There are many things I love about my readers. They’re kind, have a fabulous sense of humour and fun. And they simply adore a brooding bad boy……
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
The outrageous bathroom of their bedroom suite had walls of Italian marble and floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Khalid rested his palms on the ivory walls of the shower and let five jets blast his body. The sting of the force of the water was just what he needed to give himself a reality check. What the hell did he know about running a country? What the hell did he know about being a husband? His first weeks in the role of King of Onuur had been an unmitigated disaster. Instead of bringing stability and peace, he’d unwittingly brought chaos to the palace, heartbreak to the country, and to the woman he loved. Guilt slid a sharp blade deeper into his soul and his conscience. By selfishly following his art, he’d let his people down. But worse, he’d let Charisse down, too.
The scent of liquid soap, ginger and spice, rose to mingle with the steam, as he lathered his body.
His father had made it clear, crystal clear, that he must put his country and his wife before his God given talent to paint. If he’d put his duty before pleasure, then he’d have son Charisse’s trust. She wouldn’t have felt the need to go riding out into the desert in the middle of the night to meet Sheik Abbas. She wouldn’t have been shot.
Khalid closed his eyes tight shut as the memory of her lying in the dirt, bloody and broken entered his mind.
Her beloved horse Diablo was dead.
And he knew by the way her mind wandered at times, by the way her eyes became deep blue pools of terrible sadness, that her heart was broken. Not once had she wept about her loss or made a fuss. Charisse appeared to have the enviable ability to accept her lot in life.
He closed his eyes against the sting of soap as he massaged shampoo into his scalp.
Try as Khalid might to remain optimistic for their future, to quiet the inner critic who whispered sly words in his mind, the truth again hit him hard.
A truth that was a bitter pill to swallow.
He wasn’t good enough for her.
Oh, he might talk big to his parents and his brother, demanding that Arabella Faulkner bring in an elite counter insurgency team. But what the hell did he know about military tactics or special operations? His brother was the trained military man who dealt with the security side of keeping the El Haribe family in power.
Then he’d gone and compounded his sins by telling Charisse he loved her.
And God bless her, she’d told him she loved him, too.
The love in her eyes for him had terrified him even as it made his heart fill with a tremendous happiness. However, they still hadn’t discussed the incident in their past that had brought them to this point. Namely, the accident that had changed both their lives.
And had changed the behaviour of her father.
Somehow the right moment hadn’t arrived for them to talk.
Khalid let the pounding water rinse the shampoo from his scalp, and admitted he’d avoided the topic, and so was Charisse.
Christ, who could blame her?
Alone in the shower with only himself for company, Khalid admitted that he didn’t want to have that conversation with her.
He needed memories that were too painful for both of them to bear, to remain exactly where they belonged—in the past.
What was the point of digging up old hurts, old fears, when they should live in the moment and cope with events that demanded their attention now.
By the way she’d looked at him today when they’d promised themselves to each other, he knew that she expected him, trusted him, to deal with whoever threatened her and their country. And for a crazy moment as they’d exchanged vows, he’d believed he could do it, too.
But now all his personality flaws and past failures rose high on a wave of self-doubt. A wave so powerful it drowned the fragile shoots of his self-belief.
What the hell had he been thinking?
Overwhelmed by the sense of too many emotions from the past and present colliding, an oil slick of anxiety that he didn’t have a fucking clue what he was doing lay too heavy in his gut.
Sarif had told him that he would have a strategy in place after Khalid and Charisse returned from their honeymoon. The main thing was to keep her out of harm’s way.
However, in reality Khalid felt that the past was repeating itself. He’d permitted his family to clean up his mess. Again. And he was running away from his responsibilities. Again.
On the other hand, he needed to keep his wife—God, his wife—safe.
His hand slapped off the water.
Khalid grabbed a white towel of thick cotton from a heated towel rail.
Heart heavy, he wrapped the towel around his hips, and wandered into their bedroom.
Junah had helped Charisse prepare for him.
Using a hand towel to rub his hair, he kept a careful eye on the woman who was his wife.
She sat on the edge of the bed looking perfectly relaxed and for some reason that fact bothered him.
Well, he wasn’t relaxed.
He felt like shit.
Tension rose from his shoulders, up the back of his neck.
At the moment his wife was busy rubbing ointment on the livid bruise on her hip.
The sight made him take a deep inhale of breath.
He could actually count her ribs.
And her fragility not only scared him—it annoyed him.
It annoyed him, a lot, because everything, everything, that had happened to her was all his own fault.
She winced as she touched a tender spot.
Her white teeth bit down hard on her bottom lip.
After placing the pot on the bedside table, she turned to him. Blue eyes studied him from his toes to the top of his head until they stayed on his. Now she was perched on the bed wearing a tiny pair of panties in ivory silk along with a matching top with shoelace straps. Her glorious hair was confined in a single loose plait that hung down her back to her slim waist.
As ever her delicate beauty made his heart ache.
And he wondered now if falling madly in love with the sister of the girl he’d killed was a sick sort of Karma. That the universe was ensuring that he would suffer the loss of the one he loved more than life, of Charisse, as payback for his past mistakes, for his recklessness.
He knew he needed to talk to her about his past. To tell her truth of what he’d done, eventually.
How on earth could she remain married to him knowing it was his actions and his choices that day that had killed her sister?
Not for one second did Khalid entertain the idea that Charisse might be capable of forgiveness.
How could he, when he’d never forgiven himself?
Then the reason for why she’d married him became crystal clear in his tortured mind.
Charisse had married him out of a sense of obligation. Out of a sense of duty to an old man and a country that had given her shelter when she’d needed it most. Amir and the people of Onuur had embraced Charisse and loved her. And in return, Charisse had embraced and loved them, too.
Khalid just couldn’t imagine Charisse ever divorcing him or turning away from the people of Onuur, no, she’d never do that. But once she learned the real story about Khalid’s part in the accident, would she turn away from him?
How could she not hate him?
And what then?
What if he lost her?
What if their love turned to hate and they ended up imprisoned in a relationship destroyed by a lack of trust?
The demons that had haunted him for too long returned—in force.
Then a little voice whispered that perhaps it might be better not to tell her what he’d done, after all ignorance was bliss? It was all in the past. And it might be an idea to let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak.
He shook his head.
If the last six years had taught Khalid anything it was that hiding from the truth, living a lie, ate a little bit more of a man’s soul every single day. He needed to be true to himself and because he loved her, he needed to be true to Charisse, too. And that meant being honest with her, and being his authentic self.
Even if it meant he lost her forever.
Dark thoughts swirled in a confused mix as a strange wave of unreality swept over Khalid.
He was the king of a country he knew nothing about. With a populace who regarded him with distrust and suspicion. And who could blame them? And now he was married to a beautiful woman he adored. A woman who thought she loved him. But a woman who was also in terrible danger.
And he wondered how the hell all this had happened to him in less than a month.
Taking a deep but agitated breath, he closed his eyes.
Khalid El Haribe knew how women ticked.
After all, he’d had plenty of them.
He was good with beautiful, funny, intelligent women.
Now he opened his eyes to study Charisse.
But not one of them could touch the fabulous creature who now lay back against a waterfall of white pillows on his big bed.
Her big blue eyes smouldered —clearly, there was no other word for it—as she curved her spine and stretched like a sleek, lazy kitten. All long limbs and soft skin. The scent of her, floral bath oil, and aroused woman spun around him.
“I have been waiting for you,” she purred deep in her throat in a way that fired his groin.
And for the first time in his life he felt a lack of confidence with a woman.
He tried to disguise the tremble of his hands as he rubbed his hair with the towel.
“That’s what I love about you, baby. You get straight to the heart of the matter.” He ran his fingers through damp hair and watched that secret little smile play on her fabulous mouth as her gaze went hot as she followed the movement of his fingers.
She may not have liked his hair in the beginning, but she loved it now.
“You look gorgeous, Rock Star.”
His lips twitched.
Ah, it appeared Charisse was channelling her inner goddess to make it crystal clear she wanted him.
“You’re good,” he told her, his voice deep with an emotion he couldn’t name. He felt that emotion burn in his throat, behind his eyes. And then he realised it was the way she stared at him. He read desire and something that looked like possession.
“Better believe it,” she said.
He swallowed, realising something about her made him nervous.
Why the hell did he feel nervous?
“What happened to the shy and retiring Charisse?” he wanted to know, playing for time without a clue why.
Those amazing blue eyes narrowed now as she studied his face.
“She’s madly in love. And she needs her man.”
He cleared his throat as her soul stealing smile squeezed his heart.
“Now you’re scaring me,” he admitted, becoming increasingly alarmed as perspiration snaked down his spine.
Those blue eyes went to slits as she turned onto her side and leaned on her elbow.
“That’s the first lie you’ve ever told me.”
She was a mind-reader now?
Actually, he was feeling terribly unsettled, off-balance, edgy.
Then the truth struck him.
Charisse had managed to take complete control of the situation, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
Then she sat, assuming the yoga position sukhasana and straightened her spine.
She looked absolutely fabulous sitting there like a princess, proud and regal as those blue eyes stayed on his as if seeing right into his soul. And again he wondered what the hell was the matter with him?
“You don’t want to love me. Do you?”
He went absolutely still.
By Khalid’s frozen expression Charisse knew her shot in the dark had hit the mark.
A few short hours ago, she’d been sitting in the garden of the Royal Palace in Dhuma talking to Queen Janaan. Then she’d been swept up in the moment in Khalid’s arms. Someone had attempted to kill her. And Khalid, in the grip of volatile emotions, had told her that he loved her and they’d shared one of the most special moments of her life.
They’d married with only Arabella and his family at witnesses.
Now they were in some fantastic mountain hideaway.
But she’d known, from the moment he’d entered their bedroom, that something was very wrong. Since they’d arrived his mood had plummeted from a suppressed excitement to self-absorption and introspection. That brooding look she knew and loved so much was back in his eyes. And she realised the devils that haunted him, rode him too hard, were back. She could tell by how his strong jaw clenched and that fabulous mouth narrowed. And his mother’s words spun into her mind, reminding her that it was her duty as his wife to distract him.
Khalid, Charisse realised now, was great in a crisis. His love for her had overcome any self-doubt. Once he’d set his mind on a path, nothing changed it. He’d been assertive. And she suspected that he’d surprised himself, as well as his family.
But now he’d had too much time to think. Too much time to begin to doubt himself.
Why, Charisse wondered, had she thought she could handle this man?
She didn’t doubt him and had believed his words when he’d told her he loved her.
However, at the moment he didn’t look particularly happy about it.
In fact, since he’d declared himself and all through the brief wedding ceremony, he’d given the impression of a man who was about to walk the plank and be tossed into a shark infested sea.
Struggling to keep the wobble of dismay from her voice, she kept the tone friendly.
“I believe in you. Amir believed in you. Remind me to show you his letter to me when we return to Onuur.”
Those grey eyes turned dark.
His eyes now burning with an emotion she couldn’t read.
His tone was not at all friendly, and she swallowed the need to yell at him, to demand to know why he was spoiling such a special moment for them.
Instead she jerked her chin up, and met his stare head on. “Why what?”
“Why do you want to show me his letter?”
“Because I love you. Because I want no secrets between us.”
He glared at her even as his face went white.
And she was reminded of a disgruntled dark angel, all the way from the top of that glossy coal black hair to his bare feet.
His deep voice was almost a growl, “Love! I wasn’t expecting love. I don’t do love.”
The angry frustration in his voice, with himself, made her grin.
And suddenly Charisse felt a hell of a lot better.
Poor Khalid, he was totally devastated.
In a good way.
Her grin grew into a huge smile.
The warning flare in that dark gaze didn’t prevent her giving him big eyes.
“Oops,” she said.
He ran his tongue over his top teeth.
“Oops?” he repeated in a silky voice.
“Mmm hmm. You’re scared of your feelings for me.”
Something like anger flashed in his eyes as he tossed the towel and stood before her in all his naked glory. His gaze burned into hers and she recognised he was standing before her stripped not just physically, but emotionally as well.
He placed his fists on his hips.
“My feelings for you make me feel weak. You terrify me, and I hate it. Why did you go out into the desert in the middle of the damned night? Why didn’t you tell me? Don’t you understand you don’t get to make those kinds of decisions without me? We’re in a relationship here!” His voice cracked and he showed his back to her for a couple of heaving breaths before spinning around. His eyes burned into hers. And what she saw made her heart beat too fast. “Goddamn it! You don’t get to make the rules. If we’re to do this thing, then we do it together. If anything were to happen to you…” He took another deep breath, and his voice broke. “I couldn’t bear it, Charisse.”
His chest heaved as she read the honest truth in his dark eyes, heard the pain in his voice.
He was so terribly scared.
But not just of love, she realised, but of losing her, too.
Her eyes glued to his, she rose and went to him.
Standing before him, she wrapped her arms around that amazing warrior’s body, all lean and muscled. She tipped back her head to stare into those stormy grey eyes. Even though his fierce erection pressed into the soft flesh of her belly, he didn’t touch her.
His fists were clenched at his sides, the vein in his neck beat a frantic tattoo.
“You know, it’s going to be wonderful being married to you. It’s so wonderful to know that the man I love loves me back to the point where I can drive him crazy. I will be your anchor, a calm place for you to be, in the storm of life. We will build a strong, deep foundation for our marriage.” She pressed her lips to that wide chest, an illicit thrill ran up her spine as she felt him shudder. “You know, people do say that from commitment comes great strength and freedom. And I believe that is very true.”
Her palms rubbed soft circles of comfort on the warm skin of his back, and his big body shuddered again.
Lifting her head, she stared up into his face.
Heat scorched those magnificent cheekbones.
“I am not good enough for you.” His deep voice was hoarse, as if the words were torn from his soul.
Staring into his eyes, she realised that he absolutely believed every single word.
A sudden fury burned in her blood, leapt into her throat.
Sliding a hand into his scalp, she gripped his hair and tugged his face down to hers.
“Where the hell do you get off making a decision like that? Who are you to judge what’s good enough for me? How dare you talk like that about the man I love.”
Then he gazed at her with eyes filled to the brim with a cocktail of mixed emotions.
Among them she read a deep shame, suffering and a heavy guilt that broke her heart.
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Tomorrow is Chapter Sixteen, and it will be edited since it’s a love scene.