Desert Captive, episodes 19 & 20…..

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Greetings from a hot and humid and thundery Cheshire.

Here are the next two episodes and things are hotting up…..

DESERT CAPTIVE

by CC MACKENZIE

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODE NINETEEN

The hours Sarif usually spent with his horses was his purest joy. Not today. Today he fought a losing battle between despair and fury. At the moment, fury was winning by a hair. In his position life had its ups and downs even if he was used to absolute control. Well, he wasn’t in control now, anything but. Being the leader of his country was something he was born to do. There was a joy in it, at times frustration, disappointment and pride in his people. He enjoyed seeing his people and their land thrive. The harsh desert climate was equal parts their friend and their enemy. He knew the temper of the wind often better than he knew his own.

The fine spring the country was enjoying meant his people worked hard and long, but so far without the bitter harvest of crops dying in a dust bowl, or so far, a plague of pests or a sandstorm.

Right now, his temper was black because his horses were for him and him alone and two of his favorites were missing, along with his wife and her maid. However, what frustrated him most of all was the way he’d begun to trust Arabella and that had been a mistake. He should have expected her to do something dangerous. He should have expected her to take a risk with his son’s life to save her brother. He should have kept her behind bars. He should have… his sigh was a deep one.

The key to finding his wife was to keep calm and find his centre.

His horses had always soothed him.

They soothed him now.

The sun shone down on his bare head as he clucked to a yearling, watching as the glossy chestnut gave a lazy swish of the tail. Horse and man, they knew each other well, and Sarif had to grin as he waited patiently for the game to begin.

Sarif put his hand in his pocket, and with equine hauteur the yearling tossed his head and approached.

“You’re a good boy.” He gave a soft laugh, running a gentle hand down the yearling’s flank as the horse nudged his pocket. “Yes, it’s your favorite.” He took half of a small apple and let the colt eat out of his hand. “I wish I could take you with me today and we’d ride like the wind. But bullets and death are not meant for the likes of you.”

Other horses ambled over to enjoy a small treat, then Sarif lifted his head and gazed over the land.

He knew his idea of putting Arabella behind bars would never happen. The woman was a free spirit. A little voice might whisper she certainly was not consort material, but he ignored it.

A movement by the entrance to the stables caught his eye.

Dressed in desert khaki and armed to the teeth, Wallace Monroe, his face set and without the usual twinkle in his blue eyes, stalked towards him.

“I ought to have known she’d try something like this as soon as my bloody back was turned,” Wallace said, his deep voice low.

“She drugged the guards,” Sarif muttered.

Wallace shook his head, his eyes narrowing into blue slits.

“That was Leila’s doing. When she arrived I should have checked her extensive baggage, but it was under the Queen Janaan’s diplomatic seal. God knows what else the girl brought in with her.”

Sarif bit down hard on his bottom lip.

It seemed his own mother was involved in this debacle, since she was the one who’d sent the maid here in the first place. The thought of how she’d encouraged him to accept the girl, to keep poor Arabella company, made his hand fist.

“How will they know where to look for Nazari?” Sarif wanted to know.

Wallace winced. “I might have mentioned the location of his base when I told her part of our plan. I was trying to reassure her everything that could be done to free Rupert was being done.”

Again, Sarif turned to scan the land.

“The words needle and haystack spring to mind,” he muttered.

Wallace whipped an electronic device from his black cargo pants.

“Actually, meet the needle.”

Sarif studied the tiny blip on a black screen.

“What is it?”

“Arabella. Gilchrist had a tracking device implanted in her. Works within a twenty mile radius as long as she’s out in the open.”

Well now, it seemed today was a day full of surprises, and why hadn’t the Monroe brothers told him about a tracking device before?

“Then what are we waiting for?”

“Bruce is already on his way with a contingent of men to intercept Arabella and Leila, while you and I stick to the plan to free Rupert.”

Torn between the need to find his wife and to fix the mess he’d made by capturing Rupert Faulkner in the first place, Sarif nodded.

“Very well, but Arabella will not go with you quietly. Stubborn is her middle name.”

Wallace’s grin was a lightning flash of white teeth.

“Bruce’s middle name is obstinate. My brother’s a bolshie bastard. Don’t worry, he’ll bring her home in one piece.”

As they strode towards the stables with members of his security services waiting beyond, Sarif could only pray the man was right.

But he couldn’t help but worry about what his wife was going to do next.

 

EPISODE TWENTY

The desert wind blew hot and dry as three dusty trucks rumbled through the mountain pass. Containing twenty men, armed and exceedingly dangerous, each truck made their way through the last series of twists and they would eventually arrive at a large encampment hidden deep in the mountain range.

At his destination, Yussuf Hassam Nazari knew that he’d find the night’s entertainment, the torture of a British citizen and a Jordanian helicopter pilot shot down over a recent hot zone, was well underway and he could not wait to see the results of his torturer’s labour.

He was a man who lived for two things, money and power.

A man could not have one without the other.

Then again, he’d discovered he needed something else too—violence.

He enjoyed the pleasure that came from that swift explosion of aggression and the sound of sweet pain as fists beat on the flesh of another.

He’d been five the first time he’d heard the mellifluous sound of human suffering.

The boy he’d hurt again and again had been three and cried like a pitiful baby until, under the careful tutelage of his own father, Yussuf had fired a bullet into the boy’s blood-encrusted head.

Since then he’d evolved from torturing the weak and helpless to terrorising nations.

His name alone was powerful enough to bring a liquid fear to the bellies of the fearless, and dread to those who tried to keep their lands and peoples safe.

Nothing and no one could stop the evolution of Yussuf Hassam Nazari’s global business dealing in people and drug trafficking and the buying and selling of arms to the highest bidder. He cared nothing for global politics, a filthy, corrupt business at the best of times. Politicians, he’d found, spoke out of both sides of their mouth and any who had been stupid enough to betray him died a slow and painful death, but not before watching every single member of their family die drowned in their blood first. All it had taken was a couple of examples for his message to be received. These days no one dared double cross him. Fear, Yussuf had discovered, was an incredible motivator.

Long legs crossed, he relaxed back in the passenger seat of the middle truck, shielded by fierce men prepared to die for him. He was dressed in the loose cotton clothing beloved by his warriors, his head, nose and mouth protected from the dust and the sun. Sharp dark eyes narrowed as they scanned the vast walls of solid rock on either side of the narrow road. The road might be inaccessible for helicopter gunships, but there was still the danger of entrapment should the special forces of King Sarif El Haribe break the habit of a lifetime and get lucky. Then again Yussuf had been taught by a master to never leave anything to luck. Failing to plan is planning to fail were the words his late father had lived by. Therefore, Yussuf had a man on the inside, a man close to a King distracted by a woman. Sarif was truly a pathetic leader to allow himself to be pussy-whipped by an infidel of all things. Not that Yussuf, deep inside, was a particularly religious man. However, religion, like any other form of mind control, was useful in the way he and others could manipulate the words of a book and use those words for their own ends. Deep in their hearts human beings were weak when it came to believing in imaginary deities that never existed. As his father had often said, My beloved son, remember these words—we cannot fix fools.

Now the vehicles came to a halt and he emerged from the middle truck, aware of the men on either side, killers, like himself. Men he relied on. Men he called brothers. Still, he was different from them and he knew it, even if they never believed it.

He turned his head to the squat building made of mud and camel dung.

The sound of pain, a high and prolonged scream, broke the sudden silence.

The sound soothed him as he hooked his gun over his shoulder.

The English boy had been brave, but the beatings had worn him down, bit by bit. By now there wouldn’t be a place on his body that didn’t hurt.

If Yussuf had been a kind man, he’d put him out of his misery, but the boy had the potential to bring in big bucks, as long as he delivered him alive.

Shame the British Government hadn’t stipulated unharmed, or, in one piece.

Fools.

Now he nodded at one of his men standing guard outside the shabby wooden door of the building.

“Get some down time,” he said, his voice nothing but a low growl, the result of an attempted assassination, a throat cut, gone wrong.

“Can’t sleep. Too noisy.”

Yussuf placed a heavy hand on the guard’s broad shoulder.

“Take a break. You’ve earned it.”

When the guard moved away, Yussuf unwound the cloth over his mouth, pushed open the door and entered.

The smell of human waste and blood hit him first.

It took his eyes a few seconds to become accustomed to the lack of light.

On a long narrow table, instruments of torture, wet with blood, were lined up according to size.

In one corner the Jordanian, his flight suit sticky with blood and shit, was rocking back and forth, staring blankly into space.

Yussuf heaved a sigh.

The man had been broken too soon.

Pity.

Still, when his flesh burned he’d scream until he was hoarse before his body melted from within.

Then he turned to the young man huddled in the corner.

He wore nothing but filthy jeans that hung on his emaciated body.

He trembled as if in a fever and he reeked to high heaven.

One eye was swollen shut, sticky puss leaking from a corner.

Hmm.

Infection in this heat might be an issue.

The young man’s narrow feet were bare, covered in bruises gone black and the soles beaten bloody.

Yussuf nodded at Hakim, bare chested, holding a bloody cane in his meaty fist and standing to attention.

He approved of Hakim’s quick thinking.

Should the cavalry arrive, which was highly unlikely, Rupert Faulkner would be unable to walk anywhere, which would make freeing him without taking heavy losses difficult.

“You have done well, Hakim. Now you must rest.”

Hakim, his blood splashed cotton pants slung low on his lean hips, sweat glossing his vast chest, bowed his dark shorn head and left.

When the door closed, Yussuf shifted to crouch before the young man and caught the way his one good eye went wary as it held his.

Brave.

Unbroken.

Yussuf nodded, recognizing an opponent worthy of his close attention.

It had been a long while since he’d had one of those.

“I will send a medic with food and water and medication for your eye,” he said in his low, hoarse voice. “Tomorrow is a special day for the helicopter pilot. I promise you will enjoy the show.”

That one eye burned with a hate Yussuf totally understood.

He stood, towering above a human being who was beyond all hope and help, and yet refused to believe it.

Faith.

Hope.

Both were wonderful things.

But by the end of tomorrow he knew both would be snuffed out and all that would be left would be the broken husk of a young man who would never be the same again.

Yussuf left and immediately headed for the spicy scent of goat cooking over an open fire.

Oh to be a fly on the wall when Brigadier Hamish Faulkner received the shell of his son, alive but mentally destroyed and to see how the proud soldier dealt with the man who had caused all the pain and agony in the first place, King Sarif El Haribe.

It was a very satisfied Yussuf Hassam Nazari who took his place on a pile of thick carpets laid next to the fire, washed his hands in the scented water offered and nodded to his men to eat.

But then he stilled.

There was a tickle on the back of his neck.

Slowly, he turned his head, his sharp eyes scanning the high ground in the growing dusk.

“What is it?” Hakim asked.

“A feeling.”

Hakim studied the place where mountain met the sky and shook his head.

“Unless they are a mountain goat, no one can approach from that direction.”

Yussuf nodded, he knew that, and yet…

“Double the guards.”

With a single nod, Hakim rose and moved away to do as he was told.

Still, Yussuf studied the horizon as night fell.

All was still, and yet the tickle remained.

His men called his intuition magic.

Maybe it was.

Whatever, he never ignored it.

Time to plan.

 

*******

 

I’ve been incredibly busy with family and construction at the house, and with the heat and humidity it’s been difficult to find quiet space to write. However, undeterred, I shall write as much of Desert Captive as I can…..

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Desert Captive, episodes seventeen and eighteen…..

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Greetings from a steamy UK. The temperature today was thirty three degrees in Cheshire. It’s hot, baby. Let me begin by apologising for the lack of episodes last week, I was dealing with an arthritis flare, which the hot weather has fixed…. every cloud, etc.

Here’s the next two episodes…. It’s a slow burn….

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODE SEVENTEEN

“Why do I get the feeling I’m not their favorite person?” Arabella asked Sarif an hour later as the room emptied and the huge double doors closed after the meeting.

Taking her hand in his, Sarif stood.

Arabella stood too.

“In time, once my son is born, they will come to love you.” His dark eyes found hers and held.

She tried to tug her hand from the heat of his, but his fingers tightened imperceptibly.

Seemed he wasn’t quite ready to let her go.

With a feeling of inevitability, she let him tow her out of the room.

“Where are we going?”

He glanced at her face.

“You said you wanted a walk. We’re going for a walk.”

“Outside?”

Again he glanced at her.

“Outside. It is time my people met their Queen.”

Arabella, the Queen of Quarram.

Somebody was having a laugh.

And if ever she felt like a big fat fraud it was now.

Sarif, still holding her hand, kept the pace out of the palace down to a leisurely stroll.

The setting sun turned the land from desert into a fiery glow.

As they proceeded towards huge metal gates far ahead, Arabella spotted Sarif’s close protection detail move into position. The men were uniformly tall, tough and lethal, but they didn’t come too close to overhear their conversation, she noticed.

Now Sarif brought her hand to his lips.

The jolt of attraction shot straight to her throat.

How on earth did every single move he made catch her breath?

“You have not asked me about your brother,” Sarif said in a soft voice.

She rubbed a hand over her throat.

“I figured no news was good news?”

“Go ahead, ask.”

The trouble with the way his thumb rubbed her hand was that she couldn’t think a single coherent thought.

Baby brain, she decided.

“Okay. I’ll play. What’s new?” she asked him in a sharp tone that brought a dark brow up.

A single cry from above had Sarif halt their walk to study an eagle.

“In less than forty-eight hours Rupert will be free.”

“You’ve organized an attack force?”

“But of course. Did you seriously expect me to leave your brother to his fate?”

She shrugged, and guessed. “Bruce and Wallace?”

“And others.”

She bit her lip, her mind spinning, thinking that her and Leila would need to refine the timing of their original plan.

“And you’re telling me this, why?”

“You’re anxious, which is perfectly understandable, but anxiety is not good for the baby.”

Of course his first concern would be for the baby, so why the belly plunge of disappointment?

“Plus,” he continued, “you are in no fit state to try something desperately stupid yourself. Don’t forget I am familiar with your, er… professional… capabilities.”

Arabella held in the snort of disgust at the implication that because she was pregnant she was helpless.

“True,” she lied straight to his face. “I can’t see me rappelling down the side of a building for a while.”

“Or at any other time,” he said and his deep voice held a clear warning that her military days were behind her.

That’s what you think, boyo.

Then another thought hit her.

“Is there a reason you’re preparing a rescue attempt now?”

He made a face.

“It seems Nazari has another captive, a Jordanian pilot whose plane was shot down last month. Apparently, he is preparing to murder him, streamed live on social media.”

A wave of nausea made her dizzy.

“Beheading?”

His jaw tight, Sarif shook his head.

“Put in a cage, poured with petrol and burned alive.”

“Omigod.”

“I leave tonight.”

Any idea of cancelling her plan to rescue her brother flew from her mind.

Time was of the essence.

He took her silence as a woman who was worried sick about her brother, which she was, and not as a woman who was busy reorganizing plans in her mind.

“I promise you, I will bring him back safe,” Sarif said in a soft voice.

Her gaze shot to his and held, while her heart fluttered madly against her ribs.

Relief warred ferociously with worry about her brother and worry for what she was about to do might mean for the safety for her and her child.

Worry won.

When she said nothing in response to his statement, he studied her face again.

“You are angry with me,” he said. “You have every right.”

Too true she had every right.

She was more than angry with him.

“I warn you now, if my brother has been harmed…”

Again he brought her hand to his mouth.

“You will… what?” his deep voice had gone soft again, and something in his eyes made something inside her simply melt.

He smelled of bergamot, probably something in his cologne and soap.

“Make you pay,” she whispered as her mind centred on the fact his bodyguards were within striking distance and might not react well to her threatening their King.

He nodded.

“Understandable under the circumstances, but don’t you think you have made me pay enough?”

Was he serious?

Hell, she hadn’t even begun to make him pay.

“Nope.”

He bit his bottom lip, and although his eyes were serious enough, she got the feeling he was amused by something… her.

“You’re walking along a very shaky edge,” she told him, her eyes steady on his.

“I stand warned.”

As they approached the gates, they stopped while the gates opened.

About fifty yards away was a large encampment of tents, horses and camels.

The tinkling of goat bells rang out as night fell.

The smell of camel dung, oil lamps, smoking fire, desert and many unwashed bodies hit her.

Then something else hit her, everything about the scene, the scents and the sounds told her she was home.

“What is it?” he asked, and she realized she’d made a little sound of distress in her throat.

The sense of place felt so right, her eyes stung.

She shook the feeling off.

“Nothing.”

His look told her he didn’t believe her, but he let it go.

The thought that he could read her so well disturbed her.

It disturbed her a lot.

The last thing she needed was to let this man get under her skin again.

“I never thought you were a hypocrite,” she said, going immediately on the attack, to show no weakness. “Arrogant and selfish, yes. A hypocrite, no.”

The little tic in his jaw told her she’d hit the spot.

“I made a mistake. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to see me as a desperate man who did a stupid and desperate thing to get your attention.”

Hadn’t Wallace Monroe said pretty much the same thing to her earlier?

“I needed time,” she said, “to adjust to my rather unexpected reality.”

“I want you in my bed,” Sarif said again in that soft tone. He used that tone a lot with her these days.

The thought of sharing his bed had her whole body switch on to a state of high alert, and then something she’d overheard Hafar mention entered her mind.

She pulled her hand free.

“What about your French mistress?”

He didn’t even miss a beat.

“Our friendship is at an end.”

“I hear it cost you a swanky apartment in Paris and loadsamoney. Some friend you are.”

He shrugged.

“She was a loyal and good friend.”

“Good friends don’t need to be bribed, they either are or they’re not.”

His eyes narrowed. “You see the world through a very narrow lens.”

“Do I? I see the word in black and white with the occasional shade of gray. I like to keep things simple.”

“You are also, a coward,” he shot back clearly stung and going on the attack so fast it made her dizzy.

Not sorry at all she’d annoyed him, nevertheless Arabella bristled at the charge.

“That’s a first. I’m not the one who kidnaps young men…”

“I have apologized…”

She spun, her hands on her hips. Her chin lifted so high she peered down her nose at him.

“So that makes it all okay then?”

He shifted to enter her personal space.

“You ignored every single overture I made. What was I supposed to do?”

“You were supposed to wait, wait until I was ready to come to terms with the consequences of what we did.”

“You were taking too long.”

“Because I…”

She stopped and bit her tongue, reluctant to tell him the truth, because the truth sounded utterly ridiculous even to herself.

“Because what?” he ground out, his eyes glued to her face.

Oh, for the love of…

“It’s a hormone thing. I have… had… maybe still have… baby brain.”

He looked at her as if she’d lost her mind.

Maybe she had.

He scratched his chin.

“And what—” Sarif said, a bemused look on his face that made her hand itch to smack him,”—on earth, is baby brain?”

She sent him a bland look.

“Something you will never experience because you do not have a vagina.”

With a shake of his head, he reached for her hand and found it.

Then he turned towards a group of people, nomads, who stood watching them with wary eyes.

“I am beginning to think you are quite mad.”

Taking a deep breath, Arabella caught the heady scent of horse manure and human sweat.

She spotted a girl of about ten holding the hand of a small boy, pinned a smile to her face, and headed in their direction.

“That makes two of us.”

 

 

EPISODE EIGHTEEN

 

Even as she led Sarif towards the children, he refused to release her hand and it occurred to her that this was the first time in her life she’d ever held a man’s hand.

The strength in his fingers were a clear sign of his physical superiority, and again she felt that lovely little ripple in the blood, something she was coming to accept would probably never change between them.

Actually, when they’d come together that first and last time, it hadn’t been a ripple, it had been a tsunami—of lust—that had washed them both away—and left them stranded on the rocky shore of life.

The dusty-haired boy clutching the hand of the girl was around six years old. By their faces, she reckoned siblings. The boy had bright dark eyes, a scab on one knee, dirt on his cheek and the kind of angelic face that spelled trouble.

The elderly man standing next to them looked fierce.

Warrior fierce.

And not happy.

While Sarif spoke to the man, Arabella focused on the children.

She crouched down and studied the little boy dressed in an oversized T-shirt that had seen better days.

He could have done with a bath.

“You the Sheik?” she asked in Farsi.

“No.” He grinned, his dark eyes twinkling with fun. “You’re the Queen?”

“So they say.”

“You don’t look like a Queen.”

“True.”

He jerked his little chin towards the desert.

“There are strange men digging for bones out there. They say they are looking for dinosaur bones. Do you like dinosaurs?”

Strange men, eh?

Arabella guessed the strangers were MI5 and working with a certain Colonel.

“Doesn’t everyone like dinosaurs?”

He moved closer. “My sister doesn’t like dinosaurs. I like fossils.”

Delighted with him, Arabella grinned and rolled her eyes towards the men above still talking in clipped tones.

“Plenty of old fossils around here.”

The cough from above brought her eyes up to the girl who was trying hard, and failing, not to laugh.

“How do you do, I’m Arabella.” Arabella stood and offered her hand.

The girl studied her hand for a moment and then took it.

“Amira Hussein.”

“Cute kid,” Arabella said and ran her hand over the boy’s dusty head.

“He is Malik.”

“Brother?”

“Yes. Please come and sit with us, eat and listen to the music.”

Deciding that was the best offer she’d had all day, Arabella left Sarif and the older man to it and followed her two small guides towards a large gathering of women and children sat around a campfire. The scent of roasted meat, onions and spices filled the air. Four men with guns strapped to their backs and holding instruments sat cross legged on rugs. One held a violin, another plucked the strings of an Oud, while another held a wind instrument called a Ney, the last man held a percussion instrument.

She was led to a slightly raised area, covered in rugs and fat cushions.

As she sat, she found her elbow gripped by Sarif and nearly overbalanced.

These days her centre of gravity was affected by the weight of the child she carried.

“To be invited to sit and eat with the Bedouin is a great honor,” Sarif said as he sat next to her. “Sheik Al Qasimi believes it is unseemly of me to hold your hand and to sit with women.”

“You should listen to him,” Arabella told him.

“Changes are coming to my land and people need to adapt.”

“It seems such a little thing to cause trouble over.”

“I want to sit with you, therefore I will sit with you.”

“Stubborn,” she muttered.

When Malik appeared holding a heavy metal plate piled with flatbreads, Sarif washed his hands first in a silver bowl filled with fragrant water and dried it on a cloth held by Amira, before he thanked the boy and took two breads and placed them on plates.

Arabella went through the same hand washing routine, and waited until Sarif served her with a plate filled with fragrant rice, bread and meat and yoghurt mixed with spices.

The scent alone made her mouth water.

As she ate her fill and told Amira the food was delicious, Arabella let the music, the smells and the peace of the evening wash over her.

“If you want to understand a culture,” Sarif’s deep voice spoke in her ear, his breath kissed her cheek, “listen to the music. The tune, the words when there are words to hear. When you truly listen, hear it, you will begin to understand me and my people. Music is the heart of all peoples, all cultures, because it comes from here.” Sarif placed the palm of his hand on his heart.

She turned to him to find those dark eyes on her face.

“And that’s why certain terrorist organisations want music banned…”

“That, and they want the people left without hope. People left without all hope are easily manipulated.”

The music changed, the tone shifting to something so terribly heart wrenching, she blinked.

Sarif dipped his head.

“It is about a brave warrior, doomed, dying a terrible death of pain and torture, for his country, for his people.”

Arabella could understand that.

She understood a person being prepared to die for what they believed in.

Honor.

Duty.

Freedom.

“Like your culture,” Sarif continued, “in our culture we do not forget our heroes.”

***

Much later that evening, Arabella stood alone on the balcony of her rooms and studied the half moon lighting a landscape filled with dips and shadows.

The camp far below was almost quiet, except for the flicker from the fires and the occasional sound of an animal disturbed. Even the goats slept, huddled together for warmth. At night the desert was a cold, harsh place.

A sound had her turn to find Leila standing there.

The girl was dressed from head to toe in black, only her eyes were uncovered.

The machine gun strapped to her back, plus straps of ammunition and a lightweight backpack meant her hands were free.

Leila ran her gaze over an Arabella dressed exactly like her, except of course, for the baby bump.

Leila shook her head.

“I don’t like this. What if…”

Arabella held up her hand.

“We don’t have time to debate. We’re doing this tonight.”

“Don’t have much of a choice now anyway,” Leila muttered.

“The deed is done?”

“Yep. The guards are out for the count.”

“Then let’s go.”

Since they’d trained together in the same unit at Sandhurst, the women moved fast, their footsteps soundless as they sped down dimly lit stone corridors and the servant’s staircases until they came to a side entrance.

Leila went first, quick fingers making short work of the digital code to unlock the door.

Arabella knew that once Sarif had figured out how they’d left, he’d change the locks and the codes, but she couldn’t think of him at the moment or his reaction to what she was about to do. If their luck held, then Rupert would be safe, Yussuf Hassam Nazari would be dead, and she would be on her way back home in England.

Result.

Leila took the lead as they jogged at a steady pace away from the palace and the encampment, heading for the hills.

Arabella ignored the niggling stitch in her side, but was happy to catch her breath when she found two horses and supplies waiting in the dip of scrubland.

A closer look at the beasts, had Arabella blow out a low whistle.

“Sarif won’t be happy you’ve purloined a couple of his best Arabians.”

Leila shrugged as she ran a hand over a shiny black flank.

“Over thousands of years, the Bedouin’s breeding programme of natural selection in a harsh environment have perfected the ideal instrument of war. These horses are swift, responsive, agile and tolerant, with courage, loyalty and the ability to remain firm in the face of privation. I’d rather have a fine horse in the desert than a vehicle any day.”

Arabella placed her foot in the stirrup and nimbly settled into the saddle.

The beast was fresh and tested her mettle until she quickly brought it under control.

“How far?” she asked a Leila who was studying the gadget in her hand.

“Eight miles as the crow flies.”

“Shame we’re not crows.”

“No, but I reckon we might be called fools,” Leila muttered beneath her breath.

Arabella turned to her, only seeing her shadow in the darkness.

“They’re going to burn one of their prisoners alive.”

She heard Leila’s quick intake of breath and then, “Fuckers.”

“We can’t let it happen.”

“The Monroe brothers might not be too happy to have us along,” Leila said now.

“By then it will be too late for them to do anything about it.”

“Sarif won’t be happy either. I see the way he looks at you, Bella. He cares.”

“All Sarif cares about it is Sarif,” Arabella said and even as the words spilled from her mouth, she wondered if she was truly being fair to the man. Hadn’t he shown her how much he cared by the way he’d looked after her this evening, seeing to her every need in front of his people?

Then later, as he’d walked her to her rooms, he’d asked to come in and she’d refused him.

He hadn’t got angry, instead he’d held her close and rested his forehead on hers.

“Don’t be afraid, Arabella. I will never hurt you.”

The look for her in his eyes, stormy with needs that had almost brought her to her knees.

Almost.

She’d entered her room and closed the door on his handsome face.

Now she took a deep breath, shook off the memories, and told herself to focus on the task ahead.

As they trotted into a night lit only by the silvery light of a half moon and glittering stars cascading through the heavens, Arabella used all her military skill and expertize to halt the feeling of dread and the nerves dancing in her belly.

For once in her life she wasn’t following her instinct.

Then the words of her Colonel entered her mind, “If you quit, you fail.”

The phrase firmed her resolve to do what was right.

Failure was not an option.

 


 

I just want to say that next week shit hits the fan…….

AND, if all y’all want to read the entire thing from episode one to now then click on this  ‘rolling’ link. Keep the link because it will be updated each week.

https://ccmackenzie.com/about/test/

Love and hugs and smoochies,
Christine X

Thank you… and why I love Kobo

Kobo - May 2018 Distribution Downloads

Greetings from a boiling hot Cheshire!

We’re in the middle of the hottest spell of the year, so far, and I thought it might interest you to see the world map of my Kobo sales. Kobo give publishers a very nifty monthly map of an author’s global reach. The one above is for May 2018 (and June’s is rocking). In May I had downloads of my books in over one hundred and fifty countries via Kobo, how cool is that? I love Kobo for many reasons, but one of them is how they work closely with authors to bring their books to readers. Remember, the Kobo App is free and was voted the Best Reading App and is compatible with Android and iPhone, so go grab it. Don’t forget to sign-up to Kobo’s weekly free book deals. Each book is curated and recommended by a Kobo editor and spans many popular genres.

Check out my CC MACKENZIE page for steals and deals on Kobo now.

And I want to thank each and every one of you for the fabulous reviews of HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN

hitchedtotheitalian3newcoverwithitalianromance

***** “OMG. I just loved this so hard…”  ***** “Wow, CC’s done it again…”  ***** “I don’t know how Christine does it…”

Don’t forget there are two episodes of Desert Captive coming tomorrow and the story’s hotting up, a bit like the weather here.

Christine X

Desert Captive – Episodes 13-16

 

 

H here.

Christine is in bed with a summer cold / flu / fever and trying hard to recover.

In the meantime you are able to read Episodes 13 – 16 on her rolling draft production, which is here:   https://ccmackenzie.com/about/test/

Trust this is helpful until she is back on her feet.

All the best,

H

Desert Captive, episodes 11 + 12….

DCAPTIVEOLDWAYSWILLNOTOPENNEWDOORS

Happy Friday, dear readers,

It’s been a hot, sunny and busy week what with the impending new release of HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN on Friday 15th June – pre-order available everywhere. I’ve had builders in tool belts climbing all over the roof. Tomorrow a very large ceiling is being plastered and the decorating work can commence. This author’s work is never done…

Talking about work, here’s the next two episode’s of Desert Captive… Oh, Sarif, what the hell is the matter with you?

 

DESERT CAPTIVE

by CC MACKENZIE

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

 

EPISODE ELEVEN

 

While Arabella was violently ill, Sarif punched the internal alarm button, his heart thundering wildly against his ribs.

The vehicle screeched to an emergency stop.

The blacked out dividing window slid down and he saw the fierce dark eyes of one of his personal security detail take in the scene at a glance.

Arabella lay boneless in his arms, her head lolling on her shoulders, but worse was the thin line of blood oozing from her nose. Her skin was cold as ice and deathly white.

Sarif felt something like a helpless wave of sheer panic wash over him.

The door was flung open and his team of military medical personnel, a permanent part of his convoy, moved in.

When he felt her belly contract and go hard beneath his hand, his gaze snapped to a medic.

“Is she in labour?”

The medic placed his stethoscope on her belly and listened.

“The child lives.” Then he listened to Arabella. “She is in cardiac arrhythmia.”

Another medic stuck his head in the doorway.

“My Lord, we have a helicopter ready to take Her Royal Highness to the Royal hospital in Dhuma.”

The speed of action the emergency evoked, plus the traumatic journey that followed, the landing and rapid reaction of medical staff, was beyond harrowing for a man used to being in control of all things in his carefully constructed existence.

Well, he wasn’t in control now, Sarif accepted as he showered in the male doctors’ facilities. He changed into dark blue medical scrubs, which were a little snug over his wide shoulders.

 

When he emerged, he was directed to Arabella’s room.

He found her surrounded by beeping machines and a flurry of efficient medical staff who all seemed to know what they were doing.

The doctor in charge turned to him.

He was trim, in his mid-fifties, with intelligent dark eyes and the hooked nose of his kind, Tuareg.

“From initial blood and urine samples it appears she has been poisoned from a tincture of a purgative plant or plants. Our lab technicians are working on an antidote. However, our concern is for the health of the child. If he is delivered now, he will not have a fighting chance. His lungs are immature and he is small for his gestation. And we are having great difficulty stabilizing your wife’s heartbeat. It is possible, Lord, that we may have to make a choice between mother or child or we may lose both.”

Sarif’s hands gripped his head as he studied the woman lying, helpless, on the hospital bed. A woman, he knew, did not trust him to do the right thing by her. And why should she? Hadn’t he accused her of considering to abort his son? And now here he was faced with the horrific choice of who lived and who died?

Too many pairs of eyes were upon him now, awaiting his decision.

He had no one to guide him.

No one to turn to for advice.

And why was that?

Because he’d been too stupid and too stubborn to speak to his father, his mother, or his brother to ask for help when it came to his relationship with Arabella. It was as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes. He could see every single blunder he had made. All he had done was to make one bad decision after the other in a fit of pique, anger and a need for vengeance.

He turned to the doctor.

“No one dies this night.”

The doctor nodded.

“I hope Allah will be kind and give Her Highness time to recover. But if the mother or the child deteriorate a decision must be made.”

Sarif could not tear his eyes from Arabella’s face.

He knew the final decision must be his and his alone.

He needed to do his duty to his people and to his country.

He nodded.

“Save my wife.”

As he strode from the room and the noise of those infernal machines, he told himself if the worst came to the worst, there would be more children.

He’d make sure of it.

Even so, his eyes stung and he knew he could not hold it together for much longer. He waved away his security detail and blindly entered the first door he came to, a dark room. The smell of bleach and disinfectant told him it was filled with cleaning equipment. He shut the door, rested his weary head against it and closed his eyes.

All he could think was that he had failed.

Failed to keep safe the woman he had all but forced to marry him.

Failed to protect the child she carried.

But along with the sense of how badly he’d mishandled the entire situation, was another—anger.

An anger that all but obliterated every last sense of personal failure.

He had a traitor in his midst.

Someone close.

And that person would pay the ultimate price for treason and betrayal with his or her life.

The brisk knock on the door had him take a deep and steady breath.

He swiped his wet face.

Tears were for the weak.

He wondered if the interruption meant the worst had already happened and his son was dead.

However, his personal protection officer stood there.

He kept his eyes firmly on the door behind Sarif’s head as he said, “My Lord, King Abdullah has arrived with Queen Janaan.”

Sarif kept his face expressionless as he nodded, even if inside his mind he groaned loud and long.

Great.

This was all he needed.

How was he going to explain away how he was a married man and, God willing, soon to be a father?

And yet, as he was led to a private room, Sarif had the plunging belly of a man about to face some unintended consequences of his actions.

 

EPISODE TWELVE

 

“The last time we sat in a room together under somewhat similar circumstances, I might add, I was the one doing the explaining,” King Abdullah said now.

Dressed in a dark business suit, handcrafted in Savile Row as were the blindingly white silk shirt and striped tie, his father surveyed Sarif from beneath a slash of ebony brows.

There was nothing luxurious about the functional room with it’s single desk of polished wood and three leather armchairs.

The place smelled of hospital.

It was painted institutional pale grey, the floor a polished ivory tile.

His father continued, “You might imagine our… surprise… to discover that not only are you married, but that we are about to become grandparents. If the child survives…”

Sarif closed his eyes tight and ran a hand across the rasp of his jaw.

He reckoned he’d just gone through one of the worst twelve hours of his life.

The last thing he needed was his father on his case.

He shot a glance at the haughty profile of his beautiful mother, at the raised chin and the way her mouth was a thin line of deep displeasure—with him.

His mother wore flat pumps by the house of Chanel.

He reckoned the skinny silk pants, matching tunic that fell to the knees, sleeves tight to the wrist, were by the same designer. Her black hair was covered by a matching silk scarf. The only jewelry, she wore, was the huge diamond of her wedding ring, and single carat diamond earrings.

“And this is the second attempt on her life you say?” King Abdullah drummed his fingers on the arm of his leather chair the color of clear honey.

“And on the life of the child she carries,” Queen Janaan muttered in her slow Texan drawl. Abruptly she stood and paced across the shiny tiled floor. “Poison is the coward’s weapon of choice. There is a good reason why Khalid has Charisse protected by a ring of steel around the White Palace.”

“Onuur is an easier country to manage than Quarram,” Sarif pointed out what was to him glaringly obvious.

However, by the flash of annoyance in his mother’s dark eyes, he reckoned he should adjust his attitude and keep his big mouth shut.

“And you did not think to invite your family to your wedding?” his mother asked in a soft tone that didn’t hide the hurt in her voice or screen the bewilderment in her eyes.

“Time was not on our side,” Sarif said now and wondered how the hell he was going to dig himself out of this unholy mess. The El Haribe family were close. Always had been. They stuck together. His parents had every right to be angry and upset at not being there to welcome Arabella into their family. Plus, his mother was very fond of his new wife, especially after Bella and Queen Janaan had worked together to keep Charisse safe following an attempt on her life.

“So, the only time she had anything to eat or drink was on the plane?” The King asked.

Sarif nodded and took a shaky breath to try and calm his scattered thought process and failed.

The way Arabella’s body had purged itself of a toxin designed to instigate premature labor was something that would give him night terrors for the rest of his life. Her body had been racked with pain. The blood oozing from her nose and mouth had left him helpless to do anything except hold her. Even now, although dressed in clean soft scrubs, her blood was trapped beneath his fingernails.

“We have been down this road before with Charisse,” his mother said briskly. “We again have enemies within. We received help before, and we need that help now.”

Sarif nodded.

“I agree.”

His mother shot him a toothy smile that did not quite reach her narrowed dark eyes.

“Well it’s a good job we brought the Monroe brothers with us then, isn’t it?”

For the first time Sarif felt a sense of relief.

The Monroe brothers were ex British special forces, fluent in a variety of indigenous Arab dialects and as tough as they came.

However, they were also very close, both professionally and personally, to Arabella and that thought made him wonder exactly how friendly they were going to be towards him.

He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

The brisk knock at the door heralded the arrival of the eldest of the brothers, Captain Bruce Monroe.

Built like a tank Bruce stood six four in his bare feet.

Right now he wore black combats, a Kevlar vest and was armed to the teeth.

His hair was black and shiny as a raven’s wing.

Bright blue eyes found Sarif’s and held without blinking.

Bruce stalked into the room.

“Well now, isn’t this a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, your Royal Highness? Wanna explain to me why the fuck you had Rupert Faulkner, your nineteen year old brother-in-law—for those among us who have no idea who the hell he is—tossed in jail?”

Queen Janaan sank slowly to the edge of a chair and all the while her wide eyes stayed glued in a sort of horrified fascination at her eldest son’s face.

“Omigod. Sarif, did you blackmail poor Arabella into marrying you?”

He had not.

“No. She agreed to marry me before…”

“Before you needed to use your ace in the hole?” Bruce growled the question.

Well, no one had ever said the Monroe brothers were stupid.

Sarif lifted his noble chin.

“I have given orders for his immediate release. As we speak he is winging his way home to England.”

Sarif knew he sounded defensive, but he had done what he thought had been right at the time. As far as he was concerned a wrong decision by him had been put right.

Within two strides Bruce Monroe was in Sarif’s personal space, grabbed him by the neck of his scrubs and jerked him to his feet.

“Wrong. The convoy carrying Rupert Faulkner was attacked this morning. Right now, the boy is in the hands of Yusuf Hassam Nazari.”

Stunned by the magnitude of this disaster, for a moment Bruce’s furious face faded in and out of Sarif’s focus.

Nazari was a sociopath, people trafficker and head of an organized crime syndicate that had spread around the globe.

He was also affiliated with the worst terrorist organization known to man.

“We will get him back,” Sarif growled and took a step back as his personal protection team entered and went for their weapons.

Before lethal forced was used, Bruce released him, but then tested the nerve of his personal protection officers by going nose to nose with their King.

“You fucking betcha we’re gonna get him back. And let me put it this way, his head had better be attached to his shoulders when we do or your wife will personally remove yours from your royal shoulders, Your Highness.”

***

 

Oooooooh, Sarif is in deep excrement.

I’m writing up a storm with this story….. Stay tuned….

Christine X

Hitched To The Italian out now…

hitchedtotheitalian3newcoverwithitalianromance

 

KOBO    iBooks  GOOGLE PLAY   BARNES AND NOBLE

AMAZON USA      AMAZON UK   

Greetings, dear readers!

How exciting is this?  Hitched To The Italian has gone live on Amazon for pre-order for release on June 15th 2018. As soon as I receive the buy links for iBooks/KOBO/Barnes & Noble/Google Play Books, I’ll post them too.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to bring you this story, which includes some sneak peeks of the ups and downs of life in the Ferranti family. I’ve had one of the best times in my writing career. It was a total joy to write. My editor and proofreading company just LOVED this book, which is always a huge relief. And I want to tell you that I’m in the middle of the next story set in this world too, and it’s rocking.

Here’s the Hitched To The Italian description:

 

What happens when the honeymoon is over?

 Bronte Ferranti lives in domestic bliss with her Italian husband, Nico, CEO of Ferranti Hotels and Spas.

As well as being a domestic goddess, mother of four, and keeping her man, satisfied, baby, Bronte runs an award winning wedding cake company.

But juggling so many balls in the air has become impossible.

 And talking of children…

Six year old Sophia rules the roost with a determination, which will not be denied.

Meanwhile, her twin brother, Luca, has collected a bevy of raving girl-fans.

Add in Sophia’s best friend, who’s madly in love with nine year old Tonio,

plus an old flame of Nico’s who has more curves than Jessica Rabbit and wants him back…

Something’s gotta give…

Maybe hitched to the Italian isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

A raising children romantic comedy with a happy ever after!

 

Now it’s a nail-biting wait for the book to drop into your devices.

Not long now!

Big hugs,

Christine X

Desert Captive, episodes 9 & 10…

DCAPTIVEPUNCHINMOUTH

Good evening from a very hot and sultry Cheshire,

We’ve been working incredibly hard on the final proofs and formatting for HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN. We’re waiting on the buy links from all the distributors, and those can take time, but I’ll post them asap.

I’m also 20K into the next Nico & Bronte story STORM IN A ‘B’ CUP, which is the most fun I’ve had writing in a very long time, and I cannot wait to bring this one.

Here’s the next part of Desert Captive.

Enjoy!

 

DESERT CAPTIVE

by CC MACKENZIE

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

After a six hour sleep and plenty of cold water splashed on her face, Bella felt more like her old sparky self, and put down her temperamental state to baby hormones.

She noticed someone had left her a tray of refreshments.

The ache in her belly told her junior was hungry, so she poured herself a glass of ice cold juice, pomegranate, and helped herself to a little hard cheese with luscious figs and fresh fruit.

It struck her the plane had begun to descend.

She looked out a window, but could see only darkness.

Surely if they were approaching Quarram’s cosmopolitan and capital city, she’d see lights?

Before she could organize her thoughts, the door opened and Sarif entered.

She blinked.

He wore a heavy black Thwab edged in gold and a ceremonial besht.

On his head he wore a gold cord Igaal.

His face looked as if it was carved from solid granite.

Austere.

Unforgiving.

Beneath brooding brows, he stared at her, his grey eyes probing her face.

“You have been crying.” Frowning now, he placed an expensive looking hooded robe of ivory wool on the bottom of the bed. “If I upset you, I apologise, but I want no misunderstandings between us. While you carry my son, it is my duty to attend to your wellbeing. No more arguments. They  are not good for the baby.”

Why those words should hurt so bad, Bella had no idea.

He’d laid his opinion of her firmly on the line, and so had she of him.

Shame he refused to listen, never mind believe her.

“You have judged me and found me wanting without listening with an open mind to what I had to say. I am not ashamed. I have told no lies,” she told him woodenly, misery creeping over her like a noxious cloud that seemed to shut out her ability to remain calm and professional.

Where were all these feelings coming from?

Jeez, what was with the pregnancy hormones?

“You need to be realistic about our marriage. I have set the boundaries…”

“Fair enough,” she shot back. “But you have decided to punish me for sins I did not commit. When you’ve had enough of listening to your own voice and come down off your self righteous soap box, I expect a lengthy apology.”

“Is that all you have to say to me?” he roared, and right then Bella decided that if he raised his voice to her one more time, she’d swing for him.

She stood, long legs spread, her fists on her hips.

“You know something, Your Majesty, I find myself stuck in that place between—I really don’t want to antagonize you and I want to punch you in the mouth.”

“There will be no violence in our relationship,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Then you’d better wind back the bad temper or I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

He shifted and went nose to nose with her.

And God, he smelled amazing.

Spicy.

Hot.

Lickable.

She held her breath and focused on the subject at hand.

“I find when someone claims saintdom, the bigger horns they are hiding.”

Well, she was certainly no saint.

Then again, nor was she a sinner.

“What do I have to hide?”

“Why were you crying?”

“I’m pregnant. It’s hormones. At the moment I’d cry at the opening of an envelope.”

“Admit it. I upset you.”

“You are not worth the price of my tears.”

He opened his mouth to respond, and then obviously thought better of it.

When he lifted the robe from the bed and offered it to her, she simply stared at him in silent enquiry.

“Wear this. It is cold in the desert at dawn.”

Dawn?

She turned to the window and saw the early grey light, the promise of a new day.

“Desert?”

“Yes. You will be safe here.”

All at sea, she shrugged on the robe, and wondered what on earth he was talking about.

“Here?”

“Yes. We are about to land at the private airfield of my winter palace.”

She blinked.

The winter palace was deep in the north of the country.

Near her brother?

“Why not the city?”

“The news of our marriage will be a huge shock to my people. If you remember I had already announced our engagement when you ran away like a coward. Many officials are aware you left Quarram under the cover of darkness. They see your reluctance to marry me as a personal slight upon their King.” The ceiling lights flashed along with the ding of a bell. He held out his hand. “Come, we must take our seats. We are about to land.”

Bella shot him a tense troubled glance, and took his hand.

Then she wished she hadn’t because she couldn’t work out how his touch felt so right when everything between them was so terribly wrong.

As they walked through the outer office, the skinny man she’d seen before watched her out of the corner of his eye.

Normally, she wasn’t a fanciful or overly-sensitive sort of person, but the guy truly gave her the creeps.

Sarif stopped and turned to him.

“Hafar? Has everything been prepared?” Sarif asked in English.

The small twist of Hafar’s thin lips was supposed to be a smile, Bella reckoned.

She was fascinated by the fact that as far as Hafar was concerned, she might as well be invisible.

“Indeed, my Lord. Everything is as you instructed,” Hafar responded in Farsi.

In response, Sarif nodded once, as if he expected nothing less than his will be done.

They continued down the aisle, took their seats, clipped their seatbelts and the plane descended sharply.

Bella stared out the window and all she saw was a vast wasteland.

Then she saw two lines of lit torches dug into the sand.

But it was the long line of horsemen, six deep and dressed from head to toe in black that had her breath hitch.

Bedouin.

She swung around to find Sarif watching her closely.

“What are they doing here?”

“They are here to protect my queen and my child.”

“From whom?”

He leaned into her, his eyes fixed unblinking on hers.

The scent of him seemed to wind around her and draw her in.

His gaze dropped to her mouth, and just like that her nipples peaked.

“Perhaps from herself?”

At the clear challenge in his tone, she turned to study the vast horizon stretching as far as the eye could see and at the tents, the horses, the goats and the men, women and children, who had come to welcome their King home.

In that moment, she’d never felt so alone or so far from home.

 

EPISODE TEN

As the stewards moved to open the jet doors, Sarif took her hand.

“Cover your hair. Put up your hood,” he muttered.

He waited until she’d obeyed his request before leading her to the top of the flight of stairs.

As soon as they appeared a great roar came from the crowd.

Women lifted their voices in a eulogy of sound.

And when Sarif brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles, the roar only grew.

Although his country was in many ways blessed with great wealth, there were desperately poor people in Quarram. Not as many as when he’d first come to the throne.

But one was one too many as far as Sarif was concerned.

These people, his people, who greeted him now were people of the desert.

They were lean and mean.

The men had guns and belts of ammunitions strapped across their thin chests.

Hundreds of dark eyes, filled to the brim with suspicion, watched Bella as he led her down the stairs and into the back seat of an all-terrain vehicle.

Dusty-haired toddlers clung to their older brothers and sisters.

Once settled in the back seat of the car, he turned to study Bella’s pale face.

He knew she must be wondering why on earth he had brought her here.

If he was a gentleman, he’d tell her why.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling polite this morning.

“Have you considered my offer?” he asked her now.

Those dark eyes flashed into his.

And just like that he went rock hard.

“Neither me or my child is for sale,” she snapped.

“Every human being on this earth has a price.”

She lifted her chin.

“How much did your French mistress cost you for her to walk out of your life?”

“My past is none of your business.”

His words had brought a flush to her cheeks.

“I apologize. You are correct. Your past is none of my business,” she said with a bloody-minded determination he was coming to admire. “But you had better remain faithful to our marriage while we’re in it. I do not share.”

Well now, wasn’t this interesting?

It seemed his reluctant bride was willing to share his bed.

“I agree.”

Something deep and visceral inside him seemed to want to celebrate with a joy he found hard to contain that she wanted him.

He studied her slim figure, swathed within soft cashmere.

The robe could not hide her long legs.

Her breasts and hips were hidden so he could not understand why just looking at her lovely face, that full bottom lip and those dark brown eyes turned him on to the point of pain. He wondered how long it would take for him to discover the secret of her overwhelming attraction, how long it would take for him to weary of her and start living for the day he could seize upon his freedom again. He never stayed with a woman longer than a couple of months and even then on the most casual basis. Now, he realized, that with a child joining them together, forever, he was about to face an incredibly steep learning curve, and so was she.

“So,” she whispered, her dark eyes wary. “How is this thing going to work between us?”

Sarif moved closer, a sparkling sort of intensity and great power forcing him towards her. Gleaming eyes studied her strained face.

“Where it all began. Me determined to have you, and you backing away…”

Bella’s breath caught in her throat because her physical reaction to him was not normal.

Hell, she was a kick-ass, so why did she want to shrink from this man?

“I scare you,” he murmured, obviously able to read her body language.

And didn’t that just annoy the hell out of her?

“I’m not scared,” she told him in a tight little voice, but she knew, he knew, she was lying through her teeth. And right now her whole body was in a state of conflict. Too much adrenaline was humming through her system along with a well-honed and well-trained inner alarm system which rang inside her baby, befuddled brain. She wanted to hold him and she wanted to push him away because she just knew, pushing men away felt like a natural reaction rather than wanting to get one naked. Yet, she was desperate to get him naked. Hell, she wanted him to do things to her she had never wanted before, and all of those feelings seriously messed with her training and common sense.

Yet, she simply could not deny the frissons already inflamed that he sat so close fought with her inbuilt warning device. Her skin prickled, her breasts pushing against the constraint of her bra as her nipples became too tight too fast. Her mouth went dust dry. Just taking a steady breath became virtually impossible while her body already over sensitized with pregnancy, struggled to fight the wave of heat rising from her pelvis.

“You must know I will never hurt you,” Sarif whispered, his voice a low husk, wrapping a strong arm around her with an almost lazy strength, arching her back to trail slow kisses across her cheek and down to her jaw.

Then with an abruptness that made her cry out loud, the world spun sickly.

White dots danced in front of her eyes.

A cold sweat beaded on her forehead, upon her top lip.

And her belly went tight.

Too tight.

“What is it?” she heard Sarif’s voice as if from a long way away. “Arabella?”

There was a buzzing in her ears, as if a million bees were inside her head, and then the world went dark.

 

*****

Ooooh, looks like trouble ahead.

Keep an eye on my next post, it will be the links for HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN, and I cannot wait for you to get your sticky fingers on this one. My editor and proofreading team just love it!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Coming soon….

hitchedcomingsoonbanner

Good morning from sunny Cheshire,

HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN has gone for final proofing, do I hear a yay?

As soon as I’ve fixed any bloopers, the file goes for formatting for upload to all the stores. When I receive the pre-order links, I’ll post them. We’re doing a short pre-order so that the book lands at the same time everywhere.

The idea for me to write stories incorporating some of the weekly sneak peeks came from readers. As an author, I’ve had the best time writing HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN. I cannot wait to bring you the full length story showcasing the ups and downs and sometimes chaotic lives of Nico, Bronte, Sophia, Luca and Tonio & Co.

As I drew to The End of this book, it became very clear that there as a lot more potential adventures for the family to come. So stay tuned for a huge surprise next month.

Love and hugs,

Christine X

It’s episodes 6 + 7 of DESERT CAPTIVE…

desertcaptivebanner6+7

 

Hello, my darlings!

Did you enjoy THE ROYAL WEDDING last Saturday? We loved the whole romance of the special occasion and how much in the love the couple were. Meghan looked radiant in the splendour of the Chapel. I wish them every happiness and know they are going to be a great team.

Speaking of teams, HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN’S final edit is almost in the bag and my editor love-love-loved it. It includes some re-written sneak peeks woven through the torrid tale, and I have the next two outlines fleshed out in the HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN series. My team and I have had the best time coming up with the next two titles and covers. Love my job!  I’m also working on OUR RULES.

Here’s the next two episodes of DESERT CAPTIVE. Remember these are not the final version of the story, things will change in the finished version of the book after many rounds of editing.

Enjoy!

DESERT CAPTIVE

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

 

EPISODE SIX

Sarif surveyed Arabella, the woman who within a matter of moments, was about to become his wife.

Her scent, lightly floral and warm woman, seemed to draw him in. The slim hand held in his felt cold and even a little fragile. On her finger she wore a giant diamond solitaire ring that appeared too big for her hand. Even as her fingers gripped his, the knuckles white, the stone glittered with a blazing brilliance. It was a beautiful ring befitting a Queen. His Queen. His. A heat he could do nothing about, no matter how hard he tried, burned in his groin. It was her body, he told himself urgently. There was just something about how slim she appeared in an ivory silk pant suit, an outfit sent to her by Queen Charisse’s couturier in the House of Chanel. Queen Charisse was a good friend to Arabella and soon to be her sister-in-law. His brother, Khalid, and Charisse had been unable to attend this very sudden wedding. Neither had his parents, which was probably just as well because it was not a for-ever kind of marriage and he knew they would not approve of his actions. The entire ceremony was nothing more than the only way for him to legally claim his son.

Now he studied Bella’s set face. Her hair was the color of the true brunette, dark chestnut shot through with brandy. Her face was oval, the cheekbones sharp, the skin clear and fresh and quite lovely. Her mouth was full, the bottom lip might even be called voluptuous. It was a mouth that left him painfully turned on. Aware of his scrutiny, her eyes, dark brown, flicked to his and held.

Hot tendrils of a lust that never faded whenever he looked at her spun through his system.

His attraction to her remained a complete mystery to him.

For the past few days this woman, with her face stony, her responses tense and cool to his attempt to make polite conversation, only made him tense and cool himself. And yet now that held her hand, his whole body was ablaze.

The celebrant officiating the legal ceremony asked her a question and finally she smiled and it lit up her grave face like the sun. In truth, the smile was both wooden and formal. Involuntarily Sarif was amused for no woman had ever treated him the way Bella did, with such utter disdain. Then she turned to him and he studied the clear challenge in her eyes and asked himself if marrying her was worth everything he was sacrificing. Of course it was, his intelligence told him. For the loss of his freedom he had to be practical and work within the British legal system and do anything to gain custody of his son. One way or another marriage to this woman was a step forward in attaining his goal to secure the continued heritage of his family and his name. Both would go a long way to securing a better future for his people.

Silence fell as they both said the words that legally bound them, and he had another flashback to how her tight bare bottom had felt as his hands had gripped her as her long legs had wound around his waist and together they’d attained a dizzy height of bliss he’d never felt before or since.

Now he wondered if her clear unwillingness to even speak to him since they’d made love that one time had stoked a weird sort of craving. Again hunger leapt through his veins because now she was his. The thought of her spread across his vast bed in various different positions shot heat to his groin. He could not remember ever wanting a woman with such violent immediacy. Was it possible that her reluctance sustained his desire? Was he truly the type of man who needed the sort of challenge, Bella truly represented? And why was the truth of her standing next to him and pregnant with his child such a turn on? Wasn’t that a little perverted? A hard line of color streaked his exotic, high cheekbones, and he stood upright and told himself to get a grip.

The celebrant smiled.

“You may kiss the bride.”

Slowly, they turned to face one another.

Now he held both of her hands in his as he stared at the narrow band of gold that signified their joining as man and wife.

In his mind, Sarif promised himself the kiss would be a brief touch of the lips.

No more.

No less.

But when those clear dark brown eyes gazed unflinchingly, so intently into his, he found his hand raised to brush a stray hair behind her small ear.

And then as he touched her, the sudden tremble in her body, shook him to the core.

He bent his head and inhaled the scent of her shampoo.

Slowly… agonizingly slowly… his mouth touched hers and he brushed his lips back and forth across the full softness of her bottom lip.

Her shaky exhales came in short, ragged breaths.

The barely there touch of his mouth against hers felt like heaven.

It felt incredible.

His eyes fluttered shut.

His big body shivered.

The moan from her increased his easy exploration of her mouth. Pleasure charged through his system like a jolt of lightning and he nearly orgasmed right in front of witnesses.

His body needed more.

He needed more.

Their bodies, as if magnetised, moved closer until pressed together, but still felt too far apart.

Only the low cough from someone behind him, brought Sarif back to his senses.

He blinked, and lifted his head until their mouths reluctantly parted.

When she tasted her lips, he found himself mirroring the move.

Her taste was like honey.

He couldn’t help it.

Still holding her hands, he rested his forehead on hers.

“Well, well, well,” he muttered under his breath, his eyes locked on hers. “Seems we still have that carnal lust between us. Interesting how one can abhor a person and yet feel attraction, isn’t it?”

Her face paled as if he’d slapped her, but he wasn’t at all sorry.

The last thing he wanted her to believe was that he was a romantic fool.

No point in letting her get too comfortable in this short relationship.

And he most definitely didn’t want her to know that she had any sort of power over him.

Hands down, he’d just had one of the most erotic moments of his adult life.

Maybe being forced to marry Arabella Faulkner had a silver lining.

He wanted her.

She wanted him.

When it came to her keeping the promises she’d just made to him, the fact was he didn’t trust her an inch.

However, maybe they’d both get something unexpected out of the farce she was prepared to play.

After all, it wasn’t as if she could get pregnant when they had sex.

That boat, as the old saying went, had already sailed.

 

EPISODE SEVEN

Bella settled into a corner of the gilded limousine with police outriders whisking them to the airport and a Quarram Royal jet. Queen Arabella. If the whole thing wasn’t so utterly ridiculous, she’d actually find it funny. She studied Sarif’s lean, darkly handsome face. He looked so different from the man she had first met in Onuur. He was proud of his country and his heritage. Yet, he hadn’t worn his national dress for their marriage, something which had surprised her. Now he wore a sharply tailored suit with the style and flair of one born to such formality. Exquisitely tailored in a fine dark grey wool and silk blend, the cut of the suit outlined his broad shoulders and wide chest and enhanced his lean hips and those long powerful legs to a T.

For some reason, her body seemed to tremble like a tuning fork in his illustrious presence, and that seriously irritated her. The truth might be hard to swallow, but the fact was that no matter how much he angered or annoyed her, it appeared he still fascinated her. A voice told her she was emotionally treading on dangerous ground and to take care. However, the voice was unable to stop her temperature rising along with her heartbeat. Pregnancy had sensitized her breasts to the point where they felt constricted by her bra. She pressed her slim trouser-clad thighs together, fighting a losing battle to control the growing heat at the heart of her.

“If you keep looking at me like that I’ll have to do something about it,” Sarif said in a silky voice that held both a threat and a promise.

Bella’s cheeks burned with a mortification that made her want to slap herself.

Jeez, what the hell was wrong with her?

She was acting as if she had a starring role in a romance novel and that this marriage was for real.

Then she found herself saying, “You started it. You kissed me first.”

“In your culture it is expected of the groom to kiss the bride. And anyway, you kissed me back.”

She shut her eyes tight.

True.

She had kissed him back and loved every single minute of it.

“We sound like two bickering children,” she muttered.

“We are both suffering from nothing more than an overwhelming chemical reaction, which has caused an unwanted attraction and an equally unwanted sexual frustration between us,” he said thickly. “I have never gone without sex for so long. In the last two weeks I have had enough cold showers to last me three lifetimes.”

That frank response set her cheeks on fire, a tide of mortification washing up over her neck and face. Her gaze evaded those blazing grey eyes in a face that looked as if it was carved from stone. Something compelling went tight low in her pelvis, a contracting thread of a very physical yearning that was powerful enough to shatter her already frayed nerves.

What the hell had happened to her legendary professional cool?

She was renowned for keeping calm in a crisis.

Well, she was so far from calm right now it wasn’t funny.

All she wanted to do was get the man naked.

Worse, she knew he felt exactly the same way.

The bloody hormone apocalypse strikes again, she thought savagely.

“You were late. I thought you were going to jilt me at the altar,” he said now without a lick of humor in his voice.

“Don’t think I didn’t think about it.”

“What changed your mind?”

Now might be the perfect time to tell him she knew he held her brother captive.

She was sorely tempted to wipe that smirk off his gorgeous face.

However, for once her professional common sense prevailed.

If she tipped her hand too soon, Sarif would discover that the British Secret Service knew too, and that would put the success of their rescue plan at risk. The last thing she wanted was to put her brother in even more danger, so she kept quiet. For now. Let Sarif be the one to confess his many sins and explain himself to her. She looked forward to hearing his reasoning behind her brother’s imprisonment. Knowing Sarif it was bound to be interesting.

“As you said yourself, London is dangerous. I only want what’s best for my baby and to keep it safe,” she said at last.

He sat there with his attitude one of a Lord of all he surveyed.

Including her, she reminded herself.

The man was in superb condition.

He was long and lean.

Fit.

Swept back ebony hair, brooding brows.

A firm don’t-mess-with-me mouth.

“Do you really?” he asked in that horrible silky voice she was coming to detest.

She blinked.

“Of course I do. I’ve no idea why you would think anything else.”

“This is neither the time nor the place to have that conversation,” Sarif told her as the limousine came to halt at the airport.

After that, the chance for any private dialogue ceased until they were whizzed through passport control onto the vast jet.

Once settled in a comfortable chair of the softest leather, and treated like a Queen by the crew, even then, she had no opportunity to ask him just what the hell he meant by that statement. When it came to wanting what was best for her child, as far as he was concerned, what was there to talk about? Obviously, he had no idea that she had no intention of either staying in Quarram long term or of leaving her child behind either.

If Sarif ever discovered she had another agenda, he’d make sure her life wasn’t worth living, and he’d take their child.

She knew he would.

And he might be all laid back and casual about sex, but she wasn’t.

Contrarily, she now wished she hadn’t been a virgin when they’d had sex, that she’d been more experienced in that regard.

As the jet engine roared for take-off, seemed even the air-traffic controllers pulled out all the stops for His Majesty, Bella knew she had just burned many bridges of a personal nature.

Her parents hadn’t come to the wedding, for the simple reason she hadn’t invited them.

What was the point of dragging them to a ceremony that not only meant nothing, but she’d need to explain herself and her actions to her father when she returned to the UK with a baby boy?

As the plane levelled out, she watched Sarif stalk out of a door, which held some kind of office where he’d had a pow-pow with a skinny little man who’d kept giving her the side-eye as soon as she’d stepped onto the aircraft.

Now Sarif strode down the red carpeted walkway towards her.

He had a face like thunder.

Bella reckoned that stick up his ass must hurt—a lot.

Maybe she’d give it a twist.

He stopped by the chair, offered his hand.

“Now we are out of British air space, on this plane we are on Quarram sovereign territory. Come with me.”

Something about they way he looked at her, as if she was a bad smell beneath his noble nose, should have warned her.

Later, she’d bitterly regret giving him her hand and allowing herself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

No one took any notice of them as he towed her through the office and that horrible little man who didn’t even raise his head to acknowledge her existence.

Interested in the way the plane was designed, with a sort of private apartment constructed at the rear, she said nothing as he led her past a sitting arrangement and through to what was obviously a luxuriously appointed double bedroom.

“Sit,” he ordered, pointing to the bed.

Heart pounded at the thought of being ravished by this man, because why would he bring her here in the first place?

She sat.

He closed the door, locked it, and turned to face her.

Back resting against the door, he crossed his arms.

“How much is my son worth to you?”

Stunned, she stared at him.

“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me.”

“How much? Ten million? Twenty million? Fifty million? Name your price.”

Feeling as if someone had smacked her on the head with a hammer, she shook her head.

Who the hell was this man?

“Let me get this straight. You want to buy my child?”

“No. I already have my son safely on this plane and almost in my country where he will stay. You may not leave until after my son is born. I am asking you how much it will cost to get you out of my son’s life.”

She took a deep inhale of breath, and let fury rule.

“There is not a chance in hell that I would ever abandon my child.”

Sarif shifted to sit back on a small love seat with an hauteur that was, she realized, not at all contrived. It was an innate part of him, probably from birth. Breeding. That was it. Something told her it would still be a part of him as he took his last breath, which if he kept up this type of behaviour his last breath wouldn’t be long coming.

The contempt corrupting his fine mouth was a grotesque thing.

“Give it up,” he spoke in that slow drawl that she was seriously coming to loathe.

“If you felt like this about me, why on earth did you bring me here?”

He was on his feet so fast, she reared further back on the bed.

“Why?” he roared like a bull.

Whoa.

His complete loss of control, his temper, made her shrink back.

“You were prepared to KILL MY SON, woman. My heir.”

She frowned.

“Utter nonsense,” she returned, her voice sharp.

Those dark brows rose above icy grey eyes.

“I have photographs of you attending an abortion clinic in early pregnancy.”

For about ten seconds, she stared unblinking at the wall over his shoulder, her brain working fast.

When the penny dropped, she studied him and reckoned he’d lost his tiny mind.

He certainly looked as if he had by the way he stared at her now, as if she was beyond evil.

“Actually, you’re quite wrong about that, it was a clinic…”

“Where they kill babies,” he ground out.

She slowly shook her head, wondering how the hell he’d managed to twist the facts in his mind.

“No,” she said in a soft voice. “There are times when a pregnancy goes wrong. Perhaps the baby dies in the womb. Or there’s a genetic issue with one or both parents or even the fetus itself and life is not viable.”

“The place is not a normal ante-natal unit,” he stated. “Why were you there if not to discuss ending your pregnancy?”

She blinked.

Omigod.

He’d never believe her, she realized with something like panic gripping her throat.

“I was sent there to be tested for a genetic anomaly that runs in my family,” she whispered, and just knew what was coming.

“And if you had found that anomaly, what then?”

“Then there would have been a discussion about whether life was viable… or not.”

One black brow rose.

And she knew, she just knew, that she’d lost this man’s trust forever.

If there was one thing she understood about his culture it was that a baby boy was the most precious thing to a man. Even if the child was not perfect in every way, that child was loved and adored.

Then again, when it came to her family, there was a very good reason her brother was very precious to her parents. Before she was born their first child, a son, had died at ten months with the rare genetic condition mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Nothing could be done to save him. Even worse, the joining of her parents DNA had caused the condition in the first place. It had been vital to Bella’s peace of mind that she discover if she’d inherited a gene mutation too. Her relief at being clear had been a heady time of joy for her.

“And you did not think to reach out me at that time, or did you believe I did not have a right to know?”

He had a point, she reluctantly agreed.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t give you a thought. I was sick as a dog. My brain just wasn’t functioning logically and I was terrified of bad news. When the tests results were normal, I focused on me and the baby. I made sure I ate properly and got plenty of rest. That’s it.”

He stood, towering over her.

Big.

Strong.

Masculine.

His scent alone was a potent reminder of the time they’d come together, rutting like wild animals.

Wild.

Free.

Erotic.

Hot.

All those thoughts and more had heat flood her neck, her cheeks.

And her heart sank at the look on his face for her.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that as far as I am concerned you were prepared to destroy my child, my son, if you thought it was necessary. I believe everything written in a thorough report of your movements by people I trust, people who are loyal to the throne of Quarram and the El Haribe family. As for your motivations, I do not believe you. You betrayed me and for that betrayal you will pay.”

Now she stood.

“That is not true.”

“To me you are merely a reluctant incubator. Make no mistake. My son will be born safe and well. And then you will be thrown out of my country.”

At that moment Bella knew that in this mood, he’d never believe her side of the story no matter how hard she tried to make him see sense.

Sarif was a man with a plan, and she had no idea what was coming next.

He was stubborn.

He hated her.

She hated him.

In spite of the mutual hate-fest whirling around them, a low throb of lust deep in her belly shocked her.

How in the world could she be attracted to a knuckle dragging Neanderthal?

How did any of this make sense?

When he turned on his heel, unlocked the door and banged it shut, Bella sank to the edge of the bed and just stared into space.

She took time to re-live the drama of their entire conversation.

A woman couldn’t be strong all the time.

Sometimes she needed to be alone

and let her tears fall…

 

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

Time for another two episodes of Desert Captive…

desertcaptivebanner3

 

*Waving atcha, guys!”

Who’s excited about the Royal Wedding…… We’re having a party in this house tomorrow to celebrate the wedding of the year. Cannot wait!

I’m working so hard on great stories for you. HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN is heading for final edits and my editor is in bits over some scenes. *Evil laugh*. I’m working on OUR RULES too. And GREGORIO’S BRIDE, which will be a Christmas story and is rocking along. But it’s time for the next two episodes of DESERT CAPTIVE… Enjoy!

DESERT CAPTIVE

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODES FIVE AND SIX

 

EPISODE FIVE

 

While Bella waited for him to speak, Gilchrist stood, and moved to study a vibrant bouquet of fresh flowers.

He sniffed a fat pink rose.

His fingertip stroked the velvet petal like a lover.

It sorted of reminded her of the way Sarif had touched her, his fingertips gentle as they’d stroked her bare back, after a tumultuous de-flowering that had shocked both of them to the core. The memory of how he’d towered over her, his dark face fierce, those sharp cheekbones flushed. She remembered how his eyes had gone wide as he’d cum. She remembered how he’d felt inside her, thick, powerful, overwhelming really as he’d taken her body and every thought in her mind. All those memories, and more, made her shiver.

She blinked.

Annoyed with herself, she wondered why the moment that had changed both their lives forever had leaped into her mind right at that moment.

Gilchrist was too busy with the flowers to notice, thank goodness, because that man’s intuition was a blade honed by intelligence and an experience of people that made it razor sharp.

At the moment, it appeared he needed time to gather his thoughts. and that bothered her.

It bothered her a lot, because in her experience of him in the past, the Colonel was not a man who second guessed himself.

Once he made a decision, he was a man of action.

Determined.

Driven.

Merciless.

However, it appeared, he was happy to show her a softer side to his personality, if the way he delicately inhaled the scent of another flower was anything to go by.

That tickle of alarm, of the feeling that something was off, again slid down her spine.

Without turning, he took out of his inside jacket pocket a slim silver metal device in the shape of a pen.

She recognised a device that was state-of-the-art, a new digital scanner.

He pressed a button, a tiny blinking blue light appeared and he moved the scanner around and through the flowers, beneath the clear glass vase, then did a quick and thorough sweep of the room including her bed.

While he was busy looking for God knew what, Bella sat there and waited.

Slipping the scanner into his pocket, he returned to his seat.

From a side pocket he produced a small clear plastic bag.

The bag contained three tiny bugs, listening devices.

“Found these in here this morning.”

This morning?

Something of her shock must have shown on her face because he nodded.

“I thought it wise to take precautionary measures. After all, they failed to kill you or severely injure you once. Who was to say they may not make another desperate attempt to take the life of you or your child. A nurse who is one of ours did a quick sweep of the room while you slept. To be honest, we didn’t expect to find anything, since we believed we had you wrapped up all nice and tight. You may imagine our surprise.”

Through her good eye, Bella peered at the bugs.

“They look Russian.”

He nodded.

“Well spotted.”

“Which means they didn’t overhear my conversation with Sarif, because I assume you found them before he arrived,” she muttered.

Gilchrist’s bushy brows rose above his black framed glasses.

“I suppose it all depends on who they are working for, doesn’t it?”

Her eyes flew to his.

“You suspect Sarif?”

“He actually entered the room early this morning. When he took a break, our nurse did the scan. Who else was in here alone with you?”

He was right.

Sarif had been permitted entry to her room while she slept.

Gilchrist continued, “From what I hear, to gain access, he and the Quarram Ambassador made a bit of a nuisance of themselves with the authorities who run this hospital. We slipped up there, and I can assure you a head will roll because of it.”

Returning the little bag to his pocket, he sat back, looking pleased, he had her full attention.

“From what we’ve learned of Sarif’s character, during his many trips to London to attempt a dialogue with you, and may I just say I’ve been impressed at the way you managed to keep him at arms length for so long, he is a man who is not only ruthless, but by his recent behaviour, he is not shy to place himself above the law. When I say he is not afraid to take any prisoners, I mean it in a literal sense, which is unfortunate news for you, my dear.”

Bella blinked.

“Me?”

“I know he is a difficult man, however, it’s terribly unfortunate that you are not on speaking terms with your father, Arabella.”

She frowned, not liking where the conversation was going.

“What has my father got to do with Sarif or Quarram?”

“It’s not your father I am concerned about at the moment, it is another member of your family.”

Unease slid into her belly.

“Who?”

“It’s Rupert, my dear.”

She shook her head.

“I don’t understand. Rupert’s only a boy. He’s a student. He’s studying anthropology at Cambridge.”

Gilchrist took a breath and when his eyes met hers, the expression in them—one of doom—made her breath hitch.

“Right at this moment, Rupert Faulkner is rotting in a dungeon in an ancient Moorish prison in up country Quarram.”

Bella’s head spun.

“What the hell for?”

“Apparently he tried to smuggle an ancient piece of antiquity out of the country.”

Bella didn’t hesitate.

“Bullshit. Rupert is a straight arrow.”

Gilchrist nodded.

“Quite.”

“Has the British Consul in Quarram made a formal complaint?”

“I imagine they would, if they knew anything about it.”

She blinked.

“I don’t understand.”

“It seems there is no official record of Rupert entering the country in the first place. There is certainly no official record of him having left. There is only one person who wields enough power and authority in Quarram to make custom documentation and a British citizen disappear…”

Oh, Bella could join the dots just fine.

“Sarif,” she whispered.

For a long pause no one spoke, until she blurted, “But what on earth would he have to gain?”

“Leverage.”

“For what?”

Gilchrist studied her face, her eyes.

“I think that bump on the head may have affected your reasoning. You are carrying his child. His heir. If Sarif cannot persuade you to accompany him to Quarram, it appears he’s perfectly ready, willing and able to blackmail you to bend to his Imperial will.”

Bella’s nostrils flared.

“If he did that I would kill him.”

“Understandable. However, killing Sarif would not bring your brother back. It would only sign his death sentence.”

Sincerely shocked, because Gilchrist was not describing a Sarif El Haribe that Bella recognized.

The Sarif she knew had a deep seated sense of right and wrong.

He put duty, to his people and his country, at the centre of everything he did.

“This doesn’t make sense. Sarif is no dictator or despot,” she said now. “Why would he do such a thing?”

Gilchrist lifted his hands in a who-knows gesture.

“And therein lies the rub. He has no history of violence or a psychological kink in his make up, that we know of, to suddenly morph into a tyrant. However, something fundamental has changed him. And I thought you might hold the answer to why he would entice your brother to Quarram, plant an artefact on his person as he attempted to leave the country and then make him, to all intents and purposes, disappear.”

“Wait. He enticed Rupert to Quarram? How?”

“How do you think? By offering a rare opportunity for a British anthropology team to have the first look at a new find. Kept strictly hush-hush of course. They didn’t use any of the main airports to fly in and out, for obvious reasons.”

“Thieves,” Bella breathed. “Due to the way terrorist groups in the region have pillaged world heritage sites there’s a thriving market in rare Arab antiquities.”

“Precisely. What young man of his energy and intellect, thirsty for adventure and fired up with a voracious ambition to make a name for himself in his chosen field, could possibly resist such temptation?”

Now that, temptation, she could readily believe of Sarif.

Hell, hadn’t she succumbed to his lethal temptation herself?

Bella closed her eyes.

“God, my mother must be frantic.”

Gilchrist pursed his lips.

“I suspect she might be, if she knew anything about it.”

Bella’s eyes flew to his.

“He’s not told her?” she asked referring to her father.

“Not yet. He reached out to me first. I was on my way to see you when events,” he waved a hand down her person lying in the hospital bed, “somewhat overtook us.”

Again she closed her eyes.

God, that meant her father not only knew she’d been injured, but that she was pregnant.

An unmarried mother.

He’d never forgive her for that.

This situation was one hot mess.

But it was a vivid anxiety for her baby brother that made her heart twist in her chest.

Rupert was clever.

He was physically fit since he rowed for his university team, but he was not equipped to deal with isolation, maybe even starvation and worse…

Her imagination wanted to run wild.

Then logic took control.

There was no way that any man from the royal house of El Haribe would torture an innocent young man—a boy.

“Sarif would never harm him.”

Gilchrist sat back and folded his arms.

His eyes fixed on Bella’s face.

“Are you sure about that? What about to gain parental control of a son?”

“He’s an Arab. He’d do anything to legitimise his child,” she whispered her thoughts aloud.

“Anything?” Gilchrist asked.

Facing the truth, Bella nodded.

“Anything.”

 

  EPISODE SIX

 

“Good job I have a plan,” the Colonel said.

If he did, Bella wanted to hear it.

She was ready to kick-ass.

First, she needed to know her brother was safe.

Second, she couldn’t wait to listen to Sarif’s explanation.

It had damned well better be a good one.

“I’m all ears.”

“Cambridge University, under implicit instructions from my department, have applied to Quarram for an exploration permit to send a team—actually special agents—to authenticate a find of ancient relics in the north of the country, where we believe Rupert is being held.”

The promise held in those words, that her country was actually going to do something to get her brother out, had a lovely little ripple run through Bella’s blood. A little ripple she hadn’t felt for months since she’d left the service.

“Since you’re telling me this, I assume I’ve returned to active service?”

“You’ve never been off active service, my dear.”

She nodded and took a breath.

“Okay. What’s my role?”

Gilchrist didn’t hesitate.

“Simple. You marry Sarif, become Queen of Quarram, find out what’s going on in the upper echelons of Sarif’s Court, and free your brother.”

She blinked.

The man had lost his tiny mind.

There was no way in hell she was going to marry Sarif now.

No way.

“Why on earth would I do something so stupid?”

“Vengeance?”

Bella angled her head.

“Are you really going to suggest I marry Sarif for payback for kidnapping my brother?”

“Only a thought. But now you mention it…”

“You’re crazy.”

His eyes narrowed.

“And if I made it an order?”

“You’re forgetting one small thing.”

Those bushy brows rose in a silent question.

“The baby,” she said, pointing to her bump.

He lifted a hand as if to say, no big deal.

“Once you have played your part, we will get both of you out as soon as you request it.”

This time she raised her own brows, and then made an ouch face when her head hurt.

“So, you basically want a female James Bond and a baby to do your dirty work.”

“No one will ever suspect you. It’s the perfect cover.”

At that moment, Bella reckoned that sometimes the best thing you could do was to just remain silent because no words could explain the shit going on in her heart and mind.

He must have read her mind or her face, because Gilchrist shifted closer.

“The entire region is a tinderbox. All it needs is one flare to set it alight. We need to know who are behind the attempted destabilisation of the House of El Haribe. We need someone deep inside the El Haribe family. You’re it.”

Bella simply stared at him.

Well, hell, seemed a pregnant Jemima Bond was supposed to save the frigging world.

She could do this.

After years of living with Queen Charisse heading up her personal protection team, she knew the customs, the languages, well four of them.

She was close to the El Haribe family, especially Charisse and her very westernized husband, Khalid El Haribe.

If the worst came to the worse, Charisse would lend her aid.

And the old fox was right about one thing. Married to Sarif and pregnant with his child, no one would suspect her of espionage.

She hoped.

She took a deep breath, blew out her cheeks, gave him the stink eye.

“Anything happens to my baby and you’ll be it.”

His limpid gaze met hers.

“Excellent. Your country thanks you for your service,” he said and shifted to press the red bell next to her bed.

On cue, a nurse she’d never seen before entered.

Bella studied the metal tray in her hand, in particular the huge syringe.

“What is that?”

The Colonel stood.

“A tracking device. Just in case…”

She blinked as he headed for the door.

“Where does it go?”

He turned, flashed her a white smile.

“Right buttock.”

Bella made a face, which was wasted since he’d already gone.

“Just roll on your left side,” the nurse said in a brisk tone. The woman needed to work on her bedside manner. “It will only hurt for a moment.”

Bella did as she was told.

The scent of antiseptic hit her before the shock of a cold and wet swipe on her ass.

Then—

Fuck.

Christ.

Jesus.

The pain just went on and on, had this woman never heard of a local anaesthetic?

Then there was pressure, a thumb on her ass and a plaster and that was it.

“Well done,” the nurse from hell said. She turned the wall light down low. “Try and get some sleep.”

When she was finally left alone, Bella lay back and stared at the ceiling, and thought of her brother. He’d better be safe and sound, not one hair of his head hurt,

or King Sarif El Haribe would rue the day he’d ever been born.

*********************************************

 

Looks like Sarif’s in Big Trouble. Then again, so is Bella as we will find out next week. I’m enjoying the thrills and spills of this story as it grows live right in front of your eyes! Scary stuff for an author let me tell you.

Until next time,

Christine X