she had no rights.
The El Haribe Princes and their father would rule her land, her people.
Men who were so called modernists.
If she had to marry one, why couldn’t it have been the elder brother?
At least Sarif appeared to have standards, morals.
Although from what she’d seen on the news and on the internet Sarif’s face appeared to be carved from stone, his dark eyes too hard. Plus, he had a reputation for being relentless, even ruthless, in achieving his goals.
Emotions gripped her throat as a tsunami of guilt for the anger she felt with her late husband washed over her.
“Oh, my darling, what on earth were you thinking?” she whispered.
Her eyes narrowed into slits as the helicopters thundered around the Palace in preparation to land.
The racket, the vibration under her feet, spooked the horses in the stables far below and even from here she could hear Diablo’s frantic screams. The magnificent black stallion was already edgy since he’d picked up her grief and her pain. She’d need to take him out later and give him his neck or he’d be impossible for the stable boys to handle.
Helicopters the colour of the desert descended kicking up mini tornadoes, sand devils, in their wake.
And the analogy was not lost on Charisse.
One of them carried the very devil himself.
A man so bent on his own pleasure, on his own self-destructive needs, he’d even turned his back on his country, his people and his own family.
She needed time. Time to think. Time to plan.
Determination filled her heart. “I am in seclusion. I will receive no one,” she said, her voice firm and the tone harsh. And she hardened her heart to Yasmin’s sigh of disappointment.
“They won’t like it,” Arabella warned her.
Charisse kept her burning gaze on the helicopters hidden now among huge clouds of dusty sand as they settled outside the palace walls. Her people were covering their eyes and mouths with cloth to protect themselves from the sting of swirling sand. Since they’d never seen a military helicopter up close and personal, some of the children were holding their ears and screaming with fright and shock.
Anger felt a hell of a lot better than guilt and Charisse gave it free rein now.
Stupid, ignorant, macho fools.
Did they not realise the damage they were inflicting on a people and animals unused to such arrogant behaviour.
How dare they arrive at her home in such a manner.
“I will come to them when I am ready. Not before.”
I hope you enjoy reading Charisse and Khalid’s rocky road through villainy, mistrust and a scorching lust, to true love, as much as I loved writing them.