Hello, my darlings, it’s bitter cold here with ice and snow forecast.
So here’s chapter Eleven of Charisse and Khalid’s adventure to keep you warm?
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Shock and terror that Charisse was dead had Khalid’s heart batter too hard against his ribs.
Seizing his gun and roaring for Omar at the top of his voice, he raced down the stairs. The spine chilling howl of the dogs had him sprint through the palace.
The sound of running feet, the cries of alarm, had him picking up the pace as he raced towards the gates.
What the hell had she been doing out of the palace in the middle of the damned night?
And why the fuck hadn’t he been told?
If Arabella Faulkner had known about this, had condoned it, without telling him, he’d have her head.
And where on earth was Omar?
All these questions and more ran through Khalid’s mind as he sped through the gates towards the crowd gathered around horse and rider.
He came to a hald, his heart stopped, before jolting in his chest to beat so fast he pressed his fist to the spot.
The acrid smell of death had his legs turn to jelly.
It was clear Diablo was dead.
The magnificent animal had been shot through the head.
And dear God, the woman who held his heart was lying on her back in the dirt.
Blood covered Arabella’s frantic hands as she bent over Charisse and pressed a thick wad of gauze into a wound that oozed a puddle of life giving fluid, the colour of claret, on the ground. The dogs were baying even as Arabella fired instructions to a protection officer who was inserting a line into Charisse’s vein connected to a bag of plasma while another gave her oxygen.
Soldiers, faces fierce, turned towards the mountains with guns at the ready.
They stood in a tight formation around the people working to save her life as Charisse was lifted onto a stretcher.
Khalid swallowed the bitter taste of fear burning at the back of his throat.
She was too pale.
He was going to lose her.
Arabella’s eyes met his and she didn’t so much as flinch beneath his utter fury.
“It looks as if the bullet has nicked a rib. We need to get her out of here.”
The thought of someone attempting to take the life of Charisse had a red haze of rage blurring Khalid’s vision.
To attack a defenceless female was an act of unutterable cowardice.
And he swore an oath that whoever was responsible for this would pay, in blood.
Yet another protection officer was spoke in clipped tones into a satellite phone.
And Khalid realised the man was speaking to Sarif.
He’d never felt so helpless or so utterly useless in his entire life.
They fought to stabilise Charisse as the army medics arrived.
“Highness,” the protection officer said to Khalid. “Prince Sarif must speak with you.”
Khalid took the phone. “Sarif?”
As luck would have it his brother was already on his way to Onuur by helicopter and the decision was made to fly Charisse immediately to the Royal hospital in Dhuma.
The following two hours, first in the helicopter, and then the hospital, were something Khalid knew he’d never forget as long as he lived.
Not once did he take his eyes from Charisse.
God, she looked so young, so vulnerable and too bloody pale lying on the stretcher.
In the helicopter a young army medic’s hand trembled as he adjusted her oxygen mask and Khalid knew just how he felt. The medic turned to him and spoke to him through their headset,
“She is lucky to be alive. Half an inch and the bullet would have hit a lung.”
Arabella never let go of Charisse’s hand.
The bodyguard opened her mouth to speak to him, but Khalid was so fucking angry with her he didn’t want to hear it.
“Report to Sarif as soon as we land. I do not want to see your face again.”
The woman went bone white and gave a single nod before Khalid turned his attention to Charisse.
And if she managed to get through this ordeal alive and whole, Charisse would find that her future husband had ways of disciplining his wayward fiancée.
Never again would she ride out into the night doing God knew what.
But then a wave of grief crashed over him and brought him to his knees. Sorrow replaced anger and he buried his face in her silver hair and prayed to God like he’d never prayed before for her life to be spared.
Charisse was drifting in a lovely white space.
All she could hear was a faint bleep-bleep of a heart monitor and she wondered if she was asleep in Asim’s room, and then with a plunging heart she remembered that he was dead.
The smell of antiseptic tickled her nose and the sound of high-pitched voices invaded her consciousness.
Khalid’s voice was raised.
And he was angry, so very angry.
She tried to frown but it appeared she floated in some kind of fog.
Her throat hurt.
Her eyelids appeared to be glued together and she struggled frantically to open them.
What was the matter with Khalid?
Why was he shouting?
“And why the hell did no one tell me of this? I’m only going to be her fucking husband.”
Another voice, a man, older and a little frail answered.
A woman told them to hush.
Then oblivion claimed her again.
Khalid simply stared at the two people who’d brought him into the world.
His mother’s face was pale. She wore slender pants of ivory silk under a matching long sleeved, high necked tunic edged with black embroidery. She was a slim and striking woman, who diligently kept a weather eye out for any stray grey hair that threatened to mar the perfection of hair as black as jet.
With the face of a hawk and wearing the robes of his office his father sat, spine ramrod straight, while his mother stared at her husband in patent disbelief.
Sarif rested his hands on the back of a couch and shook his dark head in amazement.
His eyes met his father’s. “You and my uncle Amir bought Charisse?” Sarif asked in a voice dripping with incredulity.
Khalid stood utterly still before thrusting both hands through his hair.
He seriously felt he’d stepped through the looking glass and was living in a parallel universe.
“What the fuck is this?”
His mother frowned at the expletive and turned to her husband. “Abdullah, my darling. Explain yourself.”
King Abdullah of Dhuma never explained himself, or his actions, to anyone. But looking at his family he knew the time for secrets was over. His dark eyes stared unseeing into the distant past as he began his tale.
“Charisse is the twin sister of Mia Chanteluelle.”
Queen Janaan’s gasp and the collective shocked silence in the room had Khalid blink.
Charisse was the twin of the girl he’d killed in a speed boat accident? An accident that had taken the life of his beloved sister and had almost killed himself?
His brother’s hand pressed on his shoulder and squeezed hard.
Khalid placed his hand over his brother’s and held on tight.
A wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm him as the King’s sharp eyes bored into his.
“It was an accident!” his father roared and thumped the arm of his chair with his fist.
Khalid knew the point was debatable, but he needed to hear the rest of this.
King Abdullah took a breath and continued,
“Three months after the tragedy her mother committed suicide. And her father… well, her father is evil. He owed too much money to the wrong people and sold Charisse to the highest bidder.” He winced as his wife cried out, her hands covering her mouth as her horrified gaze never left his face. And his sons were looking at him as if he was speaking in tongues. “Asim always felt that it was grief that made Pascal Chanteluelle do such a heinous thing. But I am not so sure, and after the attempt on that girl’s life, I am certain of it.”
Trying to get his head around what he was hearing, Khalid’s legs went like jelly as he sank to the edge of a chair, and scrubbed his face with his hands.
He stared at his father and leaned forward.
He needed clarity, and he needed it now.
And to be absolutely certain he understood exactly what his father had said, he articulated each word very carefully.
“Are you telling me her own father sold her?”
The King nodded.
And the words Khalid had spoken to Charisse when he’d asked her if his uncle had bought her and her reaction to them now made so much sense. As did the dark shadow that lay at the back of those big blue eyes.
King Abdullah’s eyes went hard now as he spoke, “Her mother was a famous beauty. Mia was the more outgoing of the twins, and apparently the man adored her, doted on her. With her colouring, her long limbs, her hair and blue eyes, Charisse would command a large price in the market for white slaves.”
Khalid had a perfectly healthy imagination and had no trouble at all picturing a young and terrified Charisse in the clutches of a relentless evil.
His hands fisted as another fist, one of utter horror, squeezed his heart. “Slavery?”
“This is true,” said Sarif. “Although these days the girls tend to come from Eastern Europe. Only the very wealthy can afford to buy a child or a young woman taken from the United States or Europe.”
Khalid looked at his brother as if he’d never seen him before. “You talk as if stealing children, young women, is an everyday event,” he said, his voice now a throaty growl threatening impending violence.
Sarif gave a single nod. “Slaveholding has been a trade for centuries. And don’t take that tone with me, brother. You can rest assured that we do everything we can to put a stop to human trafficking. Unfortunately, not all countries stand by the agreement to outlaw the practice.”
King Abdullah continued, “We are talking of Charisse, are we not? Her father has connections to unsavoury elements. Asim was told of the sale of a beautiful young girl and who was behind it. He informed me and together we ensured Charisse was taken to safety. After all, even if indirectly, we were responsible for her situation.”
Bile rose like acid into Khalid’s throat.
“You mean I am responsible for her situation.” He stared at his family. “How am I going to tell her that I am the man who killed her sister? The man who destroyed her life? She will never, ever, forgive me.”
“She already knows,” his father said.
For the second time in as many minutes Khalid felt as if he’d been hit by a truck. It was impossible for his mind to grasp the fact that Charisse was prepared to have a life with him after learning the truth that he was the one who had killed her sister. He simply could not compute that fact. “I don’t understand.”
His father leaned forward in his chair. “Thanks to Amir, Charisse realises that no one person was responsible for a freak accident. She does not blame you, Khalid.”
“Only because she does not know the whole truth!” he yelled into his father’s stern face.
After burying his head in his hands, he scrubbed his face.
Then he raised his head and simply studied his family. Was there such a thing as mass delusion? Their refusal to apportion blame where it belonged, firmly with him, was something he’d never been able to understand.
What the hell was wrong with these people?
Queen Janaan took a shaky breath and looked at her youngest son with eyes filled to the brim with sadness and grief. “We hold no one to blame for a tragic accident, Khalid.”
He did not, could not, believe them. They’d been over the same ground so many times and he’d heard it all before. But nothing, nothing would change what had happened on that day or that he was responsible. Then he remembered that Charisse’s life was all about duty to her people and her country. And he knew she was the type of person to fulfil her obligations, even if that meant marrying and living with the man who had brought her nothing but suffering.
However, what was happening now was not about him, it was about Charisse.
“So because he sold her, this is why her father wants her dead?”
The king shook his head.
“He wants her dead because Pascal Chanteluelle is the former French foreign minister and head of the Global Finance Fund and tipped to be the next head of the European Union. While she was married to Asim and kept in seclusion and out of the public eye he couldn’t touch her. However, she’s about to be married to a man with a too high public profile in the gutter press. Questions will be asked. When she disappeared her father stated she’d run away. Now Asim is dead and acquisitive eyes are turned towards Onuur, and to us. The region is more unstable by the day. This may be an opportunity for a man like Chanteluelle to work with others to destabilise our countries, grab the wealth, and get rid of his daughter while he’s at it. Once Charisse is your wife she will once again fall under our immediate protection. We can only hope he will leave her in peace.”
Khalid rose to pace as he tried to wrap his head around everything he’d learned.
Now he turned to his father.
“By your tone you don’t believe he will leave her alone?”
His father shrugged.
“I am not without influence. I have friends in the American and British governments who will not tolerate a man like Chanteluelle behaving like a modern day Genghis Khan. He is already under investigation for his part in the European financial crisis. He is a man who thrives among the chaos he creates. I have sent a clear message that another attempt on her life will not be tolerated and we will expose him for what he is. But he has grown powerful. He fears her. And when an animal is in fear for its life, it attacks.”
Sarif spoke, “We found the rifle, which is being run through testing. Arabella’s team found shoe prints that match the weight and size of Omar in the spot the shot was taken. I don’t believe in coincidences. There is the distinct probability that Omar is the assassin. Although, I don’t suppose his disappearance is much of a surprise since his proclivities have been revealed.”
Khalid took a shaky breath wondering what other shocks this day might bring.
“I had no idea he was a molester of young boys. And now you believe he might be the assassin?”
Sarif shook his head.
“We have no proof. However, the temptation of ten million dollars to such a man might be too good an opportunity to miss.”
Utter fury blasted through Khalid.
“What was Arabella Faulkner thinking taking Charisse out into the desert in the middle of the damned night?”
“Charisse met Sheik Abbas.”
Khalid stared at his father in amazement as his temper spiked.
“Why the hell was I not told of this? I’m only going to be her fucking husband,” he roared. Quite forgetting that he’d been immersed in his art and had left explicit instructions that he was not to be disturbed for any reason.
“Khalid!” His mother’s tone told him he sailed too close to the wind.
His father’s fierce glare held his. “If we had told you of her identity, you would have refused to marry her. My brother and I took the decision that once Charisse began to trust you, to know you, we were sure she would tell you everything about her past.” Without taking his eyes from his son, the king leaned forward. “And I am asking myself why she did not.”
His youngest son gave a low groan as he held his head in hands.
“Have you any idea of the things I said to her? We found the debit in my uncle’s accounts for three and a half million Euros and I assumed she’d whored herself. And then we found the deposits Asim had left for her in banks in Switzerland…”
“Oh, Khalid.” His mother’s shocked whisper only made the sharp blade of guilt sink deeper into his heart.
“And she did nothing, said nothing, to defend herself?” Sarif wanted to know.
Khalid lifted his head, stared at his brother. He could hardly tell his family that he’d hauled her into his arms and almost ravished her on the spot, could he?
“I didn’t give her much of a chance,” he admitted.
The person he needed to talk to was Charisse.
A need to protect her, strong and powerful, rose up into his chest. And Khalid swore then and there that he would never, ever leave her side. If anyone thought they were going to hurt a single hair on that beautiful head of hers then they’d need to go through him.
And if he ever came face to face with her snake of a father, and his bastard of a bodyguard, he’d kill them with his bare hands.
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Don’t miss tomorrow’s episode, it’s a doozy!