We’re over half way in the story…. Desert Orchid, Chapter Sixteen.

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Hello, my darlings,

You know, sharing these chapters has brought the original story back to life for me in a way that’s been amazing. I wrote this in 2012-13 and published the story in 2014. My writing has come a very long way since then…. The next chapter has intimate scenes, but I’ve left it as I wrote it….. enjoy…..

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Sixteen

Khalid couldn’t tear his eyes away from hers.

Blue eyes shone into his filled with compassion and complete trust, with total faith, in him.

And his heart torpedoed into his mouth.

She was delusional.

What the hell had he been thinking, declaring himself like that? And because he loved her so desperately it hurt, he knew he couldn’t do this to her or to himself.

Earlier, they’d agreed to have nothing but the truth between them. But the girl standing before him—and she was a girl—could never be woman enough for him.

With her past, how could she be?

For too many years, he’d had sex whenever and wherever he wanted it. Plus, he’d only had sex with experienced, beautiful women; models, actresses and socialites who shared his sexual appetites and needs. But having sex with the woman he loved would be so very different. Even though he’d only touched her once, it had been amazing.

Wonderful.

Unbelievable.

However, he had needs.

Dark desires that Charisse, so sheltered and protected, had no conception of.

The flat of her hand slapped his bare butt, hard.

And the feel of it, the sound of it shook him right out of his introspection.

His eyes found hers and she slapped him again, harder.

Or did she really have no conception of dark desires?

His eyes narrowed on her flushed face as she gazed up at him. And he remembered the silver scars on her bare bottom. The memory of how mortified and embarrassed she’d been when he’d seen them slid like a snake into his mind. It struck him that his wife was ashamed of her body. She was ashamed of what had happened to her. And because Khalid lived with shame every single day and understood the agony of it, he found it intolerable that Charisse should suffer, too.

He could do nothing about his own shame, but he could do plenty about hers.

She trembled as she kept perfectly still with her arms wrapped around his waist, her big eyes on his, and he could almost see that clever brain of hers working out her next move.

Was it possible he was being played?

Being manoeuvred by an expert into exposing the black heart that lived at the core of his being?  If true, then she had no idea who she was dealing with here. He could almost see the white puffy clouds depicting her dreams of a happy-ever-after in her poor deluded little mind. Charisse wanted a fairytale happy ending and it seemed she’d cast him as her prince.

In truth, he was her worst nightmare and she didn’t even know it.

Anger with himself, but mostly with her, for making him wish for something he could never have, roared into his psyche.

A harsh laugh almost escaped from his throat and he shook his head.

She loved him, did she?

He took a step back, and her hands dropped to her sides.

She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes as she watched him.

Khalid could see by the stubborn set of that chin that she was prepared to fight for him, and with him, until he came around to her way of thinking. To persuade him that he was the man she thought he was.

Well, whatever she wanted would never happen.

Time for a wake-up call.

He kept his voice dangerously low. “You think you’ve got me all worked out. Don’t you, darlin’?”

He strolled around her.

She didn’t move so much as a muscle as the atmosphere in the room plummeted and grew too tense.

She turned her head, looking over her shoulder as he stood behind her. Those big blue eyes appeared confused as she frowned.

Then she opened her mouth as if to speak.

Christ, the scent of her made his mouth water.

He bent his head to growl in her ear, “I haven’t finished speaking.”

Her shocked gasp had him nod.

Oh yeah, he knew why he was so stunningly furious with her.

The little fool wanted to change him.

She’d decided to mould him into the man she wanted, rather than accept him for the man he was.

Well, it would be a cold day in hell before that little fantasy happened.

She was trembling.

But she wasn’t afraid of him.

Not yet.

“These clothes make you look about twelve.” His hands gripped the tissue thin silk of her top and ripped it in two. The fabric floated to her feet. “I don’t want a girl as a wife. I want a woman,” he whispered in her ear.

The matching panties went the same way.

Her response was a convulsive shudder, as a tidal wave of goose bumps rose over her clear skin.

Walking slowly around her naked body, Khalid took a good long look at the woman he was going to make his in ways she’d never dreamed of.

And his body went rock hard.

To torture himself even more, he stood behind her and counted each silver scar on her tight little bottom. Twenty-three. And his heart ached as he imagined what she’d gone through. Dear God, how much she had suffered. But she didn’t need his sympathy. No. What she needed was her own… acceptance.

The sly voice, a constant companion who resided deep within his psyche, now rose to whisper the words, ‘You did that.’ And God help him, his hand trembled as he swiped perspiration beading on his top lip.

And then he studied the raw flesh where the bullet had grazed the bottom of her ribcage. The black, purple and green bruise, already turning yellow at the edges, as it stretched up towards her armpit and down in a path of pain to her jutting hipbone.

Again the sly voice taunted, ‘Where were you when she was shot?’ And bile rose into Khalid’s throat. His eyes then counted the bruises on her arm where the nurse had injected her, where the doctor had fought to save her.

Yet again the sing song voice in his head spoke, ‘Love? You don’t know the meaning of the word.’

Now the room spun as his heart rate spiked.

Lastly, he absorbed how terribly thin she’d become, and that voice in head showed no mercy. ‘You did that.’

Khalid’s jaw clenched so hard to stop his moan of pain it was a miracle his teeth didn’t shatter. A slimy worm of sweat slid down his spine.

He stood in front of her, about three feet away.

Her big blue eyes were wary now as they searched his.

He read a cocktail of emotions, including confusion and a growing dismay. But the biggies were arousal and lust.

Oh yeah, Charisse liked this.

She liked being dominated.

Even if, intellectually, she knew she should stand up for herself and calling him to account for his behaviour. Khalid read precisely how she felt by the expressions crossing that fabulous face and by the way her eyes flicked over his body lingering between his legs, and by her body’s response to his tone, to his words.

Her nakedness hid nothing as he studied her with the eyes of the artist, of the connoisseur.

That beautiful face was flushed now.

Those sweet nipples budded so hard they actually pulsed as her breath came out of her throat in hot little bursts. Her heart was beating so fast against her ribs, it reminded him of a tiny trapped bird he’d held in his hands once as a boy. But it was the arousal glistening between her legs that had him nod once in satisfaction.

Well, well, well.

Who’d have thought it?

She pressed her thighs together as the tip of her tongue licked her full bottom lip.

Her hands clenched into fists at her sides as she stood absolutely still under his intense gaze.

Now he narrowed his eyes.

“You need to be taught a lesson. Why do you think I didn’t come to you after the night I broke your hymen, Charisse?” Before she could speak, he interrupted, because he could read her thoughts running across that wonderfully expressive face. “That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. I didn’t come to you again after the night I made you mine. And that annoyed you, frustrated you, and pissed you off. Didn’t it? It didn’t occur to you that I was giving you time to heal, did it? I know exactly what you were thinking, because I know women. And I understand how you tick.

“You were angry because I left you aroused and alone night after night. Weren’t you, my little queen? You were so angry that you kept the truth from me about Omar. You went out into the desert at night. You met with a man without me and without my permission. You kept secrets from me about your childhood, about who you are and what happened to you. And for that you will be punished.

“And I can tell by the look in your eyes that you still do not quite understand what I’m saying. So let me spell it out for you, my little queen. You belong to me. You are mine. When I say jump, you say, How high.”

Her splutter of choked laughter broke the tight chain he’d kept on his self-control.

She found the situation funny, did she?

Not for long.

“Lie on the bed on your stomach. Now,” he ordered.

Temper flared in her eyes, scorched her cheekbones.

It took her a couple of beats, but she lifted her chin and staring straight ahead, walked past him with a sexy sway of her narrow hips. Her scarred bottom, the buttocks high and tight reminded him of a perfectly ripe peach. He caught the floral scent of her shampoo, her skin and her warm, womanly arousal.

She lay on her belly in the middle of the vast bed, her faced turned towards him.

Picking up a small bottle of essential Bergamot oil and a couple of pillows, he knelt on the bed beside her. Big eyes, wary and watchful, flicked between the oil, the pillows, and back to his face.

The way her fabulous brows rose an insolent fraction made his hand itch to warm that pert little bottom.

He enjoyed sex play. And he enjoyed rough sex. But Khalid realised that he could never, ever, physically hurt the woman he loved. There were other ways to show her who was in the driving seat in this relationship.

His body ached so hard for her that the pain of it had him take a deep breath.

He tipped the oil into the palm of his hand, and all the while her small white teeth gripped her full bottom lip. The scent of citrus spun in the air. And he was delighted to see that insolence was now replaced with interest. She didn’t have a clue what was about to happen to her, and he kept his desperate need to take her hard and fast under tight control.

She was so slight and fragile. He counted the bones of her vertebrae, and suppressed a crazy desire to press his mouth to each one from her neck to her tight little backside. But he refused to permit himself to be distracted by what needed to be done here and now.

Later there would be plenty of time to play.

“Lift up your hips.”

She did as he asked and he placed the pillows underneath her pelvis, which elevated her backside to just the right angle.

“You have a hang-up about your scars. Am I right?” He poured more oil into the palm of his hand, and placed the bottle on a bedside table.

Charisse turned her head and gave a low mewl sound in her throat as she watched his hands warm the oil. And she couldn’t look at her scars. He could tell by the way her eyes flinched, by the infinitesimal nod of her lovely head.

Well, he wasn’t having that.

Tonight was going to be a steep learning curve for his stubborn little queen.

“You have a pretty ass,” he growled.

Indeed, it was very pretty. He should know, since he’d seen and painted hundreds.

He continued in a conversational tone, “Now, let me lay out the ground rules. You will tell me if anything hurts. This position should keep pressure off your wound. But if it hurts, you tell me immediately. Say, “‘Yes, Khalid.’”

Heat scorched her neck, her face. And he wasn’t sure if it was temper or mortification. Probably a mixture of both.

“Yes, Khalid.” Her voice was the merest whisper as she closed her eyes.

“Eyes open, Charisse. You’re need to learn how watching me what I do to you will give you pleasure.”

He didn’t give her a chance to prepare or give her a hint of what was coming.

His hand itched to spank her until that tight little bottom glowed.

Lifting his hand to swing, he stopped, and shook his head.

He couldn’t do it.

Not while she was recovering from being shot.

She jerked at the initial touch of his fingertips on her pert bottom. But then he carefully added pressure as he massaged her buttock cheeks with firm fingers, soothing, pressing the oil into the scars which were now bright silver against the glow of her skin.

The low growl deep in his throat brought her shimmering eyes to his.

“The animal who did this to you is a walking dead man,” he swore.

Her voice was the merest whisper, “Why are you doing this?”

“You are not comfortable with your body. The scars shame you. By the time I am finished with you tonight, you won’t care. And you’ll realise that what evil did to you does not define you as a woman.”

The entire time he spoke, his fingertips kept massaging the taut muscles of her bare bottom. He wasn’t gentle. And then he felt her relax as her body pulsed with a different type of tension. Arousal. His thumbs became tender as they stroked down the slippery cleft between her legs, and she trembled.

“On your knees. Use the pillows to cushion your chest,” he said softly.

A tiny sob, quickly swallowed, was the only sound she made as the love of his life did as he asked. Her face had gone radioactive, and his heart nearly broke for her and for everything she’d been through.

His fingers slid over her perineum through the slick flesh of her labia and around the hard swell of her girl boner, ensuring he never once touched the frantic pulse of her clitoris. She would orgasm when he allowed it and not before.

For many minutes he tortured her with pleasure, all the while denying her that ultimate release.

She groaned before turning to look over her shoulder, to watch him stroke and massage her flesh. And she no longer cringed, but her eyes burned with arousal as they stared into his. He took a deep breath of relief at what he saw in those vivid blue depths.

Acceptance.

Trust.

Love.

Result.

“Put your shoulders on the pillows and turn your face towards me. Does your wound hurt?” All the while his fingers, slick with oil and her juices, explored the slick heat between her buttocks.

“No,” she breathed the word.

“You’re doing great, baby,” he told her in a soft voice. Her full bottom lip trembled in a way that made him feel like a complete bastard. “I’m going to make you come now, darlin’.”

Charisse couldn’t believe what was happening to her body.

“Oh, God.”

Khalid’s fingertips never stopped their firm rhythm as they pressed relentlessly into the muscles of her buttocks, circling in a hypnotic way that made her want to close her eyes and simply feel. The merciless pressure of arousal deep in her womb was a combination of pleasure and pain. With every inhale the scent of his body, clean and healthy and male, and mingling with the citrus scent of the oil, only added to the pleasure.

She took a deep, shuddering breath.

Her nipples were throbbing, so screamingly sensitive, and yet he hadn’t touched them. Her body was so aroused that she knew as soon as he touched the slick flesh of her secret places she would orgasm. The man knew exactly how to warm her bottom without hurting the too tight flesh. Yes, she’d nearly wept in stunned mortification to have herself exposed to him like this. She felt too vulnerable. But just enjoying the sensations of his touch made her womb clench and release a fluid that made her moan long and loud.

Khalid gave a deep laugh that made her make the sound again.

How on earth did he do that to her?

“That’s it, baby,” he whispered softly. “Just let yourself go.”

His thumbs gently slid between the lips of her swollen flesh and shamelessly she opened her legs wider to give him better access to the spot that throbbed and swelled for his attention. His thumb snaked around the hood of that screaming little bead and she shuddered as every single muscle from her toes to her scalp spasmed.

Just that touch triggered the most intense orgasm of her life.

Charisse buried her face in the pillow and screamed so long and so loud that it echoed through the high ceiling carved out of sheer rock.

Khalid lifted her in his strong arms.

He sat on the edge of the bed and held her tight.

Her body was still shuddering with aftershocks.

She held on tight to him and wept into his naked chest.

The self-loathing she’d clung to and how she’d never been able to look at her scars without feeling physically ill, along with the ultimate betrayal by the person who’d brought her into this world, a person who was supposed to protect her, all those complex emotions exploded through her system and threatened to devour her very soul.

She wept for the girl she’d been before death had robbed her of her sister, of her mother.

She wept for the broken girl who had arrived in Onuur.

And God knew she wept for the woman she’d need to become for the husband she loved with all her heart.

All Charisse could do was to hang onto the man who’d forced her to confront and accept the physical consequences of the darkest time in her life.

She had no idea how long she wept.

It could have been minutes or hours, but when she raised her head to look at the man who’d refused to let her hide from her demons and still held her tight, the expression of self-loathing on his fabulous face nearly stopped her heart.

With unsteady fingers, she swiped the tears from her face.

“Khalid. Look at me.”

He did and she’d never seen eyes so bleak as they stared into hers.

“Do you see what kind of man I am? Even though you’re sore and still healing I can’t keep my hands off you. Do you know what I want to do to you? I want to ride you hard, and ride you fast. This is why I didn’t come near you.” He pulled her into his body, rested his cheek on top of her head. “I can’t trust myself around you.”

His voice shook with something like desperation as he rubbed his cheek on her hair. His erection, rock hard, dug into her hip. And even though she’d had an amazing orgasm, her body still ached from a lack of completion she now knew only he could give her.

“I want you. I need you inside me,” she whispered.

His big body shuddered as he inhaled the scent of her hair. “It’s too soon. I’ll hurt you.”

And Charisse knew she had to find the courage to do what must be done.

With a shaky breath she rose to her feet to walk with a sinuous swing of her hips to a low backed couch.

As she bent over the wide arms of the couch, she heard him groan.

Praying to God that her voice didn’t wobble, she looked at him over her shoulder.

“Khalid. Do your husbandly duty.”

Husbandly duty?

For a stupefied moment, Khalid could do nothing but stare at her.

What had happened to the sobbing woman in his arms?

Hadn’t he opened her eyes to the kind of man he was?

But no, yet again she had taken control.

The little witch.

Then the naughty girl wiggled her bare bottom, rolling her hips in a way that electrified his groin. Even more blood surged between his legs, tightening his boys so hard he thought he was going to disgrace himself.

Perhaps he could do this?

Perhaps he could take her from behind, taking care not to thrust too deep?

He stood and moved to stand between her spread legs.

Bending over her, his arousal pressed between the cheeks of her buttocks.

Taking the long plait of silver hair in one hand, he wrapped it around his wrist.

Gently bringing her head up, he brought his mouth to her ear and immediately the scent of her had him close his eyes tight.

She smelled fabulous.

“Husbandly duty?” he purred.

His erection nudged the slick heat between her legs.

“Yes! I want your child in my belly, my husband,” she whimpered.

Her words made something in his chest squeeze tight. They almost unmanned him as he found her hot, wet, entrance and slid inside, inch by inch.

She gasped, and turned her head inviting him to take her mouth.

He didn’t need to be asked twice. His mouth, and tongue, and teeth erotically plundered hers, and she gave as good as she got. And he shuddered. She was so unbelievably tight, so hot.

“Am I hurting you?” he panted, fighting a war of attrition to stay absolutely still.

“No,” she gasped again and tried to push her bottom back against him.

He kept a firm grip of her hip to hold her firm. Then bending his knees, he pushed his pelvis forward and back, forward and back, until he went further, deeper, and he hit the sweet spot deep in her channel. She screamed with pleasure as she tried to arch her back but his grip held her fast.

“More, harder,” she cried.

But Khalid gritted his teeth. He dare not let himself go. In his determination not to hurt her his big body tremored. Her body was pulsing, fisting around him to squeeze so hard he sobbed out a breath. He’d never, ever, felt anything like it. Through a brute force of will, he kept the pace slow and steady. It nearly killed him. Hard sobs broke from his throat with every single shuddering thrust of his hips. And Charisse was in just as bad a state. A part of his brain registered the amazing fact that their breathing had synchronised.

The abrupt clench of her core muscles contracted around him so strongly his eyes crossed. And an orgasm so deep, so powerful had her catch her breath before she came apart with a wail that triggered his own release. His own orgasm had him roar like a bull as his boys tightened too fast and her body gripped him even tighter drawing him further into her slick heat to milk him until he had nothing, nothing, left to give.

How the hell he lifted her and carried her to their bed he never knew because his legs were boneless.

He was shivering, as if gripped by fever.

Laying her carefully on her uninjured side, he stroked a trembling hand gently down her hip before tucking his arm under her breasts and holding her close, spooned against him.

Pulling the comforter over them, he inhaled the scent of her hair, of her warm, sexy body, of Charisse.

Emotions, too many to deal with, stung his eyes, burned the back of his throat.

Christ, he found it hard to think, hard to speak.

He cleared his throat. “Tell me I didn’t hurt you.”

Alarmed, at first he thought she was crying, then he sighed in relief when he realised she was laughing. “It’s been a big day. I drank champagne. You carried me in your arms. A nurse tried to kill me. I got married. Flew in a spooky helicopter to James Bond’s holiday home. You gave me a massage. And if I’m not pregnant with triplets after that it will be a miracle.”

A huge wave of emotions battered him again.

But as he inhaled the scent of his woman, Khalid knew he must be nothing less than honest with her. “I am not an easy man to live with,” he admitted in a gruff voice.

She wiggled her bare bottom against his groin in a way that made him groan.

Then she gave a tired but happy little sigh to settle snugly in his arms.

“It’s been a breeze so far.”

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

LOL!

I’d forgotten how much fun, in spite of everything life had thrown at her, Charrise could be!

Tomorrow, Chapter Sixteen……

Christine X

Thank you so much for the love for No Rules…..

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27 January 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Omg I have read this in one go. I love cc characters ,and the other cast that make an appearance Nico,Bronte,sophia, marvellous.what of oliver and Ana bannana beautiful wedding just what she wanted. Love the scene in the doctors with Ana and oliver so funny tickled my funny bone. Just wish there wasn’t such along period between books. But I know you can’t hurry the creative process. Well done thumbs up for this one can’t wait for taniths story. Xxxxx

3 February 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I must admit I was a bit apprehensive to read this book because I didn’t know Chloe but boy am I glad I did. I loved her so gutsy a good Ludlow female. I will be reading it again and again. CC has done it again. Wonderful!

8 February 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant. I Love CC’s writing and books and this excelled as always. Totally recommend.
5.0 out of 5 starsNo Rules is an understatement!
29 January 2018 – Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
All the rules were thrown out and turned upside down, which made for so much fun. I can’t let go of these characters, Serge worked his way into my heart and squeezed so hard I laughed and cried at the same time. I blame it on the hand lingering and that noble penis….I need to know more, what’s ahead for them now that he has found love for the first time.
5.0 out of 5 starsPassion and humor!
30 January 2018 – Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
C C Mackenzie’s latest installment into the Ludlow Nights series is captivating. No Rules is the story of Serge Morretti and Chloe Rucker. Chloe has gotten herself in a bit of a hole she is trying to dig herself out of. Serge is into his family business and vying for a position on the board that seems to come with strings attached. They strike a deal to help each other reach their goals. Will it work? Follow these characters on their journey of ups and downs. C C Mackenzie writes with passion and humor in this series. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 starsLove.
27 January 2018 – Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I must say that each time I read one of CC’s books I’m filled with joy. I love the way all the stories intertwine and the connections with each character grow. I’ve especially enjoyed this book because of Serge and his ‘noble penis’. He’s so hellbent about showing that he’s not being a good man that he doesn’t realise he’s already a good man. And perfect for Chloe who needs him to help her stand. At least that how I feel. I also love that Ms CC always includes a lesson within her stories. She just slips it in so neatly and its absorbed easily. I’ve enjoyed this series and cannot wait for it to continue. Now on to my second read of this book 😊
A fake engagement?
A fake relationship?
A one-night stand turns into a deception of monumental proportions?

NO RULES ticks all the boxes.
Full of fun and laughter and scorching hot luv’in, this standalone sexy as sin romance set in the Ludlow Nights world, with a swoon worthy hero and feisty heroine, will make you laugh and cry out loud.

No more wild nights. No more wild women.

Serge Morretti’s wild ride through life may have to come to an end, but less partying
means more time to devote to making more money, including winning over the octogenarians who run Morretti Enterprises. Seems if Serge wants to take his rightful place on the board—he needs a wife—and he’s got a grand plan. But when his world collides with a beautiful blonde at his best friend’s engagement party, where’s the harm in one more wild night?

Chloe Rucker’s coping with a few problems just now.
After her drink is spiked, compromising pictures of her are being held for ransom…and a wedding-obsessed family who are driving her crazy.
Her life may be a disaster, but she’s certain of one thing.
She isn’t impressed by silver tongued devils, especially one with dark laughing eyes. She certainly isn’t looking for a sexy fling with a notorious playboy, no matter how big a deal he thinks he is to the rest of womankind.
Chloe doesn’t do casual.
But maybe just this once…

Nico, Bronte and Sophia Ferranti, among others from the Ludlow cast, all make appearances in this standalone page turner.

Thank you again for all the support!
My editorial team and I are beyond thrilled you enjoyed Serge and Chloe’s rocky road to love.
Love,
Christine X

On a snowy and windy night, settle back and enjoy Chapter Fourteen of Desert Orchid…..

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Hello, my darlings!

The wind has icy teeth this evening, and it’s snowing. It’s at times like this I could do with the hot desert sun. Here’s Chapter Thirteen, and Khalid’s reached the end of his tether…..

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Fourteen

Three hours later, Khalid sat on a couch in his parent’s sitting room, his aching head in his hands, while a heated debate raged around him.

He stood.

He’d had enough.

“Quiet!” he roared. His father, mother, brother and Arabella Faulkner simply stared at him as he continued, “Thus far I’ve followed your advice. I brought Charisse here believing the palace was secure. I don’t care how the nurse got through your precautions. The point is that security, even here, is compromised. This is the second attempt on her life and there will not be a third. Do I make myself clear?”

Arabella took a deep breath, gave him a single nod of her head.

Bravely, she stepped closer to put forward her argument.

“To attack her here, in the palace, means the issue that faces us is much bigger than anything we could have imagined. We need to bring in specialists. I have contacts from my time in the military. Good men from the United States and the United Kingdom special forces. Men that we can trust and know how to deal with what we are up against.”

“How did you get the name of the traitor from the nurse?” Khalid wanted to know.

Arabella’s brown eyes went flat and cold. “Sodium Thiopental. She sang every tune we wanted to hear.”

King Abdullah merely nodded.

“So, the nurse is Omar’s niece. And both come from a tribe banished from this land many years ago.”

Khalid knew his history. In Arabia forty years was not a long time to hold a grudge. When his father ascended the throne, times had been deadly with feuds among the tribes. The desert sands had run red with the blood of the fallen. Hatred was an emotion passed from generation to generation. And from what had happened today, their enemies would never give up until they had attained their goal. The death of Charisse.

But why?

Why not go after his father, his brother, or even himself?

“If this is revenge for past sins, why attack Charisse? She is beloved by her people,” he spoke his thoughts.

Arabella responded, “To destabilise the region? We only have the woman’s point of view. She was acting on instructions and has no idea who is behind the assassination attempt or why. We can theorise all we like. But the person we need is Omar.”

Khalid gave her such a fierce look, she blinked. “Bring in whomever you need to help us. But find him,” he ordered. The tone was a dismissal. Arabella bowed her head and strode from the room.

“I suspect the attempt on Charisse’s life was a last ditch attempt to stop the wedding,” Sarif said.

Khalid shook his head.

“None of this makes any sense. Surely her father is aware that we will hunt him down and destroy him like a rabid dog?”

His mind seethed over different scenarios, which he knew were a waste of time until they had facts. Now was the time for action.

He turned to his father. “Has the imam arrived to perform the wedding ceremony?”

His father nodded.

Khalid continued, “Then we will be married immediately.”

His family simply stared at him.

“What has Charisse got to say about this?” his mother demanded.

Khalid looked at her. “Charisse,” he said. “Will do as she is told.”

And was that respect in his mother’s eyes? He couldn’t care less. His priority was to keep his woman safe.

Sarif’s dark eyes met his. “Then what?”

“Then I get her the hell out of here. Somewhere secure. And somewhere she can heal. Arabella Faulkner will fly us out tonight.”

He moved to leave, but his mother placed her hand on his arm.

“Where are you going?”

Khalid shook his head. “I cannot tell you that. The less people who know our whereabouts the better.”

His mother jerked back as if he’d slapped her.

Face white she spoke in a shocked whisper, “You don’t trust us?”

Taking her in his arms, Khalid hugged his mother tight, and stared over her head into the stunned faces of his father and brother.

“Of course I trust you. With my life. But we’ve been betrayed twice. There will not be a third time.”

Dressed in black jeans, a matching cashmere sweater and warm jacket to keep out the chill of a desert night, Charisse found herself bundled into the rear passenger seat of an unusual looking helicopter.

A helicopter painted matt black.

Under strict instructions from Khalid, Arabella had packed all the supplies they’d need and checked the aircraft herself.

Dressed in black jeans, sweater and boots, Khalid slid into the seat next to Arabella and indicated Charisse wear the headphones he handed her.

He turned to her, his eyes so dark and intense that her heart beat too fast in her chest.

“Can you hear me?” His voice came, crystal clear, in her ears.

She nodded and was relieved to see her husband smile.

This gorgeous, vigorous and young man was her husband.

She still couldn’t quite believe it.

They’d been married in a ceremony put together so fast, her head still spun. After his declaration of love for her, and his kisses, she’d naturally assumed their wedding night might have been consummated under candlelight. Instead, she was about to be flown away to a secret location.

But then this was Khalid. He never ceased to surprise her.

And by the way his family had behaved, they’d been astonished by the new take charge Khalid, too. His father’s and brother’s eyes held a deep respect for Khalid that Charisse had never seen before, and her own heart swelled with pride for him. If some good came out of this unholy mess, if Khalid and his family became close again, then perhaps it was all worth it.

The information from Arabella that the attempts on her life may not be personal, but rather, an attempt to destabilise the whole region didn’t make sense in Charisse’s opinion. But the El Haribe’s were in contact with their allies, and specialist help, something about black ops teams, had already been despatched from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Her life, Charisse decided, had turned into something from an action movie. Assassins, political intrigue, blood feuds, and the hard truths of her own past, all swirled together in her mind. And even though Khalid had insisted that taking her away to recover and have a honeymoon at the same time was the right thing to do, she couldn’t help the feeling burning in her belly that she was running away.

Her dark thoughts were interrupted by the whine of the helicopter as the rotor blades spun. And then they were airborne. Charisse had never flown in a helicopter at night. The weather was clear, no cloud, and she realised the light from the moon highlighted the horizon. At first Arabella flew west, towards Sarif’s kingdom of Quaram. But once she’d flown the aircraft over the mountains, it dipped sharply and turned east.

Khalid spun to Arabella, his eyes narrowed and dark. “What are you doing? This isn’t part of the plan.”

She handed him a thick envelope.

“Staying under the radar. Queen Janaan and I had a long chat. She came up with a location that no one will ever think to look for you. Read it.”

Although he didn’t look happy, Khalid whipped out a tiny penlight, tore open the envelope, pulled out thick parchment and read. Charisse watched him shake his head as a big grin spread over his wonderful face.

He turned in his seat, dark eyes twinkling into hers. “You’re gonna love this.”

Arabella spoke in their ears, “Her majesty is a very clever woman.”

Bemused, Charisse asked, “Where are we going?”

Khalid shook his head. “Wait and see.”

Charisse gave him a dark look. She was beginning to find the lack of control over her destination, her future, and any say in what was happening in her country incredibly frustrating. Very soon she was going to have words with her husband. Just who the hell did he think he was?

“Care to share?” Charisse asked.

Her icy tone had his brows shoot into his hairline.

Khalid opened his mouth, but Arabella shook her head, her eyes totally focused on the task at hand. “Not over the radio, please. The hills have ears.”

He shrugged. “Okay. Just sit back and relax.”

Easier said than done.

But Charisse did as she was told.

The only light in the helicopter was from the radar screens, and Arabella took it nice and easy. No one spoke for the next forty-five minutes.

Then the aircraft lingered at the front of a wall of sheer rock, it went up-up-up, until they dipped over the edge into a wide valley surrounded by a mountain range. It was pitch black as the helicopter hovered.

Arabella turned on a flashlight on the undercarriage of the craft and waited. Then lights flickered on the floor of the valley below illuminating a scene straight out of a James Bond movie. There appeared to be a very large landing pad below a huge property built into the side of the mountain.

They landed.

Once the helicopter rotors ground to a halt, Khalid helped her out. It was just as well his strong arm supported her waist because Charisse felt the world tilt.

“What on earth is this place?”

Arabella tossed her a grin but said nothing, before she shouldered a huge back-pack and trundled out a metal case on wheels from the helicopter.

Khalid held her close, placed a gentle kiss on her forehead that had the blood fizz in her veins.

Dark eyes glittered into hers. “It was built during the second world war as an emergency communications centre for the allies. My father re-fit the building for my mother as a place to escape the stresses and strains of court life. Here, they can chill out, and take time to simply be together.”

Movement sensors had more lights flicker on as Arabella led the way into what looked like a vast cave. But once they entered, wide steps carved out of the rock led up to what appeared to be an ultra-modern concrete box.

Releasing her, Khalid moved to assist Arabella heft the luggage before leading the way up the stairs. They stepped through a vast oak door and entered a fantastical space with high ceilings. The room smelled of candle wax and fresh flowers. Low lights shed a gentle glow on a huge open plan sunken sitting room. Large couches covered in butter-soft leather the colour of treacle, three of them, surrounded a vast coffee table set in front of an open fireplace. Logs flickered lazily in the open hearth. On the right-hand side, one wall was made of glass from floor to ceiling. The constellations glittered with millions of stars in a velvety black sky.

Then Charisse jolted in shock as two grey-haired servants, their eyes wide, materialised from a side door. They’d obviously been woken by their arrival. Khalid immediately went to greet them.

The elderly man’s rheumy eyes lit-up as he recognised his prince.

He smiled, showcasing a mouth with the grand total of three white teeth.

Then he bowed deeply.

Khalid stepped forward. “Faris and Junah, please meet my wife, Charisse, Queen of Onuur,” he said a low voice.

Charisse moved to shake each bony hand. Their eyes were now filled to the brim with an emotion that caught her throat. The love they had for Khalid was clear to see. Then they bowed again and scurried after Arabella to help unload the helicopter.

Feeling strangely shy to be alone with him for the first time since their wedding, which was ridiculous, Charisse took her time to calm her nerves as she explored the immense room hollowed out of sheer rock.

She turned to him. “It’s amazing. Do they look after this huge place on their own?”

Khalid stepped into her, and all the while dark eyes never left her face. Those eyes missed nothing, she realised, as he took her hand and brought it to his mouth.

“They came thirty years ago. And stayed.”

She blinked. And couldn’t help the little shiver that ran up her spine.

“They never left?” Her voice sounded too high. She cleared her throat. “You mean they’re trapped here?”

He shook his head, sent her a slow smile. “They are brother and sister. My parents took them in after they had been shunned by their tribe. They were born with no vocal cords. A birth defect. They are very happy here.”

Charisse’s soft heart broke for the siblings. Even though Dhuma was a forward thinking country, among the desert tribes some things took longer to find acceptance. Communication, the singing of songs, and in particular the telling of stories were the way histories were kept alive. To have members of the tribe who couldn’t speak would be a severe handicap to their ability to survive. And certainly marriage, having a family of their own would have been impossible.

“Can they read and write?”

Khalid nodded. “Yes.” Again he took her hand, and the way his eyes went dark and intense as they met hers had her heart skip in her chest. “Let me show you around.”

Together and with her hand held tight in his, Charisse walked with Khalid into a new future.

 

Desert Orchid – Copyright

By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Published by More Press

ISBN 9781909331075

The right of C C MacKenzie to be

identified as the author of this

work has been asserted by her

under the Copyright Amendment

(Morals Rights) Act 2000

This work is copyright.

Apart from any use as permitted under

the Copyright Act 1968, no part

may be reproduced, copied, scanned,

stored in a retrieval system,

recorded or transmitted,

in any form or by any means,

without the prior permission

of the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places and

incidents are either a product of

the author’s imagination or are

used fictitiously. Any

resemblance to actual people

living or dead, events or locales is

entirely coincidental.

 

Thank you for the amazing feedback. We’re not half way through the book. A lot more to come…..

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

Chapter Eleven, Desert Orchid…..

DESERTORCHID

 

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Hello, my darlings, it’s bitter cold here with ice and snow forecast.

So here’s chapter Eleven of Charisse and Khalid’s adventure to keep you warm?

Enjoy!

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Eleven

Shock and terror that Charisse was dead had Khalid’s heart batter too hard against his ribs.

Seizing his gun and roaring for Omar at the top of his voice, he raced down the stairs. The spine chilling howl of the dogs had him sprint through the palace.

The sound of running feet, the cries of alarm, had him picking up the pace as he raced towards the gates.

What the hell had she been doing out of the palace in the middle of the damned night?

And why the fuck hadn’t he been told?

If Arabella Faulkner had known about this, had condoned it, without telling him, he’d have her head.

And where on earth was Omar?

All these questions and more ran through Khalid’s mind as he sped through the gates towards the crowd gathered around horse and rider.

He came to a hald, his heart stopped, before jolting in his chest to beat so fast he pressed his fist to the spot.

The acrid smell of death had his legs turn to jelly.

Blood.

Everywhere.

It was clear Diablo was dead.

The magnificent animal had been shot through the head.

And dear God, the woman who held his heart was lying on her back in the dirt.

Blood covered Arabella’s frantic hands as she bent over Charisse and pressed a thick wad of gauze into a wound that oozed a puddle of life giving fluid, the colour of claret, on the ground. The dogs were baying even as Arabella fired instructions to a protection officer who was inserting a line into Charisse’s vein connected to a bag of plasma while another gave her oxygen.

Soldiers, faces fierce, turned towards the mountains with guns at the ready.

They stood in a tight formation around the people working to save her life as Charisse was lifted onto a stretcher.

Khalid swallowed the bitter taste of fear burning at the back of his throat.

She was too pale.

He was going to lose her.

Arabella’s eyes met his and she didn’t so much as flinch beneath his utter fury.

“It looks as if the bullet has nicked a rib. We need to get her out of here.”

The thought of someone attempting to take the life of Charisse had a red haze of rage blurring Khalid’s vision.

Coward.

To attack a defenceless female was an act of unutterable cowardice.

And he swore an oath that whoever was responsible for this would pay, in blood.

Yet another protection officer was spoke in clipped tones into a satellite phone.

And Khalid realised the man was speaking to Sarif.

He’d never felt so helpless or so utterly useless in his entire life.

They fought to stabilise Charisse as the army medics arrived.

“Highness,” the protection officer said to Khalid. “Prince Sarif must speak with you.”

Khalid took the phone. “Sarif?”

As luck would have it his brother was already on his way to Onuur by helicopter and the decision was made to fly Charisse immediately to the Royal hospital in Dhuma.

 

The following two hours, first in the helicopter, and then the hospital, were something Khalid knew he’d never forget as long as he lived.

Not once did he take his eyes from Charisse.

God, she looked so young, so vulnerable and too bloody pale lying on the stretcher.

In the helicopter a young army medic’s hand trembled as he adjusted her oxygen mask and Khalid knew just how he felt. The medic turned to him and spoke to him through their headset,

“She is lucky to be alive. Half an inch and the bullet would have hit a lung.”

Arabella never let go of Charisse’s hand.

The bodyguard opened her mouth to speak to him, but Khalid was so fucking angry with her he didn’t want to hear it.

“Report to Sarif as soon as we land. I do not want to see your face again.”

The woman went bone white and gave a single nod before Khalid turned his attention to Charisse.

And if she managed to get through this ordeal alive and whole, Charisse would find that her future husband had ways of disciplining his wayward fiancée.

Never again would she ride out into the night doing God knew what.

Never again.

But then a wave of grief crashed over him and brought him to his knees. Sorrow replaced anger and he buried his face in her silver hair and prayed to God like he’d never prayed before for her life to be spared.

 

 

Charisse was drifting in a lovely white space.

All she could hear was a faint bleep-bleep of a heart monitor and she wondered if she was asleep in Asim’s room, and then with a plunging heart she remembered that he was dead.

The smell of antiseptic tickled her nose and the sound of high-pitched voices invaded her consciousness.

Khalid.

Khalid’s voice was raised.

And he was angry, so very angry.

She tried to frown but it appeared she floated in some kind of fog.

Her throat hurt.

Her eyelids appeared to be glued together and she struggled frantically to open them.

What was the matter with Khalid?

Why was he shouting?

“And why the hell did no one tell me of this? I’m only going to be her fucking husband.”

Another voice, a man, older and a little frail answered.

A woman told them to hush.

Then oblivion claimed her again.

Khalid simply stared at the two people who’d brought him into the world.

His mother’s face was pale. She wore slender pants of ivory silk under a matching long sleeved, high necked tunic edged with black embroidery. She was a slim and striking woman, who diligently kept a weather eye out for any stray grey hair that threatened to mar the perfection of hair as black as jet.

With the face of a hawk and wearing the robes of his office his father sat, spine ramrod straight, while his mother stared at her husband in patent disbelief.

Sarif rested his hands on the back of a couch and shook his dark head in amazement.

His eyes met his father’s. “You and my uncle Amir bought Charisse?” Sarif asked in a voice dripping with incredulity.

Khalid stood utterly still before thrusting both hands through his hair.

He seriously felt he’d stepped through the looking glass and was living in a parallel universe.

“What the fuck is this?”

His mother frowned at the expletive and turned to her husband. “Abdullah, my darling. Explain yourself.”

King Abdullah of Dhuma never explained himself, or his actions, to anyone. But looking at his family he knew the time for secrets was over. His dark eyes stared unseeing into the distant past as he began his tale.

“Charisse is the twin sister of Mia Chanteluelle.”

Queen Janaan’s gasp and the collective shocked silence in the room had Khalid blink.

Charisse was the twin of the girl he’d killed in a speed boat accident? An accident that had taken the life of his beloved sister and had almost killed himself?

His brother’s hand pressed on his shoulder and squeezed hard.

Khalid placed his hand over his brother’s and held on tight.

A wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm him as the King’s sharp eyes bored into his.

“It was an accident!” his father roared and thumped the arm of his chair with his fist.

Khalid knew the point was debatable, but he needed to hear the rest of this.

King Abdullah took a breath and continued,

“Three months after the tragedy her mother committed suicide. And her father… well, her father is evil. He owed too much money to the wrong people and sold Charisse to the highest bidder.” He winced as his wife cried out, her hands covering her mouth as her horrified gaze never left his face. And his sons were looking at him as if he was speaking in tongues. “Asim always felt that it was grief that made Pascal Chanteluelle do such a heinous thing. But I am not so sure, and after the attempt on that girl’s life, I am certain of it.”

Trying to get his head around what he was hearing, Khalid’s legs went like jelly as he sank to the edge of a chair, and scrubbed his face with his hands.

He stared at his father and leaned forward.

He needed clarity, and he needed it now.

And to be absolutely certain he understood exactly what his father had said, he articulated each word very carefully.

“Are you telling me her own father sold her?”

The King nodded.

And the words Khalid had spoken to Charisse when he’d asked her if his uncle had bought her and her reaction to them now made so much sense. As did the dark shadow that lay at the back of those big blue eyes.

King Abdullah’s eyes went hard now as he spoke, “Her mother was a famous beauty. Mia was the more outgoing of the twins, and apparently the man adored her, doted on her. With her colouring, her long limbs, her hair and blue eyes, Charisse would command a large price in the market for white slaves.”

Khalid had a perfectly healthy imagination and had no trouble at all picturing a young and terrified Charisse in the clutches of a relentless evil.

His hands fisted as another fist, one of utter horror, squeezed his heart. “Slavery?”

“This is true,” said Sarif. “Although these days the girls tend to come from Eastern Europe. Only the very wealthy can afford to buy a child or a young woman taken from the United States or Europe.”

Khalid looked at his brother as if he’d never seen him before. “You talk as if stealing children, young women, is an everyday event,” he said, his voice now a throaty growl threatening impending violence.

Sarif gave a single nod. “Slaveholding has been a trade for centuries. And don’t take that tone with me, brother. You can rest assured that we do everything we can to put a stop to human trafficking. Unfortunately, not all countries stand by the agreement to outlaw the practice.”

King Abdullah continued, “We are talking of Charisse, are we not? Her father has connections to unsavoury elements. Asim was told of the sale of a beautiful young girl and who was behind it. He informed me and together we ensured Charisse was taken to safety. After all, even if indirectly, we were responsible for her situation.”

Silence.

Bile rose like acid into Khalid’s throat.

“You mean I am responsible for her situation.” He stared at his family. “How am I going to tell her that I am the man who killed her sister? The man who destroyed her life? She will never, ever, forgive me.”

“She already knows,” his father said.

For the second time in as many minutes Khalid felt as if he’d been hit by a truck. It was impossible for his mind to grasp the fact that Charisse was prepared to have a life with him after learning the truth that he was the one who had killed her sister. He simply could not compute that fact. “I don’t understand.”

His father leaned forward in his chair. “Thanks to Amir, Charisse realises that no one person was responsible for a freak accident. She does not blame you, Khalid.”

“Only because she does not know the whole truth!” he yelled into his father’s stern face.

After burying his head in his hands, he scrubbed his face.

Then he raised his head and simply studied his family. Was there such a thing as mass delusion? Their refusal to apportion blame where it belonged, firmly with him, was something he’d never been able to understand.

What the hell was wrong with these people?

Queen Janaan took a shaky breath and looked at her youngest son with eyes filled to the brim with sadness and grief. “We hold no one to blame for a tragic accident, Khalid.”

He did not, could not, believe them. They’d been over the same ground so many times and he’d heard it all before. But nothing, nothing would change what had happened on that day or that he was responsible. Then he remembered that Charisse’s life was all about duty to her people and her country. And he knew she was the type of person to fulfil her obligations, even if that meant marrying and living with the man who had brought her nothing but suffering.

However, what was happening now was not about him, it was about Charisse.

“So because he sold her, this is why her father wants her dead?”

The king shook his head.

“He wants her dead because Pascal Chanteluelle is the former French foreign minister and head of the Global Finance Fund and tipped to be the next head of the European Union. While she was married to Asim and kept in seclusion and out of the public eye he couldn’t touch her. However, she’s about to be married to a man with a too high public profile in the gutter press. Questions will be asked. When she disappeared her father stated she’d run away. Now Asim is dead and acquisitive eyes are turned towards Onuur, and to us. The region is more unstable by the day. This may be an opportunity for a man like Chanteluelle to work with others to destabilise our countries, grab the wealth, and get rid of his daughter while he’s at it. Once Charisse is your wife she will once again fall under our immediate protection. We can only hope he will leave her in peace.”

Khalid rose to pace as he tried to wrap his head around everything he’d learned.

Now he turned to his father.

“By your tone you don’t believe he will leave her alone?”

His father shrugged.

“I am not without influence. I have friends in the American and British governments who will not tolerate a man like Chanteluelle behaving like a modern day Genghis Khan. He is already under investigation for his part in the European financial crisis. He is a man who thrives among the chaos he creates. I have sent a clear message that another attempt on her life will not be tolerated and we will expose him for what he is. But he has grown powerful. He fears her. And when an animal is in fear for its life, it attacks.”

Sarif spoke, “We found the rifle, which is being run through testing. Arabella’s team found shoe prints that match the weight and size of Omar in the spot the shot was taken. I don’t believe in coincidences. There is the distinct probability that Omar is the assassin. Although, I don’t suppose his disappearance is much of a surprise since his proclivities have been revealed.”

Khalid took a shaky breath wondering what other shocks this day might bring.

“I had no idea he was a molester of young boys. And now you believe he might be the assassin?”

Sarif shook his head.

“We have no proof. However, the temptation of ten million dollars to such a man might be too good an opportunity to miss.”

Utter fury blasted through Khalid.

“What was Arabella Faulkner thinking taking Charisse out into the desert in the middle of the damned night?”

“Charisse met Sheik Abbas.”

Khalid stared at his father in amazement as his temper spiked.

“Why the hell was I not told of this? I’m only going to be her fucking husband,” he roared. Quite forgetting that he’d been immersed in his art and had left explicit instructions that he was not to be disturbed for any reason.

“Khalid!” His mother’s tone told him he sailed too close to the wind.

His father’s fierce glare held his. “If we had told you of her identity, you would have refused to marry her. My brother and I took the decision that once Charisse began to trust you, to know you, we were sure she would tell you everything about her past.” Without taking his eyes from his son, the king leaned forward. “And I am asking myself why she did not.”

His youngest son gave a low groan as he held his head in hands.

“Have you any idea of the things I said to her? We found the debit in my uncle’s accounts for three and a half million Euros and I assumed she’d whored herself. And then we found the deposits Asim had left for her in banks in Switzerland…”

“Oh, Khalid.” His mother’s shocked whisper only made the sharp blade of guilt sink deeper into his heart.

“And she did nothing, said nothing, to defend herself?” Sarif wanted to know.

Khalid lifted his head, stared at his brother. He could hardly tell his family that he’d hauled her into his arms and almost ravished her on the spot, could he?

“I didn’t give her much of a chance,” he admitted.

The person he needed to talk to was Charisse.

A need to protect her, strong and powerful, rose up into his chest. And Khalid swore then and there that he would never, ever leave her side. If anyone thought they were going to hurt a single hair on that beautiful head of hers then they’d need to go through him.

And if he ever came face to face with her snake of a father, and his bastard of a bodyguard, he’d kill them with his bare hands.

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Don’t miss tomorrow’s episode, it’s a doozy!

Christine x

Desert Orchid, Chapter Ten…..

DESERTORCHID

 

GOOGLE PLAY   iBOOKS   BARNES & NOBLE   KOBO   AMAZON USA   AMAZON UK

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Please note that Chapter Nine was a love scene that I can’t publish on the blog…..

Chapter Ten

Three days later, a shocked Charisse received a report by Arabella on Omar’s behaviour, which had horror and revulsion roiling in her gut.

Her bodyguard’s mouth was white.

Fury rolled off her in palpable waves.

Charisse knew what she had to do.

The safety of her people came first.

Feeling sick to her stomach, she stood.

“Send boys under the age of eighteen back to their tribes immediately. And the rest that remain must never walk unaccompanied.”

Arabella nodded. “Sheik Abbas has sent a message. He wants to meet with you in the usual place.”

Charisse’s eyes flew to hers.

“He has heard of this?” Then she wondered why she’d asked such a stupid question. Abbas was one of the most powerful men in Onuur, and as such he had plenty of informants in the palace. “Of course he has. We’ll ride out at midnight.”

“We’ll take the dogs?”

Charisse knew why Arabella had asked the question. For the last three days Boris had spent most of his time with Khalid, while Rufus stuck to her like glue.

“Yes.”

Her bodyguard’s dark brown eyes stayed on hers. “Prince Khalid must be told of this. At the end of the day Omar is accountable to him.”

Arabella was right.

Charisse didn’t want to even consider the possibility that her future husband was aware that his protection officer had a taste for young boys.

As for Khalid, she hadn’t seen him since their night together.

She’d battled very hard to overcome the combined feelings of hurt, arousal and a lingering anxiety that perhaps her innocence had been a bitter disappointment to a man whose sexual exploits had graced the headlines of tabloids across three continents. His whispered promises to teach her the joy of sex had led her to an expectation that he might repeat his lesson.

No such luck.

Apparently, he was once more in full creative flow. And he’d made it abundantly clear he was never to be disturbed when the muse struck, which was perfectly ridiculous.

How on earth was he supposed to run a country part-time?

His parents and brother were due to arrive for their wedding in two days. That’s if Khalid could be bothered, Charisse thought savagely, to tear himself away from his painting for his own wedding.

She decided not to disturb him, for now. “We’ll gather facts before I speak with him.”

Not at all happy with that idea, Arabella glowered.

“How is it possible he is unaware of Omar’s behaviour?”

Charisse had asked herself the very same question, but she’d already made one mistake in prejudging Khalid and she wasn’t about to make another.

“We must give him the benefit of the doubt. If it turns out Khalid is aware that Omar is a paedophile then the wedding is off and I’ll tell King Abdullah why. Not only that, it will become my personal mission in life to ensure Khalid does not rule this land.”

“Very well. But if I find that son-of-a-bitch Omar laying a fat finger on any boy, I’ll shoot his balls myself.”  Her bodyguard let out a very long breath. “By the way, keep your pistol on you at all times.” Charisse stared at her and Arabella continued, “I don’t like the way Omar looked at you either. The whole vibe of this place has changed since they arrived. I always trust my gut.”

Arabella was right.

These days the atmosphere around the palace had a dark and brooding edge to it. As if the whole structure was holding its breath. Initially, Charisse had put down her servants’ skittishness around Khalid as nerves due to the changes he’d implemented, especially in relation in how they dealt with her. He demanded to be given his due as the ruler of Onuur, which was fair enough, but what did he expect the staff to do when he was out of contact for days at a time?

Over the years during Asim’s illness, the servants had become used to deferring to Charisse. Plus, her late husband had encouraged her to run the palace and implement change.

But it hadn’t take Charisse long to discover it was Omar who made the staff in the palace fearful—and now she knew why. This morning, he’d trapped a twelve year old boy in his room. The child’s cries for mercy had saved him from certain rape.

The bodyguard hadn’t been seen since the incident early this morning and had managed to evade capture.

Logic and her heart told her she should interrupt Khalid and alert him to the issue.

But she wanted to give the security team, headed up by Arabella, time to apprehend Omar. Plus Sheik Abbas was not a man to be kept waiting. He’d specifically asked to see her. If she told Khalid of the request he would most certainly forbid her to go. But that would be seen as a snub to the Sheik and Charisse knew the trouble Abbas might make in the country for a new and untried King. No, she would meet the Sheik and speak to Khalid in the morning, and in the meantime pray his bodyguard was captured.

The most important thing was to get the facts assembled and see what Sheik Abbas knew.

However, Charisse was worried.

The wedding might not yet have taken place, but to all intents and purposes Khalid now ruled Onuur. By asking to meet her alone, Abbas had not given Khalid his proper place, and that made her angry. The Sheik should be willing to give him chance. The last thing she wanted to do was to have a rift develop between Khalid and a very powerful man. A man she knew and respected.

As she prepared for her meeting, Charisse’s heart felt very heavy in her chest.

 

Once the palace was quiet and settled for the night, Charisse rode out on Diablo with Arabella and four close protection officers who were a part of her own personal guard.

Ever ready for adventure, and delighted to be free of the confines of the palace, Boris and Rufus streaked ahead.

The velvety darkness of the night sky was lit by a half moon. In the heavens constellations glittered like crystalline jewels. In spite of her worries Charisse found herself almost relaxing for the first time in days. The night was chilly and she wore a thick hijab woven from the finest cashmere, which covered her head, nose and mouth. The guards wouldn’t be happy, but Charisse kicked a heel against his flank, and couldn’t help but give Diablo his head.

She crouched low over the stallion’s back as he raced over compacted sand leaving the other riders behind in a cloud of dust.

The exhilaration that came with a breakneck speed made her grin.

The scent of the desert, that unique earthy flavour, flowed under her robe tickling her nose and drying her throat. God, she loved this land and its people.

Slowing into a gallop and then a trot, she waited for Arabella and the rest to thunder to her side as Diablo danced a two-step shuffle.

“How many times have I told you not to do that?” Arabella barked.

Unrepentant, Charisse shrugged. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Well try harder. No point in borrowing trouble, Highness. We have plenty of issues to be getting on with.”

 

Fifteen minutes later they trotted into the ruins of an ancient city beautifully carved out of monolithic mountains of sandstone and found oil fires staked into the earth to light the way.

As Diablo shuddered to a trembling stop a Bedouin tribesman stepped forward to take the reins.

Charisse leapt to the ground, her riding boots kicking up dust as she strode over to the tall man waiting for her beside a welcome fire. He was dressed in loose black robes, his dark head uncovered and she saw for the first time grey streaking through his cropped black hair and beard.

Abbas was in his late forties and a virile man as his six wives could attest. He had twenty children and had just added another fine son to his expanding nursery.

Charisse held out both hands and he bowed low placing his forehead on her fingertips.

“It is good to see you, Highness. My heart is heavy with sorrow for the loss of our King.” His deep voice rumbled in his vast chest. He’d been chewing mint leaves and the scent blended with newly washed skin and clean clothes.

Charisse took a deep breath.

“My heart is heavy, too, Sheik Abbas. How fares your family and your people?”

He turned and indicated they should sit on plump leather cushions arranged near the fire.

“They are well, thank you. Please, sit.”

A servant poured the thick, rich and sweet coffee beloved in the kingdoms of Arabia and with a nod of thanks Charisse accepted a tiny gold cup from the Sheik. Traditions of hospitality were faithfully adhered to in the desert. They set the stage for the discussion to come, traditions that anchored Charisse to the earth, and she took them very seriously.

She sipped even as her heart kicked.

Being summoned to Abbas was not unheard of, but to be asked to meet him so soon after Asim’s death and Khalid’s arrival was such a break of protocol that it could only mean that trouble lay ahead.

She wondered what was coming.

Dark eyes, sharp and filled with a ruthless intelligence held hers.

“I have news that will bring more heartache and pain to you, Highness.”

The way he said the words had Charisse brace herself.

Those eyes, black as obsidian stared at her under thick brows.

His nostrils flared.

Abbas was very angry.

Actually, he was furious, and her palms went damp.

“Word has reached me that a contract for ten million United States dollars has been offered for your death.”

Charisse went utterly still.

The nerves deep in her belly turned to solid ice.

So, the game had begun.

And Charisse found she wasn’t surprised or even shocked.

In some ways it was a relief that her enemy had shown his hand so soon and so clumsily.

Maybe, she hoped, he was losing his touch.

Abbas frowned as those shrewd eyes narrowed into hers.

“You do not appear surprised, Highness.”

Not wanting to meet his eyes, the man saw too much, Charisse took a careful sip of coffee all the while staring into the dancing flames of the fire and pulled her mind away from the horror of a fateful night that would haunt her dreams for as long as she drew breath.

Her eyes now lifted and met his.

“I’m not.”

His brows rose.

“You know who would wish you dead?”

She gave a single nod.

“Indeed. Thank you for the warning. However, I must speak with you about the young boys…”

Abbas shook his head.

He held up a hand to silence her, and now his black eyes went fierce.

“Please do not change the subject. How is it possible for you to have such an enemy?” he demanded to know in a tone that made her flinch. “Since your marriage you have not left this land. You have worked tirelessly for the people. I must know the name of the person who wishes you harm. Understand this, Highness, after the passing of their king the people would find it too hard to cope with the loss of their beloved queen. Especially if her death was a violent one. Distrust and suspicion would multiply. War among the tribes must surely follow.”

No way would Charisse show him she shared his fear for her future and for the future of her people. However, until her marriage, she trusted Arabella and the tight security that surrounded her to keep her safe. More importantly, Abbas’s words told her the secrecy that surrounded her arrival in Onuur and the reason for her marriage to Asim was water tight. Charisse released a relieved breath. She had no idea how the Sheik would regard her if he knew the truth. Abbas was a highly conservative and deeply religious man. She wasn’t prepared to take the risk of one of the most powerful men in the country rejecting her as the queen of Onuur.

She took a steadying breath. “King Abdullah and Prince Sarif and Khalid have the situation well in hand,” she said briskly, stretching the truth and at the same time refusing to meet his eyes.

“You do not trust me, Charisse?” he asked in a soft whisper.

Now her eyes flew to his.

Dismay he should think such a thing filled her heart.

“With my life, Sheik. I do have a suspicion of the person involved but at the moment no hard facts. And until I have facts then giving you a name would be nothing more than rumour.”

Breaking protocol, he placed his hand over hers. “Promise you will call upon me at once if you need my help.”

His face swam in front of her eyes but she nodded. “I give you my word.”

Dark eyes searched hers and she saw that although he accepted her word he was not happy. Abbas was a man who liked to have his finger on the pulse of his country. He was dedicated to the advancement of his people and fiercely loyal to the crown.

“I will trust in Allah to keep you safe, Highness.”

She bent her head in agreement.

“I must speak with you about the young boys…”

He raised his hand to cut her off and stood.

Placing his hand under her elbow, he helped her to her feet.

Their meeting, it appeared, was over.

“It is not seemly for us to speak of such things. Later today, I will meet with Prince Khalid.”

In other words it was perfectly fine to discuss the fact someone wanted to take her life, but child abuse was not a fit subject to discuss with a woman.

But she wouldn’t give up.

“I understand your reluctance to discuss Omar with me, Sheik Abbas, but I was planning to talk to Prince Khalid…”

Abbas interrupted her with a wave of his hand.

“No. Leave the issue in my hands, Highness. It will be an honour for me to cut off the head of the snake.”

Charisse knew when to give up.

She was a woman and that was that.

So be it.

Abbas bowed low over her hand.

“There is unrest among the tribes about the choice of husband for you and ruler for this land. Rumours and tall stories are spreading like locusts on the desert wind. You must marry Prince Khalid soon, Highness. The protection of the El Haribe’s will do much to ensure your safety and bring stability to our country.”

“The wedding will take place in forty-eight hours,” Charisse assured him. “A small ceremony. We must honour the memory of Asim.”

Abbas nodded as he led her back to Diablo and an anxious looking Arabella.

“Which is just as it should be. Khalid will settle down after his wild ways. He will give you strong sons.”

Since she didn’t want to dwell on how Khalid was going to give her strong sons, Charisse nodded once.

She turned to the man who’d been loyal for so many years to the house of El Haribe.

“Blessings be upon your family and your people, Sheik Abbas.”

Charisse leapt upon Diablo’s back.

Rufus and Boris whined with pleasure under the stroking hand of the Sheik.

“Blessings be upon you, Highness. May God go with you.”

 

Arabella trotted at her side. “And what was all that about?”

Well out of earshot, two bodyguards rode ahead and two brought up the rear.

“There’s a price on my head. Ten million dollars,” Charisse said in a low voice.

The hiss of breath exhaled from her bodyguard was followed by an expletive.

“He doesn’t hang about, does he?”

“He is a man who knows no boundaries,” Charisse agreed.

“He’s a sick bastard. Have you told Prince Khalid about your past?”

Charisse pondered on just one more hurdle yet to be overcome on the journey that was her life.

She shook her head, and ignored Arabella’s low hiss of irritation.

“And I won’t until I have to. My instincts tells me Khalid is a good man. A troubled man, but a good man. Before I tell him the truth of my past, we must see how he deals with the news of Omar.”

Arabella said nothing, but her stiff body language said it all.

She was not pleased.

The moon lit the way as they approached the narrow pass that linked two mountain ranges.

The White Palace rose majestically in the distance.

Home.

She would never leave this place.

Not willingly.

And as Charisse spurred Diablo into a fast trot, she knew she’d never felt so alone, so vulnerable, and so isolated, since she’d been fifteen. Fear for herself and, more importantly, for her people, laid waste to her heart. She had a price on her head. Put there by a man who’d almost destroyed her. A man who’d told the world she’d run away after the deaths of her mother and sister. A man who lied. And a man who had more than a nodding acquaintance with pure evil.

Now she was about to be married to another man, Khalid. A man who didn’t want her or the responsibility for the people of Onuur. He was utterly selfish. Uninterested. He put himself and his so called art before his people or his wife-to-be. His bodyguard was a vile excuse for a human being. And it worried her that Khalid may have known about Omar’s deviant needs. Hadn’t Khalid warned her that he himself had dark needs? Now she questioned just what those words had meant and cursed her lack of sexual awareness and experience.

She wondered if perhaps by marrying Khalid she’d bitten off more than she could chew. But she’d survived the worst that life could throw a helpless young girl, and she’d survive this, too.

No point in worrying and wondering over something that could not be changed. If Khalid had no knowledge that his close protection officer was a paedophile then she would marry him. If he was also arrogant, controlling and had the relentless streak of an El Haribe male then so be it. To be fair to him, he was also struggling to come to terms with his new responsibilities. So Charisse decided that there would be plenty of time to explain to him about her past after they were married. If she told Khalid the truth before the wedding he’d probably run a mile. And who could blame him?

However, her conscience reminded her that, by not telling him the truth and giving him a chance, she wasn’t being entirely fair to Khalid. Too bad. He’d just have to suck it up and get on with it. Life wasn’t perfect. Life wasn’t fair. Life was full of challenges to be overcome.

And what about love that little voice asked.

Charisse lifted her chin and stiffened her spine.

What use had she for love?

She might secretly dream of loving a man who adored and respected her and valued her for what she was as a human being, and as a woman, as well as a Queen. But dreams were for children. Daydreams had no part in the reality of her life. She would make the best of it and if God looked kindly upon her, she may be blessed with a child to love.

With a quick whistle to the dogs, Charisse gave the signal to Diablo and the stallion leapt ahead.

Khalid padded into his studio dressed in low slung jeans and a T-shirt.

Running shaky fingers through wet hair, he hunted for a hair tie.

He’d wolfed down the first food in twenty-four hours before collapsing on his bed.

He’d slept for eight hours straight.

Now he studied his work in progress.

Christ, she look fabulous.

He’d managed to capture the look in her eyes that had wound him up so much when he’d first met Charisse.

Utter contempt.

Now that look in her fabulous eyes made him smile.

And in a few short hours she would be all his.

He couldn’t wait.

Picking up a slim brush, he dipped it in black paint. The title of this painting had come to him while he’d slept. While he’d dreamed of Charisse.

Now he grinned as he carefully wrote, Desert Orchid, in the bottom left hand corner.

She was like an orchid of the desert; a delicate beauty, fragile, but strong, as the storms of life rolled across the sand. Exquisite and brave. Yes, Charisse was most certainly his very own orchid of a desert ruled by him. And just like that, his body responded too powerfully, hungering for the hot, wet, heat and tight grip of his woman.

It had cost him, but he didn’t trust himself to go anywhere near her without thrusting himself into her hard and fast. She needed time to heal from their first night together.

As he tied back his hair, Khalid pondered on how much his life had changed in such a short space oftime. And his eyes were drawn again and again to the portrait of Charisse. He knew it was probably the best work he’d ever done. His eyes stared into hers and it was as if she reached out and touched him too deeply. For a man who had done his best to ensure he had no emotional ties to anyone, it was uncomfortable feeling. She was hardworking and very brave. He admired her as a person, but more importantly he liked her. And, he admitted now, he cared for her. Charisse haunted his every waking moment and every sleepless night. Even now his hands itched to touch her, everywhere. The memory of how she sounded as his fingers had entered her tight body made his groin harden too fast, made his breath hiss in his throat. For the first time in his life, his need of a woman was a physical pain.

What the hell had she done to him?

How could one night drive a man crazy?

It scared him.

His emotions scared him.

Sarif’s offer of his ocean retreat for their honeymoon was just what he needed to explore his complex feelings for Charisse.

 

The distant yip of a dog brought him out onto his balcony.

Khalid narrowed his eyes to search the mountain pass leading to the palace.

A half-moon and twinkling nebula lit the sky bathing the path in an eerie silvery light.

Galloping hard over the crest of a hill, coming towards the palace were two wolfhounds streaking before horses and riders.

Her body bent low over Diablo, he recognised Charisse immediately.

Then she pulled back into a trot and the dogs circled back to her side.

Khalid had to admire her style and rhythm.

She was at one with the huge beast.

Then about a hundred yards from the palace gate, Diablo dropped into a walk.

Now he frowned.

What the hell was she doing riding out in the middle of the damned night?

As if his thoughts had called out to her, Charisse raised her head to look in his direction and for a split second he was certain she saw him.

He lifted his hand to wave just as the sound of a single gunshot echoed through the mountains.

Charisse slumped over her horse.

Stunned, it took the sound of another gunshot to jolt Khalid into action.

Oh, God, no.

 

As Diablo slowed to a walk along the dusty road leading to the palace, Charisse didn’t see the glint of a rifle in the moonlight.

Turning to Rufus’s bark of warning she didn’t see the flash of the bullet. All she felt was the impact of being hit by a truck and then the sting of pain as metal sliced through flesh.

She didn’t even have time to take a breath to cry out as she slumped over the neck of Diablo.

Then another gunshot and this time her horse dropped to the ground.

The last sound she heard was the cry of rage from Arabella and the howls of her dogs.

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Eleven coming tomorrow, thank you so much for the kind messages!

Christine X

Desert Orchid, Chapter Eight…

DESERTORCHID

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Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

 

Chapter Eight

Khalid stared into sea-blue eyes.

Eyes a man could drown in.

He was dimly aware of the sound of the ceiling fans, and that the sing song of the wind in the palace had died down.

Beneath him, her body was warm and soft in all the right places, her heart beating a rapid tattoo against his chest.

She smelled fabulous.

Something fragrant and floral and utterly female.

Her breathing was erratic.

She was either terribly turned on, or terrified.

Or, by the look in her eye, both.

“I can hear your teeth chattering. Relax, baby.”

He needed to get her naked.

Reaching out he cupped the side of her face and drew her closer and their lips fused.

Even though his body had the patience of a starving lion, he forced himself to take it slow and easy.

But God, her mouth was so soft and warm and wet.

She tasted like a spoonful of the sweetest honey.

And all the while he kissed her, he took his time to strip her of her robe.

Then she lifted her arms as their hungry mouths broke contact for a millisecond as he swept her tissue thin vest over her head.

Her hands clamped over small breasts, her blue eyes went wide.

Aww, she was shy.

How cute was that?

With gentle hands he covered hers and pulled them above her head, anchoring her slim wrists with one hand as he looked his fill.

She was beautifully formed with small, pert breasts and soft smooth skin.

Her waist was tiny.

Khalid couldn’t help it, he purred deep in his throat.

She was perfect.

Her skin was the colour of fresh cream where the marks of her bikini had covered her and he wondered idly where she sunbathed.

Under his hot gaze her ruby nipples beaded as she shivered.

“Beautiful breasts. Are you cold, baby?”

She shook her head and wriggled under him in a silent plea for… something.

Her lips parted and in his pants his arousal made a desperate bid for freedom, which made him purr again. His fingers carefully explored the soft fullness of her breast and she groaned and his mouth found hers. He slipped his tongue into her to taste, to explore, and his erection ached painfully as the essence of her, the flavour of her mouth, the scent of her sweet breath and the tremble of her body made him grind his rock hard shaft into the cradle of her pelvis.

He’d thought the darkly erotic dreams of her, of his lonely nights, were hot?

They were nothing compared to the real thing, here, now, and in his bed.

An orgasm tingled the base of his spine and he took a shuddering breath.

Appalled, he wondered what had happened to his legendary self-control?

He pressed his mouth to the hectic pulse under her ear and took a deep breath.

It didn’t help.

She smelled  fabulous and all the while his hand stroked the silky soft skin of her breast before slipping down to her flat abdomen.

With a final burning kiss, he rose.

 

All Charisse wore were her panties.

The slick heat between her legs along with the ache deep in her belly told her she was more than ready for this.

He’d stripped her with a thoroughness and competency that took her breath.

Now, Khalid stood at the side of the bed and those amazing grey eyes simply devoured her from head to toe. With a dark gleam in those eyes and with a slowness that was the most exquisite torture, he pulled the cord of his loose pants.

They dropped to the floor.

The whimper that escaped from her throat should have shamed her.

Instead, her eyes went wide.

Oh. My. God.

His sex was a magnificent shock.

Her eyes flew to his.

She read heat.

She read lust.

Healthy fear burst the heady bubble of her desire.

This was a terrible, terrible mistake.

No way would he ever fit inside her.

What on earth had she been thinking?

Her mouth felt as if she’d swallowed every grain of sand in the desert as Charisse began to heel up the bed until her skull hit the headboard.

Khalid simply watched her through narrowed eyes that appeared slightly baffled by her behaviour.

And she supposed most women, experienced women, might be thrilled at the thought of being made love to by this big man.

But she wasn’t one of them.

This was going to hurt, and hurt bad.

“Nice panties,” he drawled in a thick voice that didn’t arouse, instead it terrified her. “I have a thing for ribbon and lace. No idea where you think you’re going because I’ve got all night to peel them off you.”

Charisse realised with alarming clarity that she should have told him the truth right from the very beginning.

She cleared her throat as he whipped off his hair band.

Black, glossy waves fell to his shoulders and he crawled up the bed towards her. He looked wild, untamed.

Her breath caught in her throat.

Her heart went wild in her chest.

She simply could not take her eyes from his bobbing erection.

“Khalid,” she said sounding as desperate as she felt. “I need to tell you something.”

Then she yelped as he grabbed her ankles and yanked her down the bed.

He straddled her.

Placing his arms either side of her head, he bent down to stare into her eyes.

Oh. My. God.

She couldn’t breathe.

She couldn’t think.

Those grey eyes grew dark with sheer lust as he studied her mouth in way that made her lick her lips.

His eyes met hers.

“Do you, baby? Whatever it is can wait,” he growled low in his throat.

He caught her hair in one hand to tilt her head to the side. And then his mouth pressed hot and hungry kisses over her throat as his rough hand explored her breasts, her ribcage and down to her thighs.

Her overheated system, torn between a brutal arousal and utter terror, took her on the rollercoaster ride of her life.

A strong knee pushed her legs apart.

“Khalid! Please… you need to…”

He gave a throaty chuckle.

“Patience, baby. Hmm, you’re so ready for me. I’m going to make you scream my name, Charisse.”

The lust in his voice made her whimper.

He was going to make her scream all right, and not in a good way.

Something more than panic roared from her solar plexus and into her throat.

She gave sob as her whole system threatened to go up in flames.

And she realised with horror that Khalid had taken the sound as a sign she wanted more.

When he ripped off her panties and positioned himself in the cradle of her hips and his erection nudged her slick folds, Charisse couldn’t help it.

She burst into tears.

 

It took Khalid between one heart beat and the next to realise Charisse was pressing her palms against his chest not in lustful exploration but in an ineffectual attempt to push him off her.

And she’d turned her head away. Not for him to explore the hectic pulse in her neck, but to speak to him.

Her whimpering cries he’d taken for arousal. And now he realised his mistake.

Those shuddering breaths were not in fact lust, but sheer terror.

Her tears and great heaving sobs actually made his chest ache.

In a smooth move, he sat and stared at her, totally baffled.

What on earth was the matter with her?

She simply lay there like a rag doll.

A fist was pressed to her mouth and a trembling hand covered her eyes.

She wanted this, didn’t she?

Frowning, he battled with a frustrated anger.

Was she playing him?

No.

She was clearly beside herself and terribly upset.

Her lips trembled in a way that made him press his fist to his heart and rub hard.

He couldn’t bear her distress.

Gathering her in his arms, he sat her up with her back against the headboard.

Since her hands fluttered between her breasts and her sex, he handed her a pillow and she hugged it hard as she pulled up her knees.

Positioning himself directly in front of her, Khalid sat in the lotus position and stared in absolute fury at her shuddering shoulders.

 

“Start talking,” he growled.

Huge blue eyes drenched in tears blinked into his. And the tip of her nose was red. White teeth bit down hard on her bottom lip in a pitiful attempt to stop it quivering. And Khalid had never seen anything so beautiful or so utterly vulnerable in his entire life.

“I’m so terribly sorry,” she whispered and tears again gathered to swim in those big eyes.

He simply could not bear those tears.

“Stop crying!” he roared like a bull.

Her jolt of shocked surprise made him feel like an absolute bastard, but it had the desired effect.

She blinked rapidly as unsteady fingers swiped her cheeks.

“I’m a virgin.”

His jaw dropped.

Excuse the f*ck out of me?

For a breathless moment he stared at her in stunned disbelief as his brain attempted to compute the statement.

Yet again she’d thrown him a curve.

Whatever he’d been expecting it certainly hadn’t been this.

But why was he surprised?

She’d come to Onuur at the age of sixteen.

He knew she’d been a good and loyal wife to his uncle.

Every day he spent in the country only reinforced how hard she worked and how much she loved the people.

Why had he assumed she’d had lovers?

Was it because it was easier for him to think of her as a harlot with her eye on the main chance rather than admit how much she’d affected him as soon as he’d laid eyes on her?

He’d accused her of not giving him a chance.

What chance had he given her to show him how she ticked?

 

And he’d scared her.

Badly.

She was staring at him as if he was a ticking bomb about to explode.

All these thoughts and more raced through his brain.

But the one that brought him the most joy and relief was the realisation that no man had ever touched her. Khalid couldn’t remember a woman coming to his bed untouched. For his whole life women had come to him expectant and demanding.

He could only hope he had it in him to be careful and gentle with her.

Dear heaven, she’d trusted him enough to be the first.

No.

Not just the first, but the only lover she’d ever have.

He only hoped to God that he had it in him to look after her properly.

Her gaze kept flicking down to his aching arousal.

The truth hit him like a freight train.

She was terrified that he was going to hurt her.

A deep affection for this beautiful girl unlocked the padlock of the heavy chain that surrounded his heart.

With an unsteady inhale of breath, Khalid reached out to cup her face between his hands and tip it up to his.

“Baby, I cannot begin to tell you how happy you have made me with that news. You did the right thing to stop me.”

 

She blinked and he read a wary relief that warred with a needy disappointment.

God bless her, even though she was scared to death, she still wanted him.

Her courage humbled him.

“I should have told you before but I thought everything would be fine. I’m not stupid, Khalid. I understand perfectly well that the first time will hurt.” Those big blue eyes flicked again to his manhood and went wide. “But, it’s just that…”

He tilted her head and smiled into those amazing eyes.

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul.

In that case, Charisse had the most beautiful soul.

“You do great things for my ego. But I’m not much larger than the average man. Will you trust me enough to make it good for you?”

Charisse’s hands held on tight to his wrists.

She frowned now in a way that he found absolutely adorable.

“Only if you still want me.”

Her faith in him unmanned him in a way he’d never experienced before.

The expression of complete trust on her face made him tighten his grip on her chin and his own eyes went wide.

“Are you crazy? Of course I want you. We’ll take it nice and slow. I’ll stop whenever you tell me to. You are in the driving seat here.”

She closed her eyes and took a long, shaky breath. “I’ve been incredibly stupid.”

Another thought entered his head. “Have you ever been kissed before, baby?”

Her eyes flew to his and he read the honest to God truth.

No wonder the girl was trembling.

Stroking her arms to soothe, he heard her sigh, felt her body relax and her hands slid around his waist.

Very gently he placed his mouth on hers with a tenderness he should have shown her right from the very beginning. But their mutual hunger meant too soon tenderness wasn’t enough.

With exquisite care he made love to her with his mouth and took her deeper.

Her breath hitched. The low moan that came from extraordinary amazement squeezed his heart. And for the first time in his life he truly understood a woman’s needs enough to put her before himself.

Lifting his head, he stared into her eyes.

“This is making love, Charisse, not just sex.”

Still, she fumbled to cover herself.

Uncertain, she lifted her hand to his cheek and he wanted to cry for the hesitancy in her touch.

My God, she’d no idea what she did to him.

Then her teeth nipped his bottom lip and she slicked her tongue over the sting.

Ah, she didn’t like it too soft.

What a woman.

His erection stung and he forced his rampant libido to behave.

Tonight was all about her, not him.

He grabbed the pillow from her arms and tossed it on the bed with two more before he lay back against them and spread his legs wide.

“You keep looking at my shaft as if it’s a grenade with the pin pulled. You need to familiarise yourself with my body. It’s all yours, baby. Feel free to explore.” He gave her an encouraging smile. “I’m all yours.”

And hoped she wouldn’t kill him.

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Annnnnnnnnd tomorrow is Chapter Nine…….

 

Christine X

Desert Orchid, Chapter five… an understanding…..

 

 

DESERTORCHID

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Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Five

 

“Why are there no children?”

Heart thundering in her ears Charisse stared up into that flushed but harsh face and wondered what had just happened? Her mouth felt swollen, throbbing with a pulse that matched her frantic beat of her heart. She licked her lips. She could still taste him.

Why wouldn’t her brain function?

Why were there black spots in front of her eyes?

The room spun.

Khalid pushed her down onto the couch and sat next to her as she blinked up into that incredible face.

His eyes went dark as they dropped to her mouth.

Then he drawled in that incredible voice, “Stop licking your lips, Charisse, or we will end up naked on the floor.”

She pressed her burning lips together and found that her hands were shaking.

“I’m sorry,” she said and clasped her hands tightly. “Did you just ask me a question? I can’t think.”

“Know the feeling,” he muttered. Then he shook his head as if to clear it and she caught the flash of a twisted smile. “I asked you why there are no children.”

She had nothing to hide, so why was the truth so painful?

How could she tell him that her relationship with his uncle was one of a father and daughter rather than as husband and wife?

How could she tell him she’d never known a man?

That until a moment ago, she’d never even been kissed?

How could she have agreed to marry this man?

She couldn’t do it.

Then something like despair burned in her heart, her mind.

But then if she left Onuur, where would she go?

Onuur was the only home she’d ever known and she loved the country and its people with her whole heart. But she couldn’t think of all that now, he was waiting for an answer.

She took a shaky breath.

“Asim had a congenital heart condition. He was unable to father children. Or even…”

Her voice broke as the scorch of utter mortification burned her cheeks.

She stared down at her hands.

Khalid hissed out a breath. “Poor bastard. So he was married to you and couldn’t touch you?”

She shook her head, and risked a peek at his gorgeous face.

He was frowning now and that face appeared tougher, even more forbidding.

“We loved each other very much,” she said. “He’d come to terms with his physical limitations many years before he met me.”

As if he couldn’t help himself, Khalid’s hand reached out and stroked her hair.

And that darkly possessive look in his eyes made her tremble. “Don’t kid yourself, baby. To see you every day and not be able to touch you must have been its own kind of hell.”

She frowned.

And knew that this was the perfect opportunity to tell him the truth.

But when his eyes stayed on hers Charisse found the words trapped in her throat as he took her in his arms and inhaled the scent of her hair. When he gently stroked the length of her from shoulder to hip and back again, she found herself almost overwhelmed by the need to sink further into his strong embrace.

And that need made her pull back.

She stared up into that dark and brooding face and wondered what he was thinking.

“Have you settled into your rooms? The redecorating of the main apartments will take a few weeks.”

Those grey eyes narrowed in a way that told her she’d annoyed him.

But why had her question annoyed him?

Taking her hand, he stood and hauled her to her feet.

“Actually, my rooms were not at all suitable. Let me show you where I live.”

 

The dogs rose to accompany them, but Khalid sent them a sharp look.

Confused, they turned to Charisse to give them direction.

“Stay,” she ordered, and felt her heart break at their woeful expressions.

The animals had no idea what was happening, and if the truth be told neither did she.

Hand in hand he led her out of her apartments.

They walked down the stairs to find Arabella studiously ignoring one of the ugliest men Charisse had ever seen in her life. His eyes, small and black, flicked to their joined hands.

“We do not require either of you in our private apartments. You may leave,” Khalid commanded in a tone that told Charisse he was a man who gave an order and expected it to be obeyed without question.

Arabella’s eyes met hers and Charisse gave her an infinitesimal nod. The sudden squeeze of Khalid’s firm fingers on hers told her the nod had not gone unnoticed.

He pulled her through large double doors.

She smelled fresh paint and turpentine.

Her gasp of alarm as the doors banged and he backed her up against the wall.

His smile wasn’t friendly.

He brought her hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss to each finger sending fiery bolts of arousal through her system. Those grey eyes watched her with an intensity that dried her throat. They scanned her hair, her face, and settled hungrily on her mouth before rising to meet her eyes.

“When I give an order, Charisse, I do not expect your protection officer to look to you. If it happens again, she’ll be on the next flight out of the country. Do I make myself clear?”

Again, she wondered what on earth she was doing to even think of marrying him. He was nothing like the man she’d imagined. He was harder, tougher, more uncompromising than she’d anticipated. From what she’d read in the press she’d expected a playboy prince so laid back he was horizontal. But this man appeared to have no soft edges and absolutely no empathy for her recent loss.

Irritation with him for treating her life a serf stiffened her spine.

Her chin lifted.

“Crystal.”

He smiled again, and it wasn’t nice.

His fingers stroked her cheek, her chin.

Those eyes lasered into hers.

“Brave little thing, aren’t you?” he said softly. The words held an implicit threat. But before she could wonder at their meaning, he spun to turn into the room. “Do you like what I’ve done to the place?”

She wasn’t sure what he referred to since the room was an empty space except for the most enormous four poster bed she’d ever seen in her life sitting slap bang in the middle of the room. The deep mattress was covered in white cotton sheets. A pile of fat, white pillows sat at one end.

The walls and ceiling had been lime washed white, which made the space feel bigger, lighter. Endless. Vast doorways were open to the elements and the wind sang its unique song, stirring large ceiling fans made of hardwood. He’d turned the entire space into an artist’s studio. In one corner, she noticed two large workstations, which held tubes of paint and jars of brushes grouped by size. Another workstation, organised to within an inch of its life, held pallet knives, tins of chalks, and sticks of charcoal. Enormous blank canvases were stacked against the walls. Four paintings at various stages of creation were propped against another wall.

Above the workstations ran a line of white pin boards crammed with drawings and photographs. While across the room on a wide desk was a super-slim computer, state-of-the-art, along with a printer and phone connection. Running along the back wall were two massive sofas in soft suede the colour of dark toffee covered in throws of various materials in jewel shades.

Khalid, she realised, liked vivid colour and coarse textures.

Off to the right were the bathrooms and bedroom wing.

He’d taken up residence directly below her apartments.

She turned to find him watching her.

“I apologise for placing you at the wrong side of the palace. It didn’t occur to me you might need the correct light for your work,” she admitted in a conciliatory tone.

She was prepared to compromise, but thinking of the type of subjects he painted, she couldn’t help but curl her lip.

Without taking his eyes off her face, he moved into her and his fingertip tapped her chin.

“See, right there, that look in your eye, is going to be a big problem for me.”

Alarm that he could read her so well made her eyes wide.

As if he’d read her mind, he continued in that slow drawl that already had the ability to make her system hum, “I’m an artist, baby. An observer of life. I adore women. I can read them. And you have a very expressive face.”

Stung, she lifted her chin.

“I can’t be someone I’m not. My feelings, my thoughts, are my own.”

Black brows winged into his hairline.

“Very true. And I wouldn’t want you to be anyone other than your authentic self. But I’m warning you now to dump the preconceived ideas and very low opinion you have of me. It’s not as if you are as pure as the driven snow, is it? From the glowing reports of you I received from my aunt Yasmin I’d expect you to at least give me a chance. Get to know me, before judging me.”

The truth of his argument struck her with incredible force.

Her hand flew to her cheek.

He was right.

She had pre-judged him.

And she’d found him wanting.

The contents of Asim’s letter spun through her mind reminding her of his sentiments that Khalid had potential. She had a huge respect for her late husband’s opinion of others. He’d never been wrong, yet.

Taking a deep breath, she reached for Khalid’s hand and his fingers found hers.

“I apologise. You are correct. I have not been fair to you.”

A wicked glint appeared in his eyes as he gave her his first genuine smile.

Long fingers squeezed hers.

And her breath hitched.

The smile changed his whole face and made him look much younger, kinder.

“I bet that statement stuck in your throat, honey.”

Still reeling from being called ‘honey’ for the first time in her life, she couldn’t help but admit the truth. “It almost choked me.”

He laughed. “Ahh, a sense of humour. Excellent.”

Wondering why she was breathless all of a sudden, Charisse reclaimed her hand and wandered through the room.

Khalid simply stood and watched her.

“What’s the bed for?” And as soon as the stupid words were out of her stupid mouth she wished she’d kept it shut.

He leaned his shoulder against the wall.

The glint in his eyes was more pronounced now.

He loosened his tie, slid open the top buttons of his shirt.

“It’s for my muse to lie on while I paint her,” he said in a silky voice.

 

She frowned.

No way.

Her eyes flew to his and he bit his lip as if trying too hard not to laugh.

“I’m not at all comfortable with strange women being brought here,” she said in a tone that meant business.

His tongue ran over his top teeth as those grey eyes went too dark, too intense, as they held hers.

“I have no intention of bringing strange women here. Now I’ve met you, I’ve decided you will be my muse. In fact, right at this moment I have a vision of you lying right there, naked.”

Face too hot, her heart going wild in her chest, she shook her head.

Dream on.

Not a chance.

“Then you’ll have a very long wait. Because there’s no way you’re going to paint my private parts and add them to your vast collection of lady bits.”

Her voice was firm.

But it was the tone and the scorn in it that made Khalid push off the wall and stalk towards her.

Oh, his little wife-to-be couldn’t seem to help but challenge him. And there was nothing Khalid El Haribe loved more than a challenge. After the way she’d responded to him upstairs, he knew it wouldn’t take much to have her naked on his bed.

But the genuine alarm in those vividly blue eyes held him back from showing her just who was the boss in this relationship.

There was no point in scaring her half to death, he decided.

He’d have plenty of time to make her his.

Plenty of time to have her naked and her legs spread wide if he so desired.

And that brought another issue to the front of his mind.

He had no intention of waiting six weeks to make her his wife.

It hadn’t taken Khalid and Sarif more than a couple of days to realise that Charisse wielded immense power in Onuur. She was adored, almost revered. The brothers had agreed it was crucial that Khalid brought her under his control sooner rather than later. There was no way he would take a back seat in his own country to someone who was nothing more than a girl. The quicker he got her pregnant and busy with a baby, or two, the better.

And that thought had his groin fire in a way that caught his breath as he stood before her and read sheer defiance in those blue eyes.

He could see how much it cost her not to step away from him and he found himself, yet again, admiring her courage.

Charisse was an interesting character, he decided.

She was beautiful, brave and bright. And, he realised, with some surprise, that if it wasn’t for the fact she was a greedy little witch, he could quite easily like her.

“Whether I paint you or not is not something we need to discuss here and now, honey. Can I look forward to the pleasure of your company for dinner this evening? My brother is looking forward to meeting you.”

Her flush of guilt almost made him laugh out loud.

“Ah yes, I believe you mentioned you’d much rather have married him.” The way her blue eyes went wide as her jaw dropped made him bite down hard on his bottom lip. God, she was adorable. “However, let me give you fair warning. If you repeat those words again, you won’t find me terribly forgiving.”

His hand reached out to cup the soft skin of her neck.

And she went absolutely still as he pulled her into him.

The mad pulse in her neck beat like a trapped bird’s and he rubbed his thumb over the spot. He didn’t miss the dilation of her pupils or the sharp inhale of breath. Ah yes, in spite of herself, she was attracted to him.

Excellent.

It would make his life a hell of a lot easier to have a willing wife in his bed rather than a reluctant one.

And now he wondered how many lovers she’d had.

Best not to go there, he decided.

Then his eyes narrowed as they examined her face with his artists’ eye.

Something… something about her didn’t quite add up.

The woman who’d sold herself to a sick old man for money, even if she had been a loyal wife who’d nursed her husband until the bitter end, didn’t add up with the vibrant, sensual and sexy woman he now knew her to be.

Studying her stunning face with the clear skin, big eyes and that tempting mouth, Khalid found himself again desperate to kiss her.

But he understood the weakness of his character well enough to know that he wouldn’t stop at kissing.

His thumb rubbed the alluring fullness of her bottom lip as his eyes met and held hers.

“I don’t see any reason to wait six weeks for our wedding. Do you?”

Something like fear flashed those eyes even as she gave a microscopic shake of her head.

“We need to honour Asim,” she whispered.

He nodded. “True. I understand you are an orphan?” For the first time her eyes slid from his. A tiny nod was all the response he received. Hmm, a tender spot. “We’ll have a small ceremony here in the palace with my family in attendance.”

His eyes narrowed fractionally as he continued to study his thumb stroking her vulnerable bottom lip. And that vulnerability worried him, tugged at something buried inside him, in a place he didn’t want tugged. In his conscience.

Khalid was well aware he wasn’t an easy man to live with. It didn’t bother him. It was simply a fact. He had needs, dark sexual needs. Her eyes went wide now as she studied him, perhaps picking up his mood? Her mouth trembled as she took a breath. And a vision of her on her knees, taking his manhood in that mouth, along with him doing other things, dark things, to her made him go too hard, too fast.

She was an incredibly beautiful woman.

And in his vast experience in dealing with beautiful women, Khalid had found that honesty was always the best policy.

“I have a very strong sexual appetite with specific… needs.” He let the last word hang between them. Saw heat scorch her cheeks. “Are you quite certain you want to do this?”

Her eyes flew to his.

And he caught a glimpse of heartbreak along with something dark lurking at the back of her eyes. Add in the way she trembled under his fingers, and his instincts now screamed that something about her, and about this situation, was very wrong.

Her response was no more than a whispered, “I have no choice.”

He frowned.

And just what did that mean?

Of course she had a choice.

She had a fortune in Swiss banks.

“Everyone has a choice, Charisse.”

The shake of her head was so tiny he almost missed it.

“I don’t even know you,” she admitted now.

He understood perfectly well that she was evading.

And decided to permit the change of subject, for now.

“Did you know my uncle before you married him?” Her cheeks went radioactive as her eyes again dropped from his. She shook her head. Pleased with her reaction, he continued, “Then I don’t see your problem. I’m younger and can more than satisfy your sexual needs. And by your reactions to me you will satisfy mine. I can give you a child. Surely you want to be a mother?”

Taking a deep and shaky inhale of breath, she looked up to search his face.

“Yes. But will you be a good King? A good husband? A good father?”

And those, Khalid had to admit, were very good questions.

Would he?

So far he’d failed as a brother and as a son.

But staring down into that lovely face Khalid had the strangest feeling that with Charisse at his side there was nothing he could not do. Then he told himself he was being fanciful. She was simply a beautiful face with big blue eyes and a greedy heart.

“I’ve no idea. But I promise to do my best. What about you?” he asked.

She gave him a sad little smile that again stirred something in his chest.

“I’ve already fulfilled two of those roles. It is up to you to give me the third.”

By the way his groin stung, he could certainly do that, so he pressed his lips to her smooth forehead and felt her tremble.

Delighted by her reaction to him, and by his to her, Khalid looked down into those big eyes. The sensation was like sinking into the deep blue sea.

“It will be my pleasure, Highness.”

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Six tomorrow.

Christine X

Desert Orchid, chapter two……..

DESERTORCHID

 

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By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Two

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 his 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.”

 

Chapter Three coming tomorrow…..

Christine X

Desert Orchid is available at:

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It’s Monday and an exclusive book deal…

Happy Monday, my darlings.

The lovely people at Amazon have got BREAK THE RULES on #FREE  exclusive deal for a limited time. Come and get it and tell your friends.  (Link below new cover pic).

BREAKTHERULESJPG

GET IT HERE

 

 

Sean Kennedy had a simple rule when it came to women—if they were hard work—he didn’t bother.
Why put himself through unnecessary hassle?And then he met a blonde bombshell…

From the moment Sean Kennedy frisked T.C. he captivated her. The look in the bodyguard’s tawny eyes for her was too intense, insanely sexy and dominant. He was a powerful man who towered over everyone. And a man who believed he could have anything and anyone. Despite T.C.’s reservations, she had a night of passion with him. A night which brought the demons of her past into her present and her future.
Demons that have no intention of ever letting her go.
But Sean was a man prepared to fight dirty for the woman he wanted.
And a man who’d never lost a battle—yet.

 

Enjoy!

I’m working on the second part of the Desert Orchid duet, Desert Captive, coming soon. And beginning tomorrow I’m posting a chapter a day of Desert Orchid to get you in the mood.

Big hugs,

Christine X