Desert Captive, episodes seventeen and eighteen…..

DESERTCAPTIVEBANNERbella1

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

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

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODE SEVENTEEN

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

Taking her hand in his, Sarif stood.

Arabella stood too.

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

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

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

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

“Where are we going?”

He glanced at her face.

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

“Outside?”

Again he glanced at her.

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

Arabella, the Queen of Quarram.

Somebody was having a laugh.

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

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

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

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

Now Sarif brought her hand to his lips.

The jolt of attraction shot straight to her throat.

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

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

She rubbed a hand over her throat.

“I figured no news was good news?”

“Go ahead, ask.”

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

Baby brain, she decided.

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

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

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

“You’ve organized an attack force?”

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

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

“And others.”

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

“And you’re telling me this, why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what you think, boyo.

Then another thought hit her.

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

He made a face.

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

A wave of nausea made her dizzy.

“Beheading?”

His jaw tight, Sarif shook his head.

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

“Omigod.”

“I leave tonight.”

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

Time was of the essence.

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

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

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

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

Worry won.

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

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

Too true she had every right.

She was more than angry with him.

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

Again he brought her hand to his mouth.

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

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

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

He nodded.

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

Was he serious?

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

“Nope.”

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

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

“I stand warned.”

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

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

The tinkling of goat bells rang out as night fell.

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

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

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

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

She shook the feeling off.

“Nothing.”

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

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

It disturbed her a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She pulled her hand free.

“What about your French mistress?”

He didn’t even miss a beat.

“Our friendship is at an end.”

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

He shrugged.

“She was a loyal and good friend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have apologized…”

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

“So that makes it all okay then?”

He shifted to enter her personal space.

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

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

“You were taking too long.”

“Because I…”

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

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

Oh, for the love of…

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

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

Maybe she had.

He scratched his chin.

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

She sent him a bland look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That makes two of us.”

 

 

EPISODE EIGHTEEN

 

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

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

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

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

The elderly man standing next to them looked fierce.

Warrior fierce.

And not happy.

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

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

He could have done with a bath.

“You the Sheik?” she asked in Farsi.

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

“So they say.”

“You don’t look like a Queen.”

“True.”

He jerked his little chin towards the desert.

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

Strange men, eh?

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

“Doesn’t everyone like dinosaurs?”

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

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

“Plenty of old fossils around here.”

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

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

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

“Amira Hussein.”

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

“He is Malik.”

“Brother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stubborn,” she muttered.

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

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

The scent alone made her mouth water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarif dipped his head.

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

Arabella could understand that.

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

Honor.

Duty.

Freedom.

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

***

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

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

A sound had her turn to find Leila standing there.

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

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

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

Leila shook her head.

“I don’t like this. What if…”

Arabella held up her hand.

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

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

“The deed is done?”

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

“Then let’s go.”

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

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

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

Result.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eight miles as the crow flies.”

“Shame we’re not crows.”

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

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

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

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

“We can’t let it happen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost.

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

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

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

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

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

The phrase firmed her resolve to do what was right.

Failure was not an option.

 


 

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

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

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

Love and hugs and smoochies,
Christine X

Desert Captive, episodes 11 + 12….

DCAPTIVEOLDWAYSWILLNOTOPENNEWDOORS

Happy Friday, dear readers,

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

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

 

DESERT CAPTIVE

by CC MACKENZIE

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

 

EPISODE ELEVEN

 

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

The vehicle screeched to an emergency stop.

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

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

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

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

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

“Is she in labour?”

The medic placed his stethoscope on her belly and listened.

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

Another medic stuck his head in the doorway.

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

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

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

 

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

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

The doctor in charge turned to him.

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

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

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

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

He had no one to guide him.

No one to turn to for advice.

And why was that?

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

He turned to the doctor.

“No one dies this night.”

The doctor nodded.

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

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

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

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

He nodded.

“Save my wife.”

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

He’d make sure of it.

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

All he could think was that he had failed.

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

Failed to protect the child she carried.

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

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

He had a traitor in his midst.

Someone close.

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

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

He swiped his wet face.

Tears were for the weak.

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

However, his personal protection officer stood there.

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

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

Great.

This was all he needed.

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

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

 

EPISODE TWELVE

 

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

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

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

The place smelled of hospital.

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mother wore flat pumps by the house of Chanel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarif nodded.

“I agree.”

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

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

For the first time Sarif felt a sense of relief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce stalked into the room.

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

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

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

He had not.

“No. She agreed to marry me before…”

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

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

Sarif lifted his noble chin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

Oooooooh, Sarif is in deep excrement.

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

Christine X

Desert Captive, episodes 9 & 10…

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Good evening from a very hot and sultry Cheshire,

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

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

Here’s the next part of Desert Captive.

Enjoy!

 

DESERT CAPTIVE

by CC MACKENZIE

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

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

She noticed someone had left her a tray of refreshments.

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

It struck her the plane had begun to descend.

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

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

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

She blinked.

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

On his head he wore a gold cord Igaal.

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

Austere.

Unforgiving.

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

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

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

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

Shame he refused to listen, never mind believe her.

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

Where were all these feelings coming from?

Jeez, what was with the pregnancy hormones?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shifted and went nose to nose with her.

And God, he smelled amazing.

Spicy.

Hot.

Lickable.

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

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

Well, she was certainly no saint.

Then again, nor was she a sinner.

“What do I have to hide?”

“Why were you crying?”

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

“Admit it. I upset you.”

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

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

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

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

Dawn?

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

“Desert?”

“Yes. You will be safe here.”

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

“Here?”

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

She blinked.

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

Near her brother?

“Why not the city?”

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

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

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

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

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

Sarif stopped and turned to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bedouin.

She swung around to find Sarif watching her closely.

“What are they doing here?”

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

“From whom?”

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

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

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

“Perhaps from herself?”

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

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

 

EPISODE TEN

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

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

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

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

Women lifted their voices in a eulogy of sound.

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

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

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

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

They were lean and mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling polite this morning.

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

Those dark eyes flashed into his.

And just like that he went rock hard.

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

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

She lifted her chin.

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

“My past is none of your business.”

His words had brought a flush to her cheeks.

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

Well now, wasn’t this interesting?

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

“I agree.”

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

He studied her slim figure, swathed within soft cashmere.

The robe could not hide her long legs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White dots danced in front of her eyes.

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

And her belly went tight.

Too tight.

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

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

 

*****

Ooooh, looks like trouble ahead.

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

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Desert Captive, Episodes 3 + 4…

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Hello, my darlings,

It’s time for another couple of episodes with Sarif and Bella…

Enjoy!

DESERT CAPTIVE

 

EPISODE THREE

Copyright © CC MacKenzie 2018

 

Four days later, wearing soft blue jeans and a black cashmere sweater, Safir stared unseeing out of another window.

This one in a private room of St. Martin’s hospital in central London.

He and diplomats from his Embassy had been utterly ruthless and pulled many strings to bring the hospital officials into line, not to mention running the gauntlet of police, and certain members of the British security services, who’d carefully and thoroughly grilled him on his involvement with and intentions towards Arabella. This was a woman who was, they reminded him on a daily basis, one of their own.

She’d regained consciousness three days ago and this morning had finally given permission for him to visit her.

Diplomacy was a skill like any other, and one he was good at, which was why—barely tolerated by the nursing staff—he was finally inside Arabella’s room, while she slept.

In a jail up country in Quarram, her brother was behaving himself too, which had surprised him. He’d left explicit instruction, the boy was not to be harmed.

Something else that had also surprised him was the fact, the Faulkner family were none the wiser that one of their members was missing. Looked like her family were not close.

A stirring from the bed, had him turn to watch her.

She was still asleep.

Her injuries made his belly clutch.

For as long as he lived, he would never forget the first time he’d seen her today.

Shock had come first.

Then anger.

Both had combined to spin into a fist in his gut as he’d stared at the livid bruise on her face, the split lip and the grazed knuckles.

Now he took the time to study her hair, black, longer now.

He remembered, he couldn’t help it, the way they’d come together.

How they’d mated.

Fast.

Furious.

Fantastic.

Her mouth might be hurt and swollen now, but he remembered how her lips had trembled, all full and soft, before their first kiss. Now he remembered how she’d sucked him deep in her throat.

He went rock hard.

So hard, he drew in a shaky breath.

God, the woman was asleep and he was standing there staring at her with a raging hard on?

How did she do this to him?

How?

She’d thought about killing a life and he was attracted to her?

Was he crazy?

 

Then his gaze dropped lower.

The sight of her belly swollen with his child, had caught him totally by surprise when he’d first seen her. It caught him again as emotions, too many, too confusing, slammed into him.

Even now all those emotions and more squeezed his chest, twisted tight, and seemed to spear his heart.

Four days had given him plenty of time to brood on Arabella’s many sins.

For a while it had been touch and go they’d lose the baby.

He’d been worried sick.

But the child was—according to the medical team—a fighter.

Through the hell of an appallingly helpless anxiety, Safir had felt the first stirring of pride in his unborn child. A boy. And Safir had made a promise to God that should the child be spared, he would be a good father. It would be impossible for his son to be born a bastard. Only a legitimate child could inherit the throne.

And even though she clearly did not deserve it, he would be a loyal and faithful husband to Arabella, until the baby was born, and then he’d personally put her on a plane out of his country and out of his life.  Not once did it occur to him that a woman in her delicate situation, unmarried, may not want or desire himself as a husband.  As far as Safir was concerned, Arabella’s wants or desires simply didn’t come into the equation. Like him, she would be bound by duty and honor to his people, whether she liked it or not, until her usefulness was over.

It occurred to him he’d need to get rid of his French mistress, fast.

He’d give her the Paris apartment as a parting gift.

Now he had an heir he could, after all, afford to be generous.

“Sarif?”

Arabella’s voice was no more than a whisper, but it put an abrupt end to his thoughts.

He moved towards the bed.

“Yes. It is I.”

Since her right eye was swollen shut and surrounded by a dark bruise that reached from temple to chin, she peered at him through the partially closed other eye.

In spite of the spectacular mess of her face, Sarif reckoned she looked good.

The first time he’d met her, she’d blown him away.

Five months later he might not like it, but he had to admit nothing much had changed.

He could smell the scent of her shampoo.

Lavender.

The hospital gown was ugly as sin, the cotton the color of sickly green.

On her slim wrist was the black watch he remembered, masculine.

The watch had a webbed strap and looked like something a diver might wear.

Her mouth was swollen.

The split bottom lit for some reason made him go hard as stone.

Dammit.

Five months since he’d last seen her and he’d thought of her every day and every night, no matter how hard he’d tried not to.

“What are you doing here?” she asked him.

Sarif blinked and wondered if the head injury was more extensive than the doctor’s had first thought.

“Where else would I be?”

She sighed.

Her hand, the knuckles bruised and battered, smoothed over her baby, their baby.

“I don’t know what to say,” she whispered, sounding so unlike her normal sparky self that he frowned.

Sarif felt a strong urge to hold her.

He wanted to smooth that silky slide of dark hair back from her pale face.

But the thought occurred to him that he had no right.

He had no right to touch her, and then another truth struck him.

Perhaps he had no right to the child they’d made either?

“You are very lucky to be alive,” he said, his voice sounded hoarse, but he kept his face straight.

She shrugged.

“So they say. They haven’t found the driver.”

“The car was found smouldering and abandoned on waste ground.” Then he added casually, “It wasn’t an accident.”

For a long time she simply stared at him, then she blinked.

“I don’t have enemies,” she said at last. “At least none who’d want to kill me.”

Sarif didn’t know about that.

He was pretty tempted to strangle her right now.

She took a deep breath that moved her chest.

Her breasts had grown a little, the nipples hard and firm jutted through the thin cotton fabric.

The ache in his groin an unwelcome distraction that shot his throught process apart.

“It’s not safe for you in London,” he said.

Bella simply watched him, that eye wary.

“What do you suggest?”

Sarif folded his arms.

“I suggest you do the right thing,” he said in a clipped tone. “For once in your life, think of someone other than yourself. Think of our child. Marry me. Live in Quarram.”

Bella said nothing for the longest moment, and Sarif held his breath until her eyes clicked to his and held.

“Just like that?”

He shook his head, and wondered why it was that nothing ever went according to plan with this woman.

“No, not just like that. I need a wife. Our child needs a father. By marrying me, I understand the sacrifice you have to make. But, as we have clearly seen, the fact is I cannot protect you here—”

“And you think I’ll be safe in Quarram?”

He did not hesitate.

“I guarantee it.”

“Brave words, Highness. There is no way your people will accept a Westerner as your consort. The whole idea of marrying me is ludicrous and you know it.”

Sarif stood utterly still, as if carved from stone.

He could not remember the last time anyone had ever spoken to him in that particular tone.

Disrespectful.

Disobedient.

Was it possible she was going to argue?

With him?

By the look on her face, it seemed she was.

***

Bella squinted, her eyesight a little blurry, as she studied how much he’d changed in five short months.

He was still six foot three with the blue blood of hundreds of years of warriors flowing in his veins. Even in jeans, he looked the part. A ruler. A King.

It could be a trick of the light, but he looked older and leaner.

And since he wore his usual, do-not-mess-with-me-expression, he was not exactly a barrel of laughs.

He was a man, who took life far too seriously, she reckoned, and still ridiculously handsome of course.

She’d met plenty of handsome men before and they’d left her cold.

Well, she didn’t feel cold looking at him right now.

Anything but.

His hair, that glossy black, had changed too. The style had grown from the short crop he’d worn before. Now it was it was smoothed back from that wide brow. She reckoned those cheekbones were too sharp. The strong nose was too arrogant. The jaw much too stubborn.

He was just too much.

Then his dark eyes hooded beneath black brows held hers and something in them, something like a warning shivered through her. She put it down to her head injury. How could she have forgotten those dark grey eyes, eyes that didn’t look at all friendly as they held hers.

Then Sarif smiled, just a flash of white teeth. A smile that was too confident, and maybe a little smug. Her head hurt, a lot, just looking at him.

“To succeed to the throne, my child must be legitimate.” The way he paced back and forth in front of her bed, as if he was a man clearly at the end of his tether, touched something deep inside. He stopped and his gaze caught hers. “I refuse to father a bastard.”

He sounded genuine, sincere even.

“I promise to think about it,” she found herself saying.

Her head felt too heavy for her shoulders.

Dark grey eyes seemed to pin her to the pillow.

“That’s just the trouble. You have had too much time to think about it. Months. The time for thinking is over.”

And see, right there, was the bad attitude that just pressed all her hot buttons.

If only she wasn’t lying in a bed, injured, she’d be able to give him a few home truths.

Out of the blue she focused all her attention on his mouth.

Her throat went dry.

The memory of how he’d kissed her, with hunger and a demand that would not be denied, made her close her eyes. Her breasts ached. A pulse between her legs ached. In her mind, she could actually taste him and feel the way his tongue had mated with hers. He’d used his teeth on her bottom lip, and on other—places. God. The room felt too hot. Hell, she felt too hot. Baby hormones, that must be why she felt like this, hadn’t she read they often made women horny?

She opened her eyes to find him watching her with a deep interest that made her cheeks flush, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. His eyes dropped to her breasts and narrowed.

Her breath hitched when the tip of his tongue ran over his bottom lip.

And was that a bulge growing between his legs?

He was aroused?

Seriously?

The room seemed to snap and crackle with an electricity both of them clearly could not deny.

But it was the arrogant smirk that made her eyes narrow into slits.

How was it possible she wanted to kiss and smack that mouth both at the same time?

“Well, it’s too bad for you I live in a country where personal freedom and choice is a right and not a privilege. My answer is no.”

Sarif raised his eyes to heaven, as if praying for divine intervention.

Well, Bella didn’t believe in God, so good luck with that, pal.

He ran a hand through his hair as he took the seat next o her bed.

“Don’t you remember what we did? We worked well together, Bella.”

 

Actually, Bella reckoned he was right about that.

They had worked well together to neutralize troublemakers who’d done everything they could to threaten the house of El Haribe and destabilize King Khalid and Queen Charisse’s tiny kingdom Onuur.

Sarif had a quick mind, even if he was a stubborn bastard at times.

She’d challenged him—and he challenged her right back.

In spite of his heritage and background, he was open to suggestions and possibilities.

The issue was that they’d challenged each other on a personal level too.

And for a short time they had indeed made a good team.

On the other hand, they’d bickered and fought like a pair of wildcats too.

When they weren’t taking a swipe at each other, they’d fallen into bed, once.

And that one time had changed both of their lives forever.

The truth was the attraction that had driven them both had baffled them both too.

And on some fundamental level, she knew he knew that.

Any marriage between them would turn into a bloody battlefield. If she drew a red line in the desert sand, he’d cross it without a thought. And then he’d have his hands on her—and that would be it—the ultimate surrender—her body.

But now her body hummed with the memory of the feel of those strong hands over her skin, how he’d touched her everywhere, and how she’d simply gone up in flames.

She took a breath to steady the crazy fluttering in her heart and told her body to behave itself.

How could she have forgotten that ever since she’d left, it had been all over the tabloids that Prince Sarif El Haribe had recently had those hands all over a French actress?

Annoyance with him, with herself, burned bright in her belly.

“I refuse to be added to your harem and become a love slave,” she said with a decided snap in her voice.

 

Sarif said nothing in response to the love slave dig, which was no surprise to Bella.

He probably thought he was so far above her he could do whatever the hell he liked, and that included, wife or no wife and a wide variety of women.

Face set, he got to his feet, and moved towards the door.

He turned back to study her.

She couldn’t tell from his closed expression what he was thinking.

“You need to rest,” he said. “Do not let little stupid things influence your decision. Sleep on it and think about what is best for our child.”

He left.

Bella had the distinct feeling she hadn’t come out the winner of this latest skirmish.

Anyway, he was right.

She did need rest.

 

 

EPISODE FOUR

 

Copyright © CC MacKenzie 2018

 

Later that evening Bella, feeling a lot better after a nice long nap and a light supper, was wasting time flicking through a glossy magazine.

Her head throbbed every time she tried to do what Sarif had suggested, to think, and so she stopped thinking.

It was late, around ten in the evening.

When the door opened slowly, she looked up expecting to see a nurse, and went utterly still when she saw the man standing there.

She very much doubted he was here to bring her flowers.

Her old boss from CI5, Colonel Roger Gilchrist, peered at her over the top of his black framed glasses and raised bushy silver brows. He was a slim and broad-shouldered sixty-two. His raw-boned face always made Arabella think of a clever Professor. He wore a beautifully tailored charcoal suit of the finest Italian wool, a white shirt of stiff cotton, and his striped regimental tie.

His hair, a stunning mane of black and silver, was brushed back from a lean and powerful face.

“Well now, young lady, this is a nice mess you’ve got yourself into.” His voice was like grit stone spilling down a steel chute and running through a metal grate. “Spoke to your doctor. You and the baby were lucky.”

She put down her magazine.

“Didn’t see it coming.”

The Colonel took a seat and folded his arms.

“Might not be so lucky next time,” he said.

She blinked and automatically placed her hand on her belly as if to protect her baby.

“It wasn’t an accident,” she muttered her first thoughts.

And beneath her hand, her belly tightened.

“It wasn’t,” he agreed. “When you’re feeling a bit better, you can watch CCTV footage. I imagine you will want to meet the person who tried to mow down you and your child.”

Arabella had the distinct feeling she was being led to a place she didn’t want to go.

“I don’t have enemies,” she said.

When the Colonel merely angled his head and stared blandly, Arabella had to laugh.

“Okay. Maybe pals of the late and not lamented paedophile, assassin, and rapist, Omar, might have an issue with me.”

The Colonel studied her through narrowed eyes.

“What makes you think you’re the target?” He sat forward in his chair, rested his elbows on bony knees, his hands clasped. “I know you’ve had a head injury, but think about it. The whole region is a tinderbox, and with the right spark it’s ready to blow. There are powerful and greedy eyes on all El Haribe lands. They’ve already tried and failed to destabilise Onuur. If they are prepared to assassinate a Queen, what makes you think they’d baulk at killing the mother of the heir to Quarram?”

“You sound like Sarif.”

The Colonel gave her a look she knew well, a look that clearly stated do-not-mess-with-me.

“Sarif is almost as hard-headed as you are. You’ve managed to keep him at arms length for months.”

“It’s my life we’re talking about here,” she said. “I make the choices.”

“True. But he is a king.” He hesitated for a moment. “The man has rights.”

All anger seem to slide away and now Arabella nodded.

“I know that.”

“He’ll want to legitimise the child.” The Colonel slid his hand through his hair, the movement reminding her forcibly of Sarif and how he’d worn the exact same expression when he had spoken to her earlier. “He’ll want marriage.”

She knew that.

Arabella glared.

“What’s this? Marriage guidance? A bit out of your sphere of influence isn’t it?”

Gilchrist chuckled to himself.

He’d always admired Bella’s sharp mind.

Her stubborn streak.

Her absolute devotion to her country and her duty.

He had a grandson around her age.

He’d thought about introducing them, then changed his mind, because even though his grandson was as hard and tough as they came, Bella could be, well, mean.

Plus, he’d heard the rumors, Bella wasn’t into men—most of the time.

“I must admit,” he began, treading carefully. “There is an element of—surprise—shall we say, that it appears you’re pregnant via a rather conventional route.”

Bella knew the statement was his clumsy way of saying—WTF?

Her face went hot at the thought of what she and Sarif had done—they’d fucked like rabid rabbits. And of course, the old bastard didn’t miss her embarrassment.

“I always thought the Sandhurst scandal had been blown out of all proportion,” the Colonel said now, opening dialogue on a subject that was no one’s business except her own.

Arabella rubbed her belly and felt the baby kick.

“We were drunk. It was a quick fumble caught on a cell phone. And I hear it made her big bucks on the Internet.”

“Regrettable behaviour on everyone’s account,” he said, and fiddled with his shirt cuff. Then those steely eyes found hers. “Have you spoken to your father?”

Now Arabella felt dizzy.

Her father, her family, knew nothing of her recent troubles, and that was how she wanted it to stay.

Her business.

End of.

“Ah, I see you haven’t. He will not be pleased when he finds out. He’s not a particularly forgiving man either. Might make trouble for you and especially for Sarif, don’t you think?”

She made a face.

If anyone knew how unforgiving her father was, she did.

However, neither could she deny a truth.

“He will.”

The Colonel leaned back and folded his arms.

“I have a proposition for you. A proposition that might see everyone get what they want out of this mess,” he said in that gravelly voice. But it was the tone, silk over steel, that had her watching him warily.

The old fox was up to something.

Whatever he was selling, she could always say no, couldn’t she?

“I’m listening…”

**********

 

Until next time…..

Christine X

Episode 2 of Desert Captive…

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Hello, my darlings,

There’s a rumour going around that next Monday we’ll see the hottest early May day holiday since records began.  We can only hope!

Grab a coffee or a glass of wine…

EPISODE TWO

In his office suite situated on the third floor, Prince Sarif El Haribe frowned at the sound of the clamour of sirens and blue lights flashing outside the Embassy window.

Since it was summer, he couldn’t see the scene through the heavy canopy of oak trees.

Plus, his thoughts were focused on other things.

More important things.

Things like Arabella Faulkner, a woman he hadn’t been able to forget for many long months.

Of course, he’d tried to forget how she’d felt as her body had held his like a too tight fist in a velvet glove. He’d tried to forget how she’d writhed beneath him, her eyes glazed with lust. He’d tried to forget the way she’d chanted his name over and over as he’d taken her so hard and so fast his vision had clouded. More, he’d tried to forget her smell, jasmine and sunshine and womanly arousal.

He closed his eyes because he could actually taste her on his tongue.

He’d been like this for months.

He’d lost weight.

A disciplined and controlled man in all things, he’d lost that discipline, that control, when she’d run from him, from them, from their future, he’d planned.

How many times had he replayed in his head the last time she’d spoken to him?

Why hadn’t he shared his feelings with her?

Instead of telling her what their future held, why hadn’t he discussed her needs, her anxieties?

His brother Khalid and sister-in-law Charisse had told him to give Bella time and space.

He’d followed their advice. After all they understood how a marriage of convenience worked. They’d fallen madly in love and were now cosily ensconced in marital bliss, true partners who supported each other through thick and thin.

Khalid was a lucky man.

The trouble was, Sarif was a King, a ruler of people who needed him, a King with heavy responsibilities and duties and commitments.

By walking away, by leaving him, Arabella had shown by her actions rather than words that she wanted no part of him or the people of Quarram. The last thing his country needed in these dangerous times was a reluctant Queen, a Queen from a diametrically opposing culture.

And yet, like a smacked puppy, he’d followed her to London to make sure she was safe.

More importantly, to make sure the child she carried—his secret child—was safe.

Even now he could hardly believe it.

When he’d received her message that she was finally prepared to meet with him, he’d been almost relieved.

Almost.

But then he’d again read the detailed report of her comings and goings over the past few months. He’d first seen it six long weeks ago, a report compiled by his new private secretary, Hafar, areport that even now sat on his desk, almost mocking him, and a report that had broken something deep within him.

Betrayal was a bitter taste on his tongue.

Although to be fair, she’d walked right up to the shaky edge of betrayal and hadn’t actually taken that final step.

No matter, the picture, the report painted of a woman he’d been prepared to trust, was not a pretty one.

However, he’d plotted and planned and now everything was coming together.

Sarif checked the time on the wall clock.

She was late.

Annoyance stirred in his belly.

He’d dressed carefully for the meeting.

His dark grey suit tailored in Savile Row, a shirt of crisp white cotton and a silk tie.

The English liked their silk ties.

Never a patient man at the best of times, he checked the time on his slim watch of white-gold and frowned.

She was late.

But the thing that seriously annoyed him was the way his nerves jangled.

He refused to acknowledge such a thing as nerves.

Nerves were a sign of weakness.

No man from the house of El Haribe was weak.

He was a King, for God’s sake.

Then he wondered, why now?

Why had Arabella called him this morning  out of the blue and accepted his invitation to meet him here at the Embassy. He’d immediately cancelled his appointments for the day, much to Hafar’s clear disapproval.

So what had made Arabella change her mind after months of radio silence and agree to see him? Recently one of his security personnel had been on her tail at all times.

Perhaps it had been her recent neonatal appointment for an ultrasound scan. Perhaps seeing the living, beating heart of their child had, belatedly, made her grow a conscience? This was an appointment she’d kept alone, with no one to support her. He wondered why the fact she’d been alone bothered him?

He glanced again at the thick file of the report on his desk, months of detailed information on her movements, where she’d gone and who she’d met.

One part he’d read again and again as the dog-eared paper proved.

He couldn’t seem to help himself but shift to open the file and read the page one more time. The part where, six weeks after she’d arrived in the capital, she’d gone to a private clinic for an appointment.

His hand fisted.

An abortion clinic.

Of course, she hadn’t gone through with killing his child, which was just as well for her.

But as he read again, in black and white, that she’d even considered destroying an innocent, he finally faced the fact that her betrayal had killed something deep inside him.

She deserved every single thing that was about to befall her.

And so, Sarif accepted, he was about to cast aside all ethics and values of a life dedicated to duty and service.

He had plotted and planned and was almost ready to make his move to protect his son.

His son.

She carried a boy, as the ultrasound scan proved beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Gritting his teeth, Sarif El Haribe swore to Allah, he would break every single law of faith and country to protect his unborn child and take him home where he belonged.

Quarram.

And as for the woman who carried his son?

Well, Arabella Faulkner would do exactly as she was told, or, in the spirit of an eye for an eye, Sarif would put her brother to death in an instant.

The man-boy was nineteen and a student.

His name, Rupert Faulkner, youngest son of Brigadier Hamish Faulkner and his wife, Primrose.

A keen student of cultural anthropology, it had been all too easy to dupe Rupert into joining a fake archaeological dig to Quarram.

It had been even easier to plant a priceless artefact in his hand luggage as he tried to leave the country with the rest of his party. Now Rupert sat rotting in a Quarram jail. Sarif, since the King’s word overruled all democratic laws of man, had decreed the prisoner had no rights. No right to a lawyer. No right to consular assistance.

Now as he thought about him, Sarif had to admit the boy’s courage had impressed him.

No whining.

No begging.

He’d shown plenty of the famous British stiff upper lip.

As soon as Arabella Faulkner married Sarif, her brother would be set free.

Marry him, save her brother.

That was the deal.

Sarif was well aware his father and brother would look askance upon his appalling conduct, and see it as—extreme, which was why he’d told them nothing of his plans.

He lusted for revenge.

He lusted for justice.

Arabella had runaway like a coward.

She’d kept his unborn child from him and had thought, even briefly, to destroy it.

And for that he would never forgive her.

Revenge—Sarif decided with a righteous fury burning in his very soul—was a dish best served cold.

 

Again he moved to the window to calm his thoughts, to clear his mind.

He’d need to play it smart.

Arabella was no fool.

The woman was highly intelligent, and a trained fighter.

All he had to do was keep his head, and his temper, and persuade her to marry him.

Once she’d safely delivered his son, he’d divorce her and kick her out of his country.

And she would never see their child, or Sarif, again.

Result.

A knock at the door had him give permission to enter.

His private secretary, Hafar, entered, bringing with him the scent of Jeera Goli, a candy laced with cumin.

For a young man with a sweet tooth, Hafar was strikingly skinny.

And since Hafar refused to wear western dress, he wore his thwab and besht to denote his status as a servant of the King. He’d replaced his father, Ekram, in the position after the latter’s sudden retirement due to family issues. To tell the truth, Hafar’s obsequious ways got on Sarif’s nerves.

Looking on the bright side, Hafar might be considered a godsend.

His information technology skills were particularly impressive.

“My Lord,” Hafar’s nasally voice was smooth as silk, and annoying as hell. “There has been a most unfortunate occurrence outside the Embassy gates.”

Sarif frowned. “An accident?”

“A young woman has been hit by a car. The driver did not stop.”

Safir made a face of distaste.

“A hit and run.”

Hafar bowed again.

And waited.

Sarif lifted his brows.

“Something else?”

Looking back at the conversation later—the way Hafar’s tongue had licked his thin lips, like a snake, and pressed his fleshy palms together, as if in prayer, and all the while his dark eyes had stayed on him—it should have been a warning.

But what followed erased the conversation from his mind, until it was too late.

Far too late.

“The woman is Arabella Faulkner.”

***

Ooooooh, tune in next week…

Hugs,

Christine X

New – a chapter a week of Desert Captive – follow the story as I write it…

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Hello my darlings!

I’ve been up the wall with a redevelopment project in the house that has grown into one hot mess. I’m in the middle of electrical cables, plumbing and joiners and tearing my hair out.

From today, and each Friday until the story is FINISHED, I’m sharing the first draft of DESERT CAPTIVE… It hasn’t been edited, which means the final version may be different from what I’m sharing now…. Here’s the first chapter… Enjoy!

Chapter One

Why did doing the right thing feel so,—wrong?

Dressed in flat pumps of black leather and a black soft pants suit, the jacket button straining over her burgeoning baby bump, Arabella Faulkner walked fast through a very posh part of London. A military man would have immediately recognized the way she held herself, tall and slim, her dark brown eyes tough and uncompromising.

Her long stride ate up the sidewalk.

For four long months, she’d lived in what could only be called a hormone apocalypse. Pregnancy, she’d learned the hard way, did that to some women. It turned them from thinking, sensible, sentient beings into crazed fools with a fragmented thought process. It left them unable to make the most basic decisions, like actually talking to her baby’s father.

Of course, once she’d escaped—make that run away—from Onuur, from the time she’d handed him her virginity on a plate, Prince Sarif El Habibe had been furious. He’d been even more furious when she’d refused to answer his calls, as his many letters proved.

The fact of the matter was, one did not run away, pregnant, from a desert prince and expect to get away with it.

See, that’s where the hormone apocalypse came in.

She’d not been thinking straight.

When she’d discovered her pregnancy, she’d panicked, and who could blame her?

After all, Sarif, he of the movie star good looks, rich beyond imagination—and powerful ruler of the state of Quarram—was not a man a woman misled.

Okay, lied to.

Yes, she’d lied.

And lied.

And lied.

Because, right from the get-go, she’d been in denial.

A state of refusal to admit that she, they, had done what they’d done without even the most basic protection.

And she blamed the hormone apocalypse for the whole sorry mess.

 

As she strode down Horse Guards parade, and past the officer’s barracks, the scene brought back happy memories.

Good times.

She recalled her previous life in the military.

On her very first tour in Helman, she’d been decorated for bravery.

Of course, she’d been scared shitless.

But like every other Buttercup, as the females in her unit had been affectionately called, she’d sucked it up and got on with what needed to be done. Thanks to gross political ineptitude and unnecessary delay, what should have been a simple extraction had turned into a messy, bloody, cluster-fuck.

Then after that, just for shits and giggles, she’d had a short stint in the special forces.

And then had come the middle of the night call ordering her to the tiny kingdom of Onuur to guard a Queen who’d looked like a real life Elsa from the kiddy movie, Frozen.

It hadn’t taken her long to discover Elsa had a backbone of titanium and a heart as big as the vast desert that was her home.

Arabella would have, if necessary, laid down her life for Queen Charisse El Haribe. However, after a short but messy adventure, she’d had the deep pleasure to put a bullet between the eyes of the sick bastard who’d kidnapped Charisse and put his filthy hands upon her person.

Good times.

She’d never been a crier, but right now Arabella’s eyes went all misty at the thought of Charisse.

She took a deep breath.

There went the hormone apocalypse again.

The young Queen was now blissfully happy with her new king, hotness himself, Khalid El Haribe.

Arabella grinned at the thought of him.

Khalid was a big handful of trouble of ever there was one.

Anyway, after escaping from the consequences of banging a Prince on the floor without the thought of protected sex, and too many weeks—make that months—of kicking her heels in Charisse’s swanky London apartment Arabella had opened her eyes this morning—and it was as if she had seen the light.

Hallelujah!

Instead of a mind filled with brain-fog and indecision, she clearly saw the road ahead.

The road of truth, honor and integrity.

Backbone.

Ethics.

Values.

Yeah, the time had come to tell Sarif the truth.

The whole truth.

And nothing but the truth.

After all, in a few short months their lives would be changed forever.

The guy might be a Prince, but he had a human right to be involved in the future of his child.

Rights that meant responsibilities.

Parental responsibilities.

The words made her breath hitch and for the first time, her steps faltered.

What if Sarif didn’t want to know the baby?

Her timing was bad too.

The tabloids had been in a flutter for weeks about the whisper of his impending engagement. The woman concerned was one of those doe-eyed, dark haired, olive-skinned beauties that came from Sarif’s neck of the woods.

Protected.

Obedient.

Virgin.

 

Arabella took another deep breath—all the things she was most definitely—not.

Maybe she should have sent him a letter instead of speaking to him in person?

That would have been cowardly.

Same with texting or email.

No.

She had to break the news of their baby face-to-face.

Sarif had been camped out at the Quarram Embassy for a week—she still had her sources—and now was as good a time as any to do the deed.

To do the right thing.

Even if it was better late than never.

Mind busy, she lengthened her stride, crossed the road, and didn’t spot the purring black SUV with blacked-out windows keep pace behind her.

For once, her spidey senses deserted her until it was too late.

Everything, the rev of an engine, the way she twisted and threw herself to the side before being hurled into the air, happened too fast.

 

Bloody and broken, Arabella Faulkner lay face down in the tarmac between road and curb.

A pain in her shoulder made it hard to take a breath. It burned as if speared by a poker forged in flame.

Out of the corner of her eye blood, her blood, flowed slowly towards a drain.

The smell of blood, the sound of feet running echoed in her stunned brain.

Her last thought was for her unborn child.

She’d left it too long to do the right thing and now it was too late.

Too late.

The world went dark.

***

The next chapter from Sarif’s point of view comes next week, and it’s a doozy.

Until next week…..

And yes, the Ludlow Hall short stories will be back when this book is finished.

Hugs,

Christine X