Desert Orchid, Chapter Twenty…..

desertorchid20

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Desert Orchid – Copyright

By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Twenty

Khalid studied Jamila’s happy face and felt more at peace with himself than he’d done for years.

Although witness statements were garbled and confused, Amir had highlighted pertinent points on the papers. No matter how Khalid looked at it, the event had been an accident, caused by another boat crossing the bow of his. However, the report also stated that speed had played a part in the disaster. He would have to live with that. At least now he actually wanted to live. For years he’d ridden the path to self-destruction. And his wife—his wonderfully brave wife—had forced him to confront and face his demons head on and deal with them.

He wasn’t stupid.

He knew he still had a long way to go to heal and to find acceptance, but Khalid knew he’d been given a miracle this day.

Now he picked up a photograph of a young Charisse with Amir. Khalid might be uneasy about his uncle’s marriage but there was no doubt in his mind that Amir had adored his very young wife. No wonder, the woman was amazing.

These days he enjoyed their meeting of minds and how Charisse leaped ahead of him in her thinking and how she challenged him.

The sound of a splash caught his attention.

He tenderly placed the photographs on the table and went to find her.

He found her in her narrow lap pool and his first clear thought was, thank you God.

She had an amazing body, which was showcased in a stunning white two piece bikini as she swam in a leisurely crawl.

One of the many wonderful things he loved about her was the way Charisse could relax and switch off. Oh, how he envied her that ability. No matter how hard he tried, he never relaxed. This morning was their first day off from the demands of work, duty, and the people whose lives and issues dominated their waking hours. Now he nudged those duties to the back of his mind.

Today they were just a man and a woman with lives and, God knew, problems of their own.

She turned to him and speared him with a glittering sapphire look. Those fabulous eyes never left his as she rose out of the water, showcasing her glorious body. Bypassing the chair that held her towel, she tugged her hair free of the topknot on her head and it fell in a silver shimmering curtain down her back.

He read desire, demands, in those eyes as she stood before him, her breasts swollen, her nipples tight.

Charisse had taken control, again. And the feeling aroused as well as left his legs strangely weak.

Khalid buried his hands in her wet hair as he bent his head to whisper in her ear,

“Don’t start something you can’t finish, baby.”

“There’s nothing you can do to me I can’t finish, Rock Star.”

And her mouth aggressively bruised his as he dragged her to the floor.

His hands were everywhere – hard, brutal, and demanding as they took and her body frantically responded.

Her hands searched and found him with a hot, hungry fury as she tore the shirt from his back and put her teeth to his burning flesh.

With a curse, Khalid crushed her soft mouth with his.

He ripped the bikini from her, fast, his hands racing to possess that soft, silky, wet skin. A brutal arousal was obliterating him, agonising, making his hands too hard, too careless, when he should have been taking great care with her.

At last he had her naked beneath him and his breath hitched in his throat as his hands skimmed over her breasts, hips, thighs and calves.

He could smell her, taste her, feel her. Dear heaven, she was so beautiful and Charisse lay there suddenly still, open and ready for him.

Then he gripped her hips and took her with a force that had her scream out his name.

He drove into her hard and fast until there was a blinding fire and Khalid knew he was taking her, himself, to the brink of human endurance and that he wanted, needed, nothing less. And Charisse was with him with every groan, every heartbeat, every thrust until the storm that surrounded them reached a maelstrom, a summit where nothing but oblivion followed and they lay tangled together.

Annihilated.

Exhausted.

Whole.

But he couldn’t move. He could barely breathe as he buried his face in her damp hair. He was trembling, again, he realised with a feeling of utter terror. No woman had ever made him feel like this. Weak. Wanting. Willing. What the hell was she doing to him, he wondered as he tried to inhale.

And then he realised she was trembling, too.

Dear God, had he hurt her?

Khalid lifted his head to look down at her. Her soft skin was marked red and raw where he’d touched her, sucked her. The little bites his teeth had made worried him until he saw the flush of passion over her fabulous face as her eyes, watching him through her lids, were almost closed. And, amazingly, he felt fresh arousal stir. Dropping his face back into her fragrant hair, he took a shuddering breath. He needed a minute to settle himself or he’d ravish her again.

Breathing his name, Charisse ran her fingertips over his strong back, down over his tight ass.

There was something in his eyes she’d never expected to see. Surrender. And she didn’t feel all-powerful, but amazed and drowning in love. A deep, abiding love that made her want to soothe, to care, to nurture this wonderful man.

She burrowed closer. Right into his wide chest and felt his heart beat settle. His short breaths whispering over her cheek levelled off.

When Khalid lifted his head, those grey eyes told her nothing.

“You’re trying to kill me, baby.” He kissed her but kept his lips gentle. “You want me out of control, even violent. Why is that?”

She gave a deep, happy sigh of sheer feminine triumph.

“I did kill you. You lost control.”

“You want me to lose control?”

“Mmm hmm, Rock Star. I want you to lose control when you make love to me every single time.”

Khalid lifted his hand and watched his fingers comb through that silver waterfall of hair, and decided to take her down a peg, or three.

“You’re an amazing woman.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her shoulder, then lifted his head. “But perhaps a little… skinny.”

That contented, cat-got-the-cream look vanished from her face to be replaced by something that looked like shock.

“Skinny?”

She wriggled under him, trying to escape, but he simply pressed his hips into the cradle of her thighs and held her still.

“Yeah, skinny. You’re not exactly ugly, either. In some tribes you’d be regarded as scrawny and bony, not even worth the price of a camel.”

Blink.

Blink.

“Are you saying I’m not attractive?” she demanded in a voice that would melt solid steel.

The woman had absolutely no guile and Khalid couldn’t keep his face straight as he howled with laughter.

Trying to catch his breath, he kissed her, hot and hard then lifted his head to stare into those big hurt eyes.

“Seriously, you scare me at times, you really do. Ah, baby, you’re drop dead fucking gorgeous and you know it.”

Baffled, she shook her head.

“No one’s ever spoken to me like that or told me that I’m beautiful.”

Now it was his turn to blink and he read the truth in her eyes. What had started out as having a little fun and teasing her had turned into something quite different. Yet again she humbled him.

“Then I’ll make it my mission in life to tell you every single day that I love you. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Her eyes immediately twinkled up into his.

“Well, considering the number of women you’ve seen that’s saying something. And you’re an incredible lover, Rock Star. I can’t say I’m surprised since you’ve had plenty of practice.”

Again, she’d turned the tables on him and his libido flared which made Charisse’s eyes go wide.

“Ah, well,” she said as she tilted her pelvis and opened her legs wide to let him slide inside her with a little gasp. “I suppose I need to do my wifely duty.”

His laugh turned into a groan as her core gripped him in a burning hot fist.

“Baby, you kill me.”

 

Desert Orchid – Copyright

By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Twenty-one tomorrow.

Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek coming later…..

Christine X

 

Desert Orchid, Chapter Thirteen…

DESERTORCHIDCH13

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Hello, my darlings!

I’m late tonight, due to the family descending….

Here’s Chapter Thirteen, and a turning point…..

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Thirteen

It was hard not to laugh, but Khalid battled to keep his expression fierce and disapproving.

He’d never seen two people look more guilty as the women who sat before him.

As he took in Charisse’s flushed cheeks and the empty bottle of vintage champagne his brows lifted.

“Well, well, and what have we here?” he said in a silky voice that had his fiancée fight a losing battle with helpless laughter.

Charisse was not used to alcohol.

He wondered if either woman had considered how the heat and strong painkillers added into the mix might affect his beloved?

Charisse turned to him and those big blue eyes, filled to the brim with mischief, made his heart trip in his chest. The wide smile on her fabulous mouth caught the breath in his lungs. She looked so beautiful. The loose, thin fabric of her clothes couldn’t hide how willow slim she’d become. Along with the silver colour of her hair, the ivory silk of her gown and gold slippers she wore, she resembled a ray of vivid sunshine.

His fingers itched to paint her.

In an attempt to rise, Charisse swayed on her feet.

Khalid moved fast to scoop her up into his strong arms.

She’d lost too much weight and was as light as a child.

Then Charisse wound slim arms around his neck.

Her fingers slid through his hair.

She ran her fingernails gently across his scalp.

A move which did amazing things to his libido.

Khalid’s blood pooled between his legs.

She smiled and blinked up into his face with big blue eyes brimming with sheer devilment.

“Thank you, Rock Star,” Charisse purred in her throat in a way that fired his groin and made his mother hastily suppress a delighted smile behind her hand.

With a narrow-eyed stare at his helplessly laughing mother, Khalid turned and strode towards the palace.

Someone, he decided, needed a siesta.

Charisse rested her blonde head against his shoulder and stared up at him with sleepy eyes.

Then she inhaled and moved in to sniff his neck.

“You smell wonderful,” she told him. Then she nuzzled and pressed a soft kiss under his ear. “You always smell wonderful.”

All the good intentions he’d fought so hard for over the past days leaked away, fast. She was in no fit state to be made love to and he was a man not used to waiting. His desire for her rode him so hard he winced from the pain of it.

Taking a shaky breath, he stared down into his fiancée’s happy face and tucked his tongue firmly in his cheek.

“Do I?” he drawled.

“Yep. Give me a kish.”

Khalid bit down hard on his bottom lip, determined not to laugh.

He merely shook his head, slid her a look.

“A kish? How many glasses of champagne did you have?’

With a deep frown creasing her smooth forehead, and totally unaware it made her look absolutely adorable, Charisse thought very hard.

“Two!” she announced. Then she pouted her fabulous mouth in a way that made his pulse thrum through his system. “I wanna kish,” she slurred.

Heart full with nothing but love for her, he watched those big eyes, with their thick lashes, close.

Her head lay on his chest.

As Khalid entered the blessed coolness of the palace he saw Sarif and Arabella Faulkner deep in conversation.

The bodyguard’s head jerked up and she raced forward.

“What’s the matter?”

Since Khalid still hadn’t forgiven her for taking Charisse into the desert, his tone was not friendly. “Too much heat. Too much champagne.”

“You gave her alcohol?” she asked in a disbelieving voice.

His temper spiked at the tone.

Who the hell, Khalid thought furiously, did she think she was speaking to?

Sarif took one look at his face and stepped into the breach.

“Miss Faulkner, I believe you have work to do?” The cool reprimand in his voice made the bodyguard go stiff and her face flush.

She nodded once, turned and stalked down the corridor.

“That woman forgets herself,” spat Khalid.

“She’ll be out of your hair soon enough. I’m taking her into my close protection staff.’ Now Sarif’s dark eyes rested on Charisse. “What happened?”

The woman Khalid carried slept soundly.

He held her close as her arms fell from around his neck and her body went limp.

“Charisse will not agree to your plan for Arabella. They are very close, and I do not want her upset.” Then he spoke in a long-suffering tone. “In answer to your second question, our mother happened to her. They shared a bottle of bubbly in the garden. And I doubt it occurred to either of them how the heat might affect the patient. Or, that she’s on strong painkillers. This… is the result.”

Sarif’s granite hard features broke into a grin that took years off him.

“Seriously? I can’t remember the last time I saw mama drink wine.”

“Yeah? Well, you can go and sort her out. I left her crying with laughter under a magnolia tree. And she sounds as if she’s back in Texas.”

“I need to see this,” Sarif muttered under his breath before strolling out the doors into the gardens.

Khalid strode quickly up the stairs, and down a wide corridor to Charisse’s rooms.

Sitting on a chair outside the room, he noticed there was a new nurse on duty.

Her dark eyes went wide when she saw him carrying Charisse.

She followed them into the bedroom and stood by as Khalid laid her on the bed.

“Is it time for her painkiller?” he asked.

It wasn’t unusual for new staff to be nervous around him, but he frowned at the way the young nurse trembled.

She kept her eyes downcast and nodded.

“Yes, Highness. I need to inspect the dressing on her wound.”

Her eyes clicked to his, and he recognised surprise as he made himself comfortable in a chair.

With a flick of the wrist he indicated that she continue.

The nurse unbuttoned Charisse’s top.

She unfolded a surgical pack.

Then washed and dried her hands before snapping on latex gloves.

Taking great care, she removed the dressing.

Khalid leaned forward and saw the wound no longer looked inflamed. But the livid bruise had spread under Charisse’s armpit and down over her hip. The nurse inspected and re-dressed the wound. Then she turned to her bag and brought out a syringe and a small glass vial filled with clear liquid.

Her colour was high and her hand shook.

Watching her, Khalid frowned.

Charisse normally took her medicine by mouth.

“What’s that?”

The nurse turned to him and he saw she was very pale now with perspiration beading on her forehead.

“An anti-inflammatory. I don’t want to disturb Her Royal Highness.”

That statement made absolutely no sense.

Of course a sharp sting would waken her.

In an instant the atmosphere in the room changed.

Khalid stood.

“Stop!”

He moved fast but not fast enough to stop the needle pierce Charisse’s arm.

She moaned and blinked awake.

Khalid grabbed the nurse’s slim wrist as his arm went around her neck.

His strong fingers twisted the wrist of the hand holding the syringe, and the nurse cried out as she dropped it. She sobbed, but didn’t put up a struggle as Khalid roared for help.

Arabella burst into the room along with the young army medic Khalid recognised from the helicopter. The medic bent down to pick up the syringe.

“Do not touch it,” Khalid bit out. “We don’t know what’s in it.”

Now he turned to the nurse being held by Arabella.

He grabbed the nurse’s black hair and tipped up her face.

The sheer hatred seething in her eyes threw him for a moment.

“What did you give her?”

She lifted her chin. Her eyes were wild with a certain satisfaction that turned the blood in his veins to ice.

“She’ll tell me,” Arabella ground out as she muscled the nurse out of the room.

The medic used a tissue to pick up the vial and syringe to inspect them.

“Not all of it was administered, Highness. It appears to be an opiate. She needs a receptor blocker.” He rushed out of the room.

Heart thundering in his ears, Khalid took Charisse in his arms.

Her beautiful white blonde hair spilled over his arm as her head lolled forward.

He tipped up her chin.

“Talk to me!” he commanded, his voice hoarse with fear.

His thumb lifted the tissue thin skin of her eyelid. Her pupil, he saw with something like terror in his heart, was fully dilated.

Where the hell was the medic?

Moments later the physician flew into the room, ripped open the sleeve of Charisse’s top and inserted the antidote into a vein.

She was so fucking fragile and helpless as she lay in his arms.

The medic measured her vital signs and still Khalid held her, he simply could not let her go.

Charisse gave a low moan.

Her eyelids fluttered as she tried to focus.

“Khalid?”

Overwhelmed, he buried his face in her neck and just inhaled the scent of her.

Flowers and warm woman.

Christ. Again, he’d almost lost her.

He lifted his head and her face swam as the truth in his heart almost made him sob out loud.

“I am here, my darling. I am here.”

Dear God help him, he loved her.

Dropping to his knees at the side of the bed, he took her hand to his lips as his heart threatened to explode through his ribs. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. To lose her would destroy him in ways he dare not contemplate. Then other truths hit him. She wasn’t the only one who was vulnerable. Love made him vulnerable, too. His love for her made him face up to hard facts of life. He’d failed to protect her.

The young medic’s face was pale but determined.

His dark eyes met Khalid’s as he listened to the beat of her heart through a stethoscope.

“I can give her epinephrine, adrenaline. It should make her more alert and assist her heart and lungs. With your permission, Highness?”

Khalid nodded.

While the medic administered the medication, Khalid kept a hold of her hand, brought it to his mouth to nuzzle ice cold fingers. His eyes never left her face. She was too white. And moments later he almost wept as her fingers squeezed his in a weak response. All the while the doctor listened to her heart and lungs.

He smiled now at Khalid and nodded. “We need to monitor her, but the worst is over.”

With difficulty, Khalid swallowed the rock wedged too tight in his throat.

“Can I have some time alone with her?”

The medic nodded once. “Of course, I will be outside when you need me.”

When the bedroom door closed, Khalid laid his head gently on the flat belly of the woman he loved…

He took a shaky breath and inhaled her scent as Charisse’s frail fingers attempted to explore his hair.

“That’s the last time I’ll ever drink champagne,” she murmured.

He found himself crying and laughing at the pissed-off tone in her voice.

“Look at me, Khalid,” the words, softly spoken, were a command.

He raised his head to drown in dazed blue eyes and what he read there, understanding and unconditional love, humbled him as a human being and, as a man.

She licked her lips and continued, “The time has come for nothing but the truth between us. Agreed?”

He spoke from the heart, “I love you, baby.” His words were the merest whisper.

Her wide smile almost made him want to weep, because he knew he wasn’t man enough for her, wasn’t good enough for her, or for Onuur and its peoples.

Charisse and Onuur deserved so much more.

“I love you, Rock Star.”

The words brought joy to his heart. But they also brought a sense of desolation and despair. He thrust the negative emotions aside. His fears meant nothing. The most important thing was to assure her safety, and to give her his love.

He bent his head and took her soft mouth. Her lips opened under his, and he knew he’d come home. Her tongue, shy and untutored, explored his bottom lip and his whole body shuddered in response.

The breath sobbed from his throat as he buried his face in the heady cent of the delicate skin of her neck.

“Dear God, Charisse, I thought I’d lost you.”

He lifted his head, and again his mouth took hers.

This kiss was supposed to be gentle and tender. But it didn’t last. And soon a mutual hunger that could not be denied, overcame shock and fear. He clung to her as she clung to him. All that mattered was their love. A love that would endure no matter what challenges the fates threw in their path to happiness.

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Thank you so much for the feedback, I’m thrilled you’re enjoying the story…..

More to come.

Christine X

My favorite bad boy becomes a man…

DESERTORCHIDNEWFBBANNER

Hi, guys!

A couple of my readers reached out to tell me they had no idea I had a romantic suspense out there in the digital book world. And that they loved it. DESERT ORCHID was released around the time my mother passed away, so I didn’t do a lot of promotion for it. This story has been a bit of a slow burn, but the reviews are stellar right across all the distributors so I thought I’d give peeps a gentle reminder.

What readers are saying –

‘Regarding the suspense aspect, there were enough twists and turns and heart-pounding scenes to keep me, a mystery writer, intrigued. There are hints at the end of more stories to come about these characters. I cannot wait!’

Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington mysteries

‘In this book expect the unexpected it does everything you want, it makes you laugh, makes you cry and the steamy parts are all there. It is the total package. And while you think you make have already read a book similar, let me assure you, you have not!
I won’t repeat the jacket cover as what help is that,you already read that. The Heroine is no push over and she has a thing or two to teach her “rock star”.
If you love romance, laughter some intrigue and HEA then this is not a suggestion, its a must read. 🙂 The book is a total delight and I have read it three times already. Thank you C C Mackenzie’

Amazon reviewer

 

 

 

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There are plenty of thrills and spills in this one, here’s the back page and a sneak peak:

BLURB:

Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’

He doesn’t want a country. He doesn’t want a wife. He doesn’t want love. He wants to forget.

 A young Arabian Queen must marry a wild, wicked and wilful Prince to save her people from civil unrest and protect the wealth of her Kingdom.

Charisse never expected to find love with a darkly brooding man who looks and lives like a rock star.

Growing up as a member of royalty isn’t everything it’s proclaimed to be. Khalid El Haribe learned that heartbreaking lesson five years ago and isn’t interested in ruling a small desert kingdom or marriage but he cannot forget the debt he owes his family. Perhaps doing his duty will atone for past mistakes? Meeting the beautiful and feisty Charisse comes as a pleasant surprise…the attraction between them burns as hot as the desert.

But tragic events in Charisse’s past threaten to destroy her Kingdom and her life, too. Can their fragile love survive?

 

EXCERPT:

Unfolding the stiff pages of the letter written by the fragile hand of her late husband, Charisse El Haribe’s fingers shook with the emotion that squeezed her lungs, her throat, and stung her eyes.

She shivered even though the temperature outside the palace, under a relentless sun, scorched the land at a steady forty-two degrees. Asim’s passing had been a blessed release for the ravaged shell of his body. But she still found it hard to believe he was gone. Poor Asim, his had been a life filled with suffering. His heart condition had been congenital, which meant no heir for the kingdom of Onuur. And Asim had borne his infirmity with grace, with a highly developed sense of humour and with fortitude.

As was the custom in her adopted land, Asim had been buried within twenty-four hours of his death.

Now she wondered how she could possibly carry on her life without him? The phrase was a cliché, but it was nevertheless very true that Asim had been her rock. And it wasn’t overly dramatic to say he’d saved her life, her heart and even her soul from certain destruction.

Had it really been six short years since he’d brought her, a traumatised sixteen year old, to this fabulous white palace? The structure had been built with Asim’s needs in mind, two thousand feet above sea level on the top of a mountain where the air was cool and clear, and where clouds sprinted across a magnificent expanse of a sky so blue it hurt the eye.

The faint scent of Asim’s signature cologne clung to the thick papers and his presence returned to her in an instant. With a deep inhale, Charisse pressed the missive to her lips. The scent eased the unremitting agony in her heart. And an extraordinary sense of Asim standing at her shoulder overwhelmed her. Even as the feeling brought her comfort, she knew he would expect her to face an uncertain future with bravery, with dignity. After all that he had suffered, the way he had courageously coped with the personal insults of a body reduced to skin and bone, the memory gave her strength.

Asim used to say that she’d given him extra years of life and Charisse hoped he’d been right. He’d been like a beloved father to her, a teacher, and most important of all, a true and loyal friend. And she’d loved him deeply with all of her fractured heart.

Ever since Charisse had been handed the letter from her darling Asim, by a stern-faced Minister of the Interior, she’d had the distinct sensation of waiting for an axe to fall.

The two women who sat opposite stared at her with eyes filled with grief and concern.

With a snuffle and a deep sigh, Boris’s immense head rested on Charisse’s knee. Big hazel eyes locked on her face. They were filled with unconditional love and an intensity that had her press a kiss to his shaggy head of fur the colour of tarnished silver. Charisse raised her index finger. The dog moved with a reluctance that made her bite down hard on her lip to lie on the floor beside his brother Rufus. Her raised brow had Boris hide his face in his paws and heave another great breath from his massive chest. Her Irish Wolfhounds were suffering the loss of Amir, too. She’d take them out for a run later with Diablo. Her stallion needed to vent his excess energy, and it would do her good to escape from the palace for a little while.

Clearing her throat, Charisse blinked to clear her vision and read the letter aloud to her captive audience.

“My darling, Charisse,

I am sorry to leave you. Please find it in your heart to forgive me, but God has need of me in heaven.

You brought joy, laughter, companionship and love to a lonely old man. You opened my eyes and my heart to what is possible for our people and for the future of Onuur. Namely, the children.

It is crucial that you continue your work, Charisse. And you must resume your studies! I know – nag, nag, nag.”

Charisse smiled into the swimming eyes of her sister-in-law, Yasmin. And into the brown eyes, sharp with a ruthless intelligence, of Arabella Faulkner, her bodyguard and trusted friend. Then she took a deep steadying breath and continued,

“You cannot return to the land of your birth. HE now wears a cloak of respectability and has become too powerful. You know too much, and that is dangerous. As I await to leave this earth, my greatest fear is that HE will attempt to strike you down. To prevent such an event I have already set in motion plans to secure your future. Plans that even a man such as HE dare not defy.

I have named Prince Khalid El Haribe as my heir. You must marry him within six weeks.”

 

Stunned disbelief had Charisse blink once, twice.

Her heart rammed to an emergency stop then roared too loud in her ears. She shook her head in denial of what she held in her hands written in black ink by that fragile hand.

She read it twice, three times.

Why?

Why on earth would Asim do such a terrible thing to her, to Onuur?

Looking up, she read her incredulity mirrored in the shocked eyes of her companions.

The dogs whined, and she silenced them with the lift of her forefinger.

A deep frown creased her forehead as she continued more slowly,

 

“I know you will be confused, even dismayed, by my choice of a husband for you, child. But please permit me to explain. Yes, Khalid is flawed. Yes, he is a womaniser. Yes, he is wild, wilful and out of control. But Charisse, there is nothing and no one you cannot tame if you can find it in your heart to forgive him and open your clever mind to his potential. Believe me, he has potential to be a great man and a good husband.

Now I am gone the stability of the country and the region is at risk. Greedy eyes are turned to Onuur. They will surely inflame unrest and undo all the good work we have achieved. Bloodshed, pain and loss must surely follow for the people of this land, which is why I have chosen Khalid.

He will bring with him the security and the stability of the house of El Haribe. The King and his sons are powerful and will protect you and our Kingdom. The King is in agreement with my plan. Look upon him as your father. The Queen will come to love you, too, if you give her a chance.”

 

Charisse gasped and jumped to her feet, the correspondence fluttering to a floor of polished white marble.

Two giant heads snapped to attention as the dogs rose as one and their butts hit the floor.

“I will not!” she cried.

The wolfhounds’ eyes, the colour of jet, tracked her as she paced to the open balcony and back. Wearing a loose top and flowing pants of ivory silk, her soft leather ballet pumps made little sound.

With a fluid movement of her long and lean body, clothed in black military fatigues, Arabella picked up the pages from the floor.

She stood and held out the letter to Charisse.

“Read all of it, Your Highness. We can have a nervous breakdown, if we need to, after we have all the facts.’

Charisse took a steadying breath even as her pulse was hammering in her throat and her eyes stung.

Arabella was quite right.

Where was her self-control?

Having a temper tantrum like a child changed nothing.

She wanted to cry enough tears to fill an ocean.

But tears changed nothing.

With a single nod, she took the letter and sank to the edge of the chair.

The dogs didn’t relax and their black eyes, anxious and watchful, never left her face for a moment. She couldn’t help it, her hand shook as she cleared her throat.

 

“Should you find yourself unable to marry Khalid, the White Palace shall remain yours in perpetuity. On your death it will return to the State. A sum of (she gasped) has been placed in banks in Switzerland for your personal use.

There are conditions to the marriage:

Khalid must not take concubines or another wife whilst you live.

He must provide you with a child within one year of marriage.

Good God!

If the marriage is annulled, the child will remain with you.

So you see, Charisse, you have a choice to make. Get to know Khalid. Open your mind. Help him find joy in service to our people. And at all times remember you are a Queen, beloved by the people of Onuur.

I die a happy and contented man, my darling, and for that I thank you.

Have courage.

All my love, Asim.”

 

Eyes stinging and with a hot rock lodged in her throat, Charisse folded the letter with great care and placed it on the table.

She felt the eyes of her companions on her as she stood, shoulders back and head held high. Like an automaton she moved towards open vast doors and stepped onto a wide stone terrace, which soared high above the valley below. Her sumptuous apartments covered the entire top floor of the palace. Asim had spared no expense ensuring her comfort, providing rooms that were light and spacious with the added luxury of private balconies. There was her office, a state-of-the-art kitchen, gymnasium, a lap pool, and covered deck for lazy days.

Not that she had many of those.

Charisse gazed out, unseeing, over the mountain tops and into the sea, miles beyond.

Up here, the climate was never still, never quiet.

A brisk wind toyed with the long tail of her platinum hair, whipping it around her face. The salty tang of the sea mixed with the scent of jasmine and tea roses planted in huge terracotta pots. A cry from above had her look up and narrow her eyes. A single raptor circled, gliding in the updraft of a cloudless sky.

Dear heaven she missed Amir so much.

But why had he never discussed his plans for the future with her?

They’d agreed never to keep secrets.

The ache in her heart swelled into unbearable pain as her face crumpled.

Her delicate fists pounded the top of the balcony.

A sympathetic hand touched her shoulder.

“Why didn’t he talk to me about this? Why am I not given time to grieve?” Charisse turned into Yasmin’s wiry arms and sobbed into her neck.

As she would an infant, her sister-in-law rubbed her back in lazy circles.

Her voice, filled with sorrow, was the merest whisper, “Hush, child. It has always been thus for the rulers of this land.”

Yasmin’s hand, the skin paper thin and wrinkled with age, tipped up her chin. Dark eyes identical to Asim’s stared into hers and Charisse recognised grief and a hideous loss. Gentle fingertips wiped the tears from her cheeks. Yasmin had lost her favourite brother and here she was acting like a spoilt child. And shame for her selfish outburst smacked her too hard. Yasmin kissed one cheek and then the other. “He prepared you for this day. The men have buried him and the women will weep. Asim was revered in this land. Your Prince has large shoes to fill.”

Charisse couldn’t stop the sting of outrage.

My Prince?”

She whirled, blue eyes blazing as she paced back and forth.

Alert, the dogs took positions in the shade and sat on their haunches like sentinels, one either side of the ornate arched doorway. Not once did their eyes leave her face.

“He’s a tom-cat,” she spat the words. “A drunk. A waster.”

“That’s right, your Highness, tell it like it is,” Arabella drawled and added. “Apparently, his art sells for a small fortune.”

Temper won the war of attrition with grief, and surged through Charisse.

She spun to face her friend with wide eyes.

“Have you seen what he calls art? If I want a visual lesson in what the intimate body parts of the female form look like, I’ll refer to a gynaecological compendium for facts, not fiction.”

Arabella winced at the tone.

“To be fair his work in oils has gathered critical acclaim.”

Bullshit.

Charisse wasn’t having that.

“Yes, by men who need to be titillated by Khalid’s so called interpretation of a clitoris, labia and perineum.” Utter fury spiked through the top of her head as her eyes pinned Arabella’s and it took everything she had to stop her voice shaking, to articulate every syllable, “There are children living in this continent who do not know what it is like to live without the unparalleled burn of an empty belly, who cannot imagine a future further than their next meal.” She took a very deep breath. “While he, who’s never known anything but health, wealth and a fawning society, does nothing but piss away his opportunity to make a real difference to his people.

“Oh, they might not have the good fortune to be born within the hallowed borders of Dhuma or Quaram, but our people are nomads. We are all brothers and sisters and we who rule have a responsibility to the hungry, the sick and the vulnerable of this region.”

 

Having heard it all before, and more, Arabella nodded.

“I’m not defending him. But he’s not had an easy time of it…”

Charisse flicked a hand, rudely interrupting her bodyguard and friend.

She wasn’t having any of that, either.

“He needs to get over himself and grow a pair. Onuur needs a real man, not a dick-swinging fool who cannot go six hours without a drink or a woman or three.”

“Charisse!” Yasmin’s soft voice held a censure that had anger leak out of Charisse like a deflated balloon.

God, she felt physically ill at the mere thought of such a man touching her.

She couldn’t do it.

Arabella frowned now, and sat at a stone table in the shade, drumming her fingernails on the table top. “You know we can’t believe absolutely everything they print in the press? Much of it is bound to be exaggerated.”

Charisse let out an unladylike snort that had Yasmin send her a look of mild reproach.

“If it swims like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck.”

Charisse’s temperament was usually easygoing. But now her temper bubbled and brewed quite nicely. And her chin tilted.

“He is not fit to lick my feet. And in my bed?” She hissed out a breath of sheer temper. “Never. I’d rather sleep with a…”

The shrill ring of the telephone, the land line, brought an abrupt end to her rant.

Arabella paused, waiting for her Queen’s nod of assent before picking up the receiver.

“Hello?” The bodyguard listened with a deepening crease on her forehead as her dark brows met over her nose.

Now what? Charisse wondered.

Arabella’s dark eyes flicked to hers. “Yes, I will inform her Highness.”

Arabella replaced the receiver and opened her mouth to speak when the distant whop- whop-whop of helicopters brought their attention to the land to the north of Onuur, to Dhuma.

Charisse stepped into her apartments, covered herself with a white hijab and stalked out to observe the approach of three vast military helicopters.

Vultures, she fumed.

As a mere woman, even as a queen, she had no rights.

The El Haribe Princes and their father would rule her land, her people.

Men who were so called modernists.

If she had to marry one, why couldn’t it have been the elder brother?

At least Sarif appeared to have standards, morals.

Although from what she’d seen on the news and on the internet Sarif’s face appeared to be carved from stone, his dark eyes too hard. Plus, he had a reputation for being relentless, even ruthless, in achieving his goals.

Emotions gripped her throat as a tsunami of guilt for the anger she felt with her late husband washed over her.

“Oh, my darling, what on earth were you thinking?” she whispered.

Her eyes narrowed into slits as the helicopters thundered around the Palace in preparation to land.

The racket, the vibration under her feet, spooked the horses in the stables far below and even from here she could hear Diablo’s frantic screams. The magnificent black stallion was already edgy since he’d picked up her grief and her pain. She’d need to take him out later and give him his neck or he’d be impossible for the stable boys to handle.

 

Helicopters the colour of the desert descended kicking up mini tornadoes, sand devils, in their wake.

And the analogy was not lost on Charisse.

One of them carried the very devil himself.

A man so bent on his own pleasure, on his own self-destructive needs, he’d even turned his back on his country, his people and his own family.

She needed time. Time to think. Time to plan.

Determination filled her heart. “I am in seclusion. I will receive no one,” she said, her voice firm and the tone harsh. And she hardened her heart to Yasmin’s sigh of disappointment.

“They won’t like it,” Arabella warned her.

Charisse kept her burning gaze on the helicopters hidden now among huge clouds of dusty sand as they settled outside the palace walls. Her people were covering their eyes and mouths with cloth to protect themselves from the sting of swirling sand. Since they’d never seen a military helicopter up close and personal, some of the children were holding their ears and screaming with fright and shock.

Anger felt a hell of a lot better than guilt and Charisse gave it free rein now.

Stupid, ignorant, macho fools.

Did they not realise the damage they were inflicting on a people and animals unused to such arrogant behaviour.

How dare they arrive at her home in such a manner.

“I will come to them when I am ready. Not before.”

*Finito*

I hope you enjoy reading Charisse and Khalid’s rocky road through villainy, mistrust and a scorching lust, to true love, as much as I loved writing them.

Christine X