Desert Orchid – Copyright
By CC MacKenzie
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
He was punishing himself.
To turn the screw even more, as a penance for not being open and honest with her, Khalid had made a firm promised to never, ever fall asleep in her arms. Therefore, as he did every night, in the unending hours before dawn, he sat in a chair in the corner of the bedroom, and watched his wife, the love of his life, sleep.
They’d found and shared something very rare today.
He knew he didn’t deserve her.
How could a man like him be given the extraordinary gift of her love?
A man who’d killed two beautiful young girls. Girls who’d been on the cusp of womanhood, who’d had their whole lives ahead of them. Lives snuffed out because of a single act of unutterable selfishness.
He closed his eyes, bowing his head in a shame so deep, so dark, it ate up another little piece of his soul every single day he lived.
Six years ago, life for an El Haribe prince had been good, too good. He’d partied too hard, played too hard, and it had caught up with him in the most brutal way. Hindsight was a wonderful thing. At twenty-four he’d been spoiled, and reckless, and stupid. However, his behaviour, his choices, were his responsibility, not the responsibility of two young girls.
He’d never forgive himself for what happened that day.
Not that he could remember a single thing, and Khalid didn’t know whether to be grateful for that or not. His memory about the preceding two weeks, and a month after the accident, was wiped clean. He’d been in a coma, and was told the memories may never return. But he’d never forget the moment his father had told him Jamila was dead and buried. And so was her best friend, Mia.
His mother had been a broken woman, a living ghost, who visited him twice a day in hospital. And he couldn’t bear to see the stun of loss, the suffering, on her beautiful face. He couldn’t bear Sarif’s pity wrapped up in grief, either.
But when he’d been told the hellish truth that he’d been drank alcohol before he’d got into the big growling beast of a speed boat, and had driven two girls to their death, something inside him had died that day, too. He’d asked endless questions of the universe. Why had they died and he lived? He didn’t deserve to live. He certainly didn’t deserve to live and be happy. In the days and weeks after he’d regained consciousness, looking at the faces of his family every day had slowly killed him. He couldn’t stand to see his father’s condemnation, his disappointment, in what his youngest son had become. Of course, his family had forgiven him. Forgiveness was what families do. But he’d pushed them away. And in the process he’d lost himself in bitterness and self-pity.
He’d moved to Europe.
Spent months partying hard in Cannes before moving permanently to London, where he’d partied even harder. Christ, he hadn’t even been able to spend his way to destitution. His paintings shocked many, but they’d thrilled the art world, especially the critics. Who’d have thought it? He couldn’t even fucking ruin himself. He’d made so much money, he hadn’t even touched his inheritance. So he’d thrown himself into the role of the dark desert prince, the reprobate who’d shamed his family and his people.
And he’d had women, plenty of women; he’d banged hundreds of them until even that basic pleasure had dimmed.
Before Charisse, he hadn’t had a woman in over a year. Of course, no one would believe it. Even his own brother had assumed he’d had two women in his bed the night he’d come to London to bring him back home. The women had been models who liked to party, and who swung both ways. So if Khalid wasn’t in the mood to shag one or both, they’d been happy to take care of themselves. And didn’t mind an audience as he painted them. But he’d tired of that scene long ago.
His art had evolved into a contemporary symbolism that the critics drooled over.
Now, he desperately wanted to paint Charisse.
Of course, she wasn’t having it.
Another wave of self-loathing crashed over him, and he held his head in his hands.
She loved him, believed in him.
All those years ago, he’d needed someone to believe in him. He’d desperately needed someone to have faith in him during the pain of his hospital days, and during the nightmare months of his convalescence.
He’d no idea what this letter from Amir she’d been talking about meant. How the hell could his uncle have believed in him? Whatever Khalid demanded from Charisse, even her thoughts, she was prepared to share. And he knew, deep in his heart, that she wanted the same from him. She deserved nothing but the truth.
But not yet.
Surely he could enjoy these precious days with her? There was plenty of time to tell her truth about the pathetic excuse for a man that she’d married. And he knew for an absolute certainty that once she learned the exact circumstances around the accident she would never forgive him for killing her sister, an event that had brought disaster and horror to her door.
Charisse stirred in their vast bed, her hand fluttering out to reach for him.
With a sick heart and a dark shadow on his soul, Khalid crept into bed to hold her tight.
She burrowed into his side as he inhaled the scent of her hair, her skin.
With eyes wide open, he just lay there and waited for dawn.
Charisse smiled as Rufus wagged his entire body in a fit of ecstasy as Khalid stroked his shaggy head.
They’d arrived home to Onuur, to the white palace, three hours before.
Boris refused to leave Charisse’s side. Filled with unconditional love, the wolfhound’s hazel eyes never left her face for an instant.
She’d expected a warm welcome from Yasmin and Sheik Abbas, but the tribes had gathered along the mountain plateau, their campfires burning for as far as the eye could see. The peoples of Onuur needed to see their King and Queen.
And now the Sheiks assembled in a meeting room in the palace.
Sarif was chairing the meeting.
He’d taken Arabella’s advice, and brought in a team of ex-military intelligence and specialists who liaised closely with the head of Onuur’s security team.
“Are you ready for this?” Khalid’s sharp eyes found hers, and Charisse nodded as he took her hand.
They made their way from his rooms, through the white palace, to the meeting.
A navy blue silk scarf concealed her hair. The matching sheath she wore fell to her knees. The dress had a high neck and tight long sleeves edged with silver discs at her wrists. The co-ordinating tight pants, and silver flat pumps in butter soft leather, completed the outfit. And outfit designed for her by the house of Chanel.
Her people were worried.
Rurmurs of unrest flew through the tribes, and also tall tales about Khalid. According to those rumours, he was a drunkard and behind the attempts on his wife’s life. Her people needed to see her, in the flesh, to see for themselves that she was not only alive, but happy with her new life.
And more importantly, happy with her new husband.
Khalid looked spectacular dressed in a thwab with a besht, the ceremonial robes denoting status and royalty. As they descended the magnificent staircases, the servants lining the entrance hall bowed low. As the couple passed, it was as if they all let out a collective sigh, and the tension in the palace dissipated. Their relief palpable that their queen was indeed alive and well.
Liveried servants opened huge double doors.
Khalid and Charisse entered the room and all conversation ceased as the sheikhs and Sarif turned to watch them enter. Her gaze wandered over the men gathered around the huge table. For many years Charisse had taken advice from these men. But she’d been Amir’s wife then, and even though she knew they trusted her, the nerves in her belly wound too tight.
Khalid kept a firm grip of her hand as they took their place at the top of the table. Public displays of affection between men and women were frowned upon in their culture. But Khalid waited until she was seated before he took her hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to her cold fingers. And all the while his vivid gaze held hers. Her heart soared as she read the utter devotion and love in his eyes.
She smiled up into his fabulous face.
But more importantly the Sheiks smiled, and so did his brother, Sarif.
Khalid took the seat next to her, and placed her hand in his on top of the table.
Her refused to let her go, even when she raised an enquiring brow.
Her husband’s sharp gaze fell on the Sheiks, and in spite of his words his deep voice held no apology.
“Forgive me, gentlemen. But I almost lost the woman I love twice in the past few weeks. I have no intention of releasing her until I know the threat to her and to Onuur has passed. What news of Omar?”
Sarif nodded to Sheik Abbas who had watched their entrance into the room with the eyes of a raptor.
The Sheik was the elected spokesman for the tribes.
“We have reliable information he is holed up in the mountains of Dhuma. The King is flushing him out as we speak.” His growl of a voice became soft as his eyes settled upon her. “I thank God that you survived the attempts on your life, Highness.”
Charisse inclined her head, squeezing Khalid’s hand to signal she was about to speak.
“If it had not been for the quick thinking and speed of my husband I would not be here with you today. He saved my life. The rumours spreading like locusts on the desert wind must be put to rest. Tomorrow, my husband and I shall travel together to visit certain schools. I miss the children, Sheik Abbas.”
The Sheik looked to Khalid for confirmation, and Charisse knew that was the moment her husband was given his rightful place. Khalid nodded once in agreement, even as he gave a gentle squeeze of her fingers. She hadn’t warned him of her plan to visit the children since she knew he might argue against it. But it was important that they were seen by the people to be working together and caring for her vital projects.
If Khalid didn’t like it, too bad.
If he wanted to punish her later for her decision, so be it.
But now Sarif spoke, “We’ve received more intelligence on Omar’s background. He belongs to a tribe that was banished from Quaram over forty years ago. He is the third cousin of Yusuf Hassam Nazari,” he paused at the collective gasp that went around the room. Nazari was a sociopath, a tyrant, with connections to organised crime, terrorism, and people trafficking. He had a high price on his head. And was believed to be holed up in the Hindu Kush. “Omar was originally trained by the Soviets in brain washing and infiltration techniques. It is most unfortunate that we kept him too close to the heart of our family.”
Charisse felt Khalid stiffen and glanced up at his face. He would make a wonderful poker player because his face looked as if it was carved from granite and forcibly reminded her of the first time she’d met him in her apartments.
Sarif continued, “The plan was to kill Charisse, to bring dishonour upon the house of El Haribe. To divide the loyalty of the tribes resulting in civil unrest. Not just in Onuur but throughout the lands of Quaram and Dhuma. Powerful interests have their eyes on our mineral and oil wealth. With the death of King Amir and my father’s continued ill health the jackals decided to strike.
“Unfortunately for them, my brother is a good man and a strong King. My father’s health is improving each day. As for myself, I am to marry Miss Arabella Faulkner.”
How Charisse kept the shock of the announcement from her face, she never knew, and by the statue sitting next to her, this was the first Khalid had heard of it.
Of course she was thrilled to have Arabella as a sister-in-law. But she’d seen absolutely no sign of an attraction between Sarif and Arabella. None. Arabella’s family tree was immersed in military service to her country going back generations, all the way back to the Duke of Wellington’s time. With her military contacts and family’s power base in the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America, what a power couple she and Sarif would make. And the children of such a union would be a force to be reckoned with in the foreseeable future.
The approval of Sarif’s announcement eased the tense atmosphere in the room.
Sheik Abbas stood.
Those sharp eyes met Sarif’s. “I know I speak on behalf of everyone here and offer my congratulations, Highness. Miss Arabella Faulkner is a strong woman whose bravery and loyalty to the people of Onuur knows no bounds. May you be blessed with many sons.”
He turned to Khalid and Charisse and added, “May the whole house of El Haribe be blessed with many sons.”
Which, Charisse knew, was the Sheik’s polite way of saying, ‘Get on with it making those sons.’
Five days later, Charisse and Khalid had settled into a routine of sorts.
He was too quiet.
Brooding, she decided, as she eyed him over breakfast in her apartment. Today he wore black jeans and a buttoned down white shirt, and as ever, his feet were bare. She noticed he had splotches of bright green paint on his right foot.
He hadn’t spent a single night in her apartments, preferring to make love with her in his big bed in his studio. However, Charisse had made it a rule that they eat together at an allotted time for breakfast and dinner.
His most recent low mood had manifested itself in a lack of sleep, irritability and monosyllabic answers, which only seemed to intensify the longer Omar remained at large.
Khalid was more than aware that those big blue eyes watched him, and analysed him.
A rigid daily routine had never worked for him in the past. And it sure as hell wasn’t working for him now. It wasn’t how he rolled. He knew he was frustrated, overtired and wired. Working for twelve hours straight on yet another portrait of Charisse had mashed his brain. He was obsessed with her. Add in the too many duties he had to perform each and every day and his art was not going well. And he lay the blame for that firmly at her door. He’d never lived with a woman twenty-four-seven before and he found the way he had no space to do his own thing hard. Very hard. Plus, the way she’d insisted he stop whatever it was he was doing to meet her for breakfast and dinner at a designated time played merry hell with his creativity—which meant he found it well-nigh impossible to get back into the creative flow each day.
To eat with her shouldn’t be that big of a fucking deal.
After all, Charisse never asked him for anything.
Not once had she asked him for help, for support.
Not even for a kiss or a hug.
And now he wondered what that meant.
She never undermined his position in the palace. However, another unpalatable thought struck him. She didn’t need him. And that hurt. Charisse was a young and beautiful woman, in a ruthlessly male culture, who worked diligently on behalf of her people. With Charisse, the people came first. Everything she did, including marry him, was for the good of her people.
She was clever, kind, and utterly selfless.
And while he wasn’t in her intellectual league, neither was he kind.
He was utterly selfish, and concerned only with how events impacted him.
Now he tried to remember one time when life, the world, hadn’t revolved around his art, his pain, his needs, his guilt.
He didn’t deserve her.
She’d be much better off without him. Much better off married to a man who would be a better ruler, a better husband, a better father to the child she must bear.
The thought of another man touching her, kissing her soft fragrant skin, loving her, broke something deep within him. But surely putting her needs and Onuur’s needs, before his own, was the ultimate act of selflessness? Surely giving her up for her own good is what a real man would do?
In the early hours of this morning he’d been working on her portrait, staring into those amazing blue eyes as they stared right into him. He’d known then that the time had come to do what was right, for once. Charisse had taught him so much in such a short time. How to love a person with all of his heart. And for that he’d be forever in her debt.
He closed his eyes.
Christ, he was so fucking tired.
“This won’t work between us,” he said now.
Lifting a cup of coffee to her lips, Charisse halted. “What won’t work?”
The way she gave him big innocent eyes seriously irritated him.
He glowered and glared.
“You. Me. Us. This,” he snapped.
“Need a hug?”
“I need a divorce.”
The male ego, Charisse decided and not a little annoyed, was a monstrously fragile thing.
She knew he was overwhelmed.
She got that.
But she’d be damned if she was about to put up with him behaving like a five year old.
“I think there’s an echo in here,” she muttered into her cup.
His eyes narrowed. “You’re not taking this seriously.”
“Believe me, I am.”
“You won’t have a choice. If I want a divorce, I’ll get a divorce.”
He threw his napkin on the table and stood towering over her.
“I want out. I want my life back. I don’t want to live on a dusty rock in the middle of the damned desert.”
She took another sip of her coffee, watching him over the rim of the cup. “It’s not going to work, you know.”
“The little meltdown you’re having. I’ve got your number, Rock Star. And it won’t work.”
Temper flashed in those dark eyes. “I don’t love you. I’m over it. Over us. Over all… this.”
The words hurt, and they hurt bad.
But she reminded herself to keep calm.
“Ha ha ha.” She stood and moved into him to give him the hug he so badly needed. “That’s okay. I have enough love for both of us.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?”
He rubbed his cheek against her hair and Charisse breathed a little sigh of relief.
“Yes, kiss me.”
He kissed her.
Lifting his head, dark eyes stared down into hers.
“I’m no good for you.”
The words were said in a sulky tone that made her bite down hard on her bottom lip.
She’d seen that look in his eyes before.
Then she had a lightbulb moment—the school children.
For some reason, he’d been terribly nervous touring three schools.
“You are very good for me. You’re having a small crisis of confidence. It will pass. You’ll be fine. They were just little children.’
“Yes, but there was hundreds of them.”
“They loved you. Especially the little girls.”
Now he lifted her hand to run his fingertips over her wrist, over the bracelet the children had given her. It was made from cheap little glass beads, hundreds of them. And because the simple gift had been made with love it had meant more to Charisse than diamonds.
She hadn’t taken it off.
He shook his head.
“It was the look in their eyes that killed me. They looked at me as if I was their sun and their moon.”
“Too much pressure, Rock Star?”
He gave a big sigh. “What if I let them down?”
“What if you don’t?”
Again she hugged him and decided now might be the time to surprise him.
Her fingers had been itching for days just waiting for the right opportunity to give him her gift. The only time he appeared to relax was while making love. Last night, he’d thought she was asleep before he’d left their bed in the middle of the night to paint. Again.
“I have something for you,” she told him in a cheery voice.
Ignoring a scowl that would sour milk, Charisse rose and left the room, returning with a large flat rectangular package.
She sat on the edge of a couch and patted the cushion next to her.
“Come over here, Rock Star, and open it.”
With a reluctance that made her lips twitch, he rose.
His brows came together as he sat next to her.
“It’s not my birthday,” he growled.
She smiled. “No, does it need to be your birthday for you to receive a gift?”
He blinked, and she read a genuine bafflement in those vivid grey eyes.
“I suppose not. I rarely receive anything unless the giver desires something in return.”
Well then, that explained a lot.
“Beware Greeks bearing gifts?”
She watched him carefully as she tucked her jean clad legs under her. Charisse found his reluctance to accept the gift interesting and wondered if he was getting wind of her anxiety because she knew her gift had the potential to blow up in her face.
He picked it up.
“What is it?’ Khalid asked and weighed it in his hand. “It’s not heavy.” He gave it a little shake. “Solid,” he said and sniffed the paper.
Amazed by his reaction, she stared at him.
“Are you always like this?” she demanded to know.
Eyes wide, she folded her arms and caught a reluctant gleam in his grey eyes. A reluctant smile tugged the corner of his mouth. He placed the parcel on the coffee table, leaned back and stared at it with a frown.
She’d had enough of this.
Charisse knelt on the sofa, gripped his chin and forced him to look at her.
Keeping his eyes on hers, he tore open the brown paper, and looked down into the deliriously happy face of his dead sister.
Charisse felt her breath hitch in her throat as all the blood drained from Khalid’s face. His knuckles went white as he snapped the wooden frame. Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead and top lip.
A shuddering rough gasp escaped from his throat.
On shaky legs, Charisse rose and went to pour him a brandy. For shock. No, she decided, water would be better. She wouldn’t re-enforce a bad habit. After pouring him water in a glass, she sat next to him, keeping her tone reasonable and voice soft, and hoped to hell she knew what she was doing.
“Here, take a sip.” Gently taking his cold hand in hers she wrapped his fingers around the glass. “A wonderful character, wasn’t she?” Charisse ran a finger down Jamila’s cheek on the photograph and flinched at the filthy expletive Khalid spat as he got to his feet.
“Why would you do such a thing?” he roared.
He hurled the water glass against the wall.
It smashed into tiny pieces.
The dogs immediately moved to her side.
Fury, despair and pain flushed his cheeks and darkened his eyes.
One hand still gripped the broken photo frame, his other arm he held tight across his belly as if in pain.
Those grey eyes, tortured now, found hers.
The incredible agony she read there meant she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow.
“Why would you hurt me like this?” he whispered.
Charisse studied him, determined to remain calm, very careful to keep pity and her love for him at bay. Six years of pent-up grief was bound to implode.
All she knew was that he needed to release the pain.
She shook her head.
“I am not hurting you, Khalid.” And she kept her eyes pinned to his. “Why do you not honour her memory?”
His head whipped back as if she’d struck him.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Anger was a good sign, she decided, and reminded herself to stay strong.
“There is not one photograph of her anywhere in the palace in Dhuma. No one talks about her or even mentions her name. It’s as if Jamila never existed.”
Khalid placed the photo gently on the table.
Then he spun around and hauled her to her feet.
Eyes dark as pitch lasered into hers.
“Perhaps because their hearts are broken!” He shook her until her teeth rattled. “Perhaps they can’t bear to be reminded of their loss. Perhaps it’s too damned painful to remember!”
Charisse met his pain head on with her own.
“Of course it is painful. It’s supposed to be painful, Khalid. She’s dead. And when you love someone so deeply, a part of you dies with them, too. That is perfectly normal.”
She flinched as his hands fisted.
His temper sparked and spat in dark eyes drowning in torment and fury.
So much suffering was reflected there that her heart broke for him.
His hands held her arms too tight.
“You have no conceivable idea of how I feel. How dare you use your psychobabble on me?”
Charisse jerked her arms free and faced him.
“Come with me,” she commanded.
His wife spun on her heel and Khalid found himself following her through the apartment.
With a flourish she flung open enormous double doors and stood back.
He didn’t want to take a step forward.
But by the way her chin lifted, by the way her eyes dared him, he entered.
The space was light and airy and the ultimate feminine sanctuary.
His feet sank into a soft carpet of ivory wool, and the room smelled of flowers and warm woman.
Taking centre stage was a huge bed strewn with white silk pillows. Its vast headboard reached the ceiling, carved ornately from wood, and painted white. All set under a dramatic tiered chandelier of dripping crystal.
“It’s a bedroom.” He stalked around the room. Surely she wasn’t considering sex at a time like this? He turned to her. “Am I supposed to be flatt…”
He stopped dead.
With his heart battering against his chest, he stood rooted to the spot and stared at the opposite wall. At a huge black and white photograph of Jamila and her best friend Mia taken a couple of months before he’d… he’d killed them.
He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.
My God, they looked so happy.
Mia held a huge lizard in her hands, and their expressions brimming over with gleeful delight.
Charisse sank to the edge of her huge bed, and let out a deep sigh.
“I love that picture. I remember the day it was taken as if it was yesterday. It was a school trip to the zoo.” She gave a soft laugh. “Our housemistress, Miss Brown, was terrified of reptiles. She was behind the camera, as you can tell by their naughty expressions.”
Khalid squeezed his eyes tight and felt something rise up and snap and release inside him. He was beyond pain.
He fell to his knees, rolled onto the floor and curled into a tight ball.
The sound of an animal keening in tortured agony sounded in the room and he realised it came from himself.
Strong, determined hands placed a pillow under his head and a blanket over him. One of those strong hands gripped his. And Khalid clung to it like a drowning man going down for the last time.
He had no idea how long he lay there weeping, it might have been hours, but at last the sea calmed.
For the first time in his life he felt—anchored.
Throughout it all Charisse never stopped stroking his hair.
His throat felt raw and his voice hoarse as he spoke, “I killed them.”
Charisse pressed her slim body into his back, her arm slipped across his waist to hold him tight.
He clung on to her hand for dear life.
“What do you remember?” she whispered.
At last Khalid’s shuddering breathing steadied and Charisse knew they were only in the calm of the eye of the storm.
“The weather was glorious. A perfect Mediterranean day in May. No wind. The girls were so excited posing in their bikinis, like super models, they said. No longer girls, not quite women.” He gave an unsteady laugh. “I remember Sarif saying Papa had already decided to chain Jamila to her room. She wasn’t getting out again until she was thirty. That she would give us all grey hair. And I remember Mama rolling her eyes.”
The sob caught in his throat squeezed her heart, but she’d started this, so she would finish it.
“What happened next?”
“The boat was new. A Sun seeker, fast, shiny, sleek. Mia leapt aboard first saying it smelled new. Like a new car.”
He squeezed her hand even harder, turned to lie on his back and stared unblinking into the ceiling.
Charisse leaned on her elbow, head on her hand. Her other hand was still gripped by his.
“It was just the three of us. Omar was to follow on another boat. The girls waved to Sarif and my parents standing on the dock. They’d posed for photos with Sarif telling them to behave like ladies.” He frowned, eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling as his mind took him back to what he remembered of that day. “Jamila said, ‘This is pathetic, Khalid. Go faster.’ Mia just laughed. I pushed the throttle and the bow rose, it kicked forward. We were laughing and cheering…” Tears now ran into his hairline. His eyes met hers. And she read the heartbreak, the confusion. “I don’t remember. I woke up in hospital.” He squeezed his eyes tight shut. “I killed them.”
“Why do you feel that? It was an accident.”
He turned to her and stared into her eyes. “Why didn’t I see the resemblance when we met? You are so like Mia.”
Khalid read utter trust, sympathy and empathy in those deep blue eyes.
And knew he didn’t deserve it.
“I’d been drinking,” he admitted the truth.
Charisse jerked back, eyes wide and cool, and it broke his heart to see the shock and the anger. “How many?”
“I can’t remember.”
“If you can remember conversations, then clearly, you must be able to remember how much alcohol you had to drink?”
Khalid frowned now and shook his head.
“I don’t know if I can remember conversations or if that’s what I was told was said.”
Charisse held his gaze.
“Okay. Let’s think about this logically for a moment. Would your parents or your brother permit you to go out in a powerful boat with their most precious possession if they thought for a moment you’d been drinking? It doesn’t make sense!”
He shook his head.
She rose to her feet.
“Stay right there. I’ll be back in a moment.” Turning to the wolfhounds who were watching them from the doorway, she made a hand signal and issued the instruction, “Guard him.”
Khalid lay on his back staring at the fan on the ceiling lazily stirring the hot air and thought of the days and weeks after the accident. He’d been doped with morphine for a broken collar bone, six cracked ribs and a fractured skull. He could have sworn a voice told him he’d been drinking. That he’d killed those children. That his family would never forgive him.
His hand fisted now, what was the point of going over and over it all again?
Charisse entered the room carrying a thick file.
She dropped on the floor beside him and gave him a very level look.
“Take that expression off your face, Khalid. And stop thinking.” She kissed him on the nose. “You think too damned much. Didn’t anyone give you the basic facts?” Flicking through documents and muttering to herself about stubborn fools, she pulled out a sheaf of papers.
“Here we are. Your blood tests. Hospitals do these as a matter of routine after any accident,” she said as if talking to an imbecile. She pointed to a line which stated blood alcohol level. “What does it say?” She demanded and watched him read the result.
He sat up as she raised her eyebrows and a small weight lifted from his heart.
He cleared his throat, “Nil.”
Charisse crossed her legs into the lotus position and flicked her fingers in a ‘come here’ gesture.
“Speak to me, Rock Star. If this fact is telling you in black and white that you were sober, why did you think you were drinking? If you look at the results more closely there is no trace of substance abuse. Not even an aspirin.”
“I’ve never touched drugs.” He read through the documents then lifted his head and stared into her face. “Where the hell did you get these?”
“Amir demanded copies of everything. He went over each fact with me.” She tucked her hair behind her ears. “It helped me deal with acceptance.” Then she rubbed her nose and didn’t quite meet his eyes. “And forgiveness.”
His dark eyes snapped to hers. “You blamed me?”
“In the beginning, for a while, yes, I did.”
He rose and tugged her to her feet.
His hand cupped her chin.
As he pressed his mouth to the side of hers, he felt her tremble as she continued,
“Mia’s death was a catalyst for a chain of events that brought me here. I blamed you for many things.”
His hand smoothed the skin on the back of her neck and he pulled her closer, stared down into those amazing blue eyes and saw the truth there.
“But you don’t blame me now. Why is that?”
“Facts. I have the truth. It was an accident, Khalid. There were witnesses.”
Khalid took a step back, but kept hold of her hand and those dark, intense eyes stayed on hers.
“I don’t deserve you.”
Charisse pulled her hand from his as jumpy nerves danced in her gut.
She read guilt in those dark eyes.
And she knew this still wasn’t over.
“Tell me, Khalid. Did you love your sister?”
His eyes narrowed fractionally and she could see his brain trying to figure out where the conversation was going.
“Were you a good brother?”
His eyes never left hers and she read the truth. “Yes,” he said.
“Did she love you, adore you?”
He blinked. “Yes.”
Charisse moved to stand before the vast black and white photograph on the wall and stared into those beautiful, happy faces, and continued,
“How would Jamila feel, do you think, if she knew you were punishing yourself? Would she be proud of how you refuse to accept any happiness in life? How you refuse to give and receive true love? Is a life of misery what she would want for you?
“Do you want to know what I think?” she continued, turned and looked him dead in the eye. “I think she’d be ashamed of you, Khalid, and desperately, desperately sad.”
The flash of pain in those dark eyes told her she’d shocked him.
He stood as if turned to stone.
A voice warned her he’d had enough, but she moved to a beautifully carved small bureau.
“I have many other photos of the girls in albums here. Why don’t you sit and go through them and the documents? Take all the time you need.”
He didn’t move, didn’t say a word.
Backing out of the room, she was babbling and had no idea why, which made her nerves jump even more and her stomach clutch even harder. “I’ll be out here if you need me for anything.”
Charisse closed the doors and puffed out a breath.
It was the look in his eyes that had unnerved her.
Dark, demanding and predatory. And… tempted.
Boris looked exactly like that when he’d spotted a roasted chicken when cook’s back was turned. If Charisse had not given him a warning look, the wolfhound would have swallowed it whole.
That same temptation was in Khalid’s eyes, too.
He was tempted to do something to her and she didn’t want to begin to think of what that might be.
And she realised he hadn’t answered her initial question.
The medical records had not been sealed.
The results clear for anyone who’d wished to check them.
Who had told him he had been drinking?
Something was still very wrong.
Underneath that sophisticate, sexy shell, her husband was so incredibly vulnerable.
And why did that make her feel as weak as a newborn puppy?
Analysing the situation with her own unique brand of logic, Charisse couldn’t decide whether she liked or feared his vulnerability. Maybe both? How confusing was that?
Exercise, that’s what she needed.
It would clear her mind.
Desert Orchid – Copyright
By CC MacKenzie
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Chapter Twenty coming tomorrow…. will Khalid ever find peace?