Desert Captive, episodes seventeen and eighteen…..

DESERTCAPTIVEBANNERbella1

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

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

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODE SEVENTEEN

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

Taking her hand in his, Sarif stood.

Arabella stood too.

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

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

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

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

“Where are we going?”

He glanced at her face.

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

“Outside?”

Again he glanced at her.

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

Arabella, the Queen of Quarram.

Somebody was having a laugh.

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

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

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

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

Now Sarif brought her hand to his lips.

The jolt of attraction shot straight to her throat.

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

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

She rubbed a hand over her throat.

“I figured no news was good news?”

“Go ahead, ask.”

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

Baby brain, she decided.

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

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

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

“You’ve organized an attack force?”

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

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

“And others.”

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

“And you’re telling me this, why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what you think, boyo.

Then another thought hit her.

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

He made a face.

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

A wave of nausea made her dizzy.

“Beheading?”

His jaw tight, Sarif shook his head.

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

“Omigod.”

“I leave tonight.”

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

Time was of the essence.

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

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

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

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

Worry won.

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

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

Too true she had every right.

She was more than angry with him.

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

Again he brought her hand to his mouth.

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

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

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

He nodded.

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

Was he serious?

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

“Nope.”

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

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

“I stand warned.”

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

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

The tinkling of goat bells rang out as night fell.

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

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

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

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

She shook the feeling off.

“Nothing.”

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

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

It disturbed her a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She pulled her hand free.

“What about your French mistress?”

He didn’t even miss a beat.

“Our friendship is at an end.”

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

He shrugged.

“She was a loyal and good friend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have apologized…”

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

“So that makes it all okay then?”

He shifted to enter her personal space.

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

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

“You were taking too long.”

“Because I…”

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

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

Oh, for the love of…

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

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

Maybe she had.

He scratched his chin.

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

She sent him a bland look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That makes two of us.”

 

 

EPISODE EIGHTEEN

 

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

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

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

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

The elderly man standing next to them looked fierce.

Warrior fierce.

And not happy.

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

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

He could have done with a bath.

“You the Sheik?” she asked in Farsi.

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

“So they say.”

“You don’t look like a Queen.”

“True.”

He jerked his little chin towards the desert.

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

Strange men, eh?

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

“Doesn’t everyone like dinosaurs?”

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

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

“Plenty of old fossils around here.”

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

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

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

“Amira Hussein.”

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

“He is Malik.”

“Brother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stubborn,” she muttered.

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

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

The scent alone made her mouth water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarif dipped his head.

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

Arabella could understand that.

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

Honor.

Duty.

Freedom.

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

***

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

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

A sound had her turn to find Leila standing there.

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

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

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

Leila shook her head.

“I don’t like this. What if…”

Arabella held up her hand.

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

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

“The deed is done?”

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

“Then let’s go.”

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

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

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

Result.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eight miles as the crow flies.”

“Shame we’re not crows.”

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

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

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

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

“We can’t let it happen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost.

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

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

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

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

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

The phrase firmed her resolve to do what was right.

Failure was not an option.

 


 

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

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

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

Love and hugs and smoochies,
Christine X

It’s episodes 6 + 7 of DESERT CAPTIVE…

desertcaptivebanner6+7

 

Hello, my darlings!

Did you enjoy THE ROYAL WEDDING last Saturday? We loved the whole romance of the special occasion and how much in the love the couple were. Meghan looked radiant in the splendour of the Chapel. I wish them every happiness and know they are going to be a great team.

Speaking of teams, HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN’S final edit is almost in the bag and my editor love-love-loved it. It includes some re-written sneak peeks woven through the torrid tale, and I have the next two outlines fleshed out in the HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN series. My team and I have had the best time coming up with the next two titles and covers. Love my job!  I’m also working on OUR RULES.

Here’s the next two episodes of DESERT CAPTIVE. Remember these are not the final version of the story, things will change in the finished version of the book after many rounds of editing.

Enjoy!

DESERT CAPTIVE

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

 

EPISODE SIX

Sarif surveyed Arabella, the woman who within a matter of moments, was about to become his wife.

Her scent, lightly floral and warm woman, seemed to draw him in. The slim hand held in his felt cold and even a little fragile. On her finger she wore a giant diamond solitaire ring that appeared too big for her hand. Even as her fingers gripped his, the knuckles white, the stone glittered with a blazing brilliance. It was a beautiful ring befitting a Queen. His Queen. His. A heat he could do nothing about, no matter how hard he tried, burned in his groin. It was her body, he told himself urgently. There was just something about how slim she appeared in an ivory silk pant suit, an outfit sent to her by Queen Charisse’s couturier in the House of Chanel. Queen Charisse was a good friend to Arabella and soon to be her sister-in-law. His brother, Khalid, and Charisse had been unable to attend this very sudden wedding. Neither had his parents, which was probably just as well because it was not a for-ever kind of marriage and he knew they would not approve of his actions. The entire ceremony was nothing more than the only way for him to legally claim his son.

Now he studied Bella’s set face. Her hair was the color of the true brunette, dark chestnut shot through with brandy. Her face was oval, the cheekbones sharp, the skin clear and fresh and quite lovely. Her mouth was full, the bottom lip might even be called voluptuous. It was a mouth that left him painfully turned on. Aware of his scrutiny, her eyes, dark brown, flicked to his and held.

Hot tendrils of a lust that never faded whenever he looked at her spun through his system.

His attraction to her remained a complete mystery to him.

For the past few days this woman, with her face stony, her responses tense and cool to his attempt to make polite conversation, only made him tense and cool himself. And yet now that held her hand, his whole body was ablaze.

The celebrant officiating the legal ceremony asked her a question and finally she smiled and it lit up her grave face like the sun. In truth, the smile was both wooden and formal. Involuntarily Sarif was amused for no woman had ever treated him the way Bella did, with such utter disdain. Then she turned to him and he studied the clear challenge in her eyes and asked himself if marrying her was worth everything he was sacrificing. Of course it was, his intelligence told him. For the loss of his freedom he had to be practical and work within the British legal system and do anything to gain custody of his son. One way or another marriage to this woman was a step forward in attaining his goal to secure the continued heritage of his family and his name. Both would go a long way to securing a better future for his people.

Silence fell as they both said the words that legally bound them, and he had another flashback to how her tight bare bottom had felt as his hands had gripped her as her long legs had wound around his waist and together they’d attained a dizzy height of bliss he’d never felt before or since.

Now he wondered if her clear unwillingness to even speak to him since they’d made love that one time had stoked a weird sort of craving. Again hunger leapt through his veins because now she was his. The thought of her spread across his vast bed in various different positions shot heat to his groin. He could not remember ever wanting a woman with such violent immediacy. Was it possible that her reluctance sustained his desire? Was he truly the type of man who needed the sort of challenge, Bella truly represented? And why was the truth of her standing next to him and pregnant with his child such a turn on? Wasn’t that a little perverted? A hard line of color streaked his exotic, high cheekbones, and he stood upright and told himself to get a grip.

The celebrant smiled.

“You may kiss the bride.”

Slowly, they turned to face one another.

Now he held both of her hands in his as he stared at the narrow band of gold that signified their joining as man and wife.

In his mind, Sarif promised himself the kiss would be a brief touch of the lips.

No more.

No less.

But when those clear dark brown eyes gazed unflinchingly, so intently into his, he found his hand raised to brush a stray hair behind her small ear.

And then as he touched her, the sudden tremble in her body, shook him to the core.

He bent his head and inhaled the scent of her shampoo.

Slowly… agonizingly slowly… his mouth touched hers and he brushed his lips back and forth across the full softness of her bottom lip.

Her shaky exhales came in short, ragged breaths.

The barely there touch of his mouth against hers felt like heaven.

It felt incredible.

His eyes fluttered shut.

His big body shivered.

The moan from her increased his easy exploration of her mouth. Pleasure charged through his system like a jolt of lightning and he nearly orgasmed right in front of witnesses.

His body needed more.

He needed more.

Their bodies, as if magnetised, moved closer until pressed together, but still felt too far apart.

Only the low cough from someone behind him, brought Sarif back to his senses.

He blinked, and lifted his head until their mouths reluctantly parted.

When she tasted her lips, he found himself mirroring the move.

Her taste was like honey.

He couldn’t help it.

Still holding her hands, he rested his forehead on hers.

“Well, well, well,” he muttered under his breath, his eyes locked on hers. “Seems we still have that carnal lust between us. Interesting how one can abhor a person and yet feel attraction, isn’t it?”

Her face paled as if he’d slapped her, but he wasn’t at all sorry.

The last thing he wanted her to believe was that he was a romantic fool.

No point in letting her get too comfortable in this short relationship.

And he most definitely didn’t want her to know that she had any sort of power over him.

Hands down, he’d just had one of the most erotic moments of his adult life.

Maybe being forced to marry Arabella Faulkner had a silver lining.

He wanted her.

She wanted him.

When it came to her keeping the promises she’d just made to him, the fact was he didn’t trust her an inch.

However, maybe they’d both get something unexpected out of the farce she was prepared to play.

After all, it wasn’t as if she could get pregnant when they had sex.

That boat, as the old saying went, had already sailed.

 

EPISODE SEVEN

Bella settled into a corner of the gilded limousine with police outriders whisking them to the airport and a Quarram Royal jet. Queen Arabella. If the whole thing wasn’t so utterly ridiculous, she’d actually find it funny. She studied Sarif’s lean, darkly handsome face. He looked so different from the man she had first met in Onuur. He was proud of his country and his heritage. Yet, he hadn’t worn his national dress for their marriage, something which had surprised her. Now he wore a sharply tailored suit with the style and flair of one born to such formality. Exquisitely tailored in a fine dark grey wool and silk blend, the cut of the suit outlined his broad shoulders and wide chest and enhanced his lean hips and those long powerful legs to a T.

For some reason, her body seemed to tremble like a tuning fork in his illustrious presence, and that seriously irritated her. The truth might be hard to swallow, but the fact was that no matter how much he angered or annoyed her, it appeared he still fascinated her. A voice told her she was emotionally treading on dangerous ground and to take care. However, the voice was unable to stop her temperature rising along with her heartbeat. Pregnancy had sensitized her breasts to the point where they felt constricted by her bra. She pressed her slim trouser-clad thighs together, fighting a losing battle to control the growing heat at the heart of her.

“If you keep looking at me like that I’ll have to do something about it,” Sarif said in a silky voice that held both a threat and a promise.

Bella’s cheeks burned with a mortification that made her want to slap herself.

Jeez, what the hell was wrong with her?

She was acting as if she had a starring role in a romance novel and that this marriage was for real.

Then she found herself saying, “You started it. You kissed me first.”

“In your culture it is expected of the groom to kiss the bride. And anyway, you kissed me back.”

She shut her eyes tight.

True.

She had kissed him back and loved every single minute of it.

“We sound like two bickering children,” she muttered.

“We are both suffering from nothing more than an overwhelming chemical reaction, which has caused an unwanted attraction and an equally unwanted sexual frustration between us,” he said thickly. “I have never gone without sex for so long. In the last two weeks I have had enough cold showers to last me three lifetimes.”

That frank response set her cheeks on fire, a tide of mortification washing up over her neck and face. Her gaze evaded those blazing grey eyes in a face that looked as if it was carved from stone. Something compelling went tight low in her pelvis, a contracting thread of a very physical yearning that was powerful enough to shatter her already frayed nerves.

What the hell had happened to her legendary professional cool?

She was renowned for keeping calm in a crisis.

Well, she was so far from calm right now it wasn’t funny.

All she wanted to do was get the man naked.

Worse, she knew he felt exactly the same way.

The bloody hormone apocalypse strikes again, she thought savagely.

“You were late. I thought you were going to jilt me at the altar,” he said now without a lick of humor in his voice.

“Don’t think I didn’t think about it.”

“What changed your mind?”

Now might be the perfect time to tell him she knew he held her brother captive.

She was sorely tempted to wipe that smirk off his gorgeous face.

However, for once her professional common sense prevailed.

If she tipped her hand too soon, Sarif would discover that the British Secret Service knew too, and that would put the success of their rescue plan at risk. The last thing she wanted was to put her brother in even more danger, so she kept quiet. For now. Let Sarif be the one to confess his many sins and explain himself to her. She looked forward to hearing his reasoning behind her brother’s imprisonment. Knowing Sarif it was bound to be interesting.

“As you said yourself, London is dangerous. I only want what’s best for my baby and to keep it safe,” she said at last.

He sat there with his attitude one of a Lord of all he surveyed.

Including her, she reminded herself.

The man was in superb condition.

He was long and lean.

Fit.

Swept back ebony hair, brooding brows.

A firm don’t-mess-with-me mouth.

“Do you really?” he asked in that horrible silky voice she was coming to detest.

She blinked.

“Of course I do. I’ve no idea why you would think anything else.”

“This is neither the time nor the place to have that conversation,” Sarif told her as the limousine came to halt at the airport.

After that, the chance for any private dialogue ceased until they were whizzed through passport control onto the vast jet.

Once settled in a comfortable chair of the softest leather, and treated like a Queen by the crew, even then, she had no opportunity to ask him just what the hell he meant by that statement. When it came to wanting what was best for her child, as far as he was concerned, what was there to talk about? Obviously, he had no idea that she had no intention of either staying in Quarram long term or of leaving her child behind either.

If Sarif ever discovered she had another agenda, he’d make sure her life wasn’t worth living, and he’d take their child.

She knew he would.

And he might be all laid back and casual about sex, but she wasn’t.

Contrarily, she now wished she hadn’t been a virgin when they’d had sex, that she’d been more experienced in that regard.

As the jet engine roared for take-off, seemed even the air-traffic controllers pulled out all the stops for His Majesty, Bella knew she had just burned many bridges of a personal nature.

Her parents hadn’t come to the wedding, for the simple reason she hadn’t invited them.

What was the point of dragging them to a ceremony that not only meant nothing, but she’d need to explain herself and her actions to her father when she returned to the UK with a baby boy?

As the plane levelled out, she watched Sarif stalk out of a door, which held some kind of office where he’d had a pow-pow with a skinny little man who’d kept giving her the side-eye as soon as she’d stepped onto the aircraft.

Now Sarif strode down the red carpeted walkway towards her.

He had a face like thunder.

Bella reckoned that stick up his ass must hurt—a lot.

Maybe she’d give it a twist.

He stopped by the chair, offered his hand.

“Now we are out of British air space, on this plane we are on Quarram sovereign territory. Come with me.”

Something about they way he looked at her, as if she was a bad smell beneath his noble nose, should have warned her.

Later, she’d bitterly regret giving him her hand and allowing herself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

No one took any notice of them as he towed her through the office and that horrible little man who didn’t even raise his head to acknowledge her existence.

Interested in the way the plane was designed, with a sort of private apartment constructed at the rear, she said nothing as he led her past a sitting arrangement and through to what was obviously a luxuriously appointed double bedroom.

“Sit,” he ordered, pointing to the bed.

Heart pounded at the thought of being ravished by this man, because why would he bring her here in the first place?

She sat.

He closed the door, locked it, and turned to face her.

Back resting against the door, he crossed his arms.

“How much is my son worth to you?”

Stunned, she stared at him.

“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me.”

“How much? Ten million? Twenty million? Fifty million? Name your price.”

Feeling as if someone had smacked her on the head with a hammer, she shook her head.

Who the hell was this man?

“Let me get this straight. You want to buy my child?”

“No. I already have my son safely on this plane and almost in my country where he will stay. You may not leave until after my son is born. I am asking you how much it will cost to get you out of my son’s life.”

She took a deep inhale of breath, and let fury rule.

“There is not a chance in hell that I would ever abandon my child.”

Sarif shifted to sit back on a small love seat with an hauteur that was, she realized, not at all contrived. It was an innate part of him, probably from birth. Breeding. That was it. Something told her it would still be a part of him as he took his last breath, which if he kept up this type of behaviour his last breath wouldn’t be long coming.

The contempt corrupting his fine mouth was a grotesque thing.

“Give it up,” he spoke in that slow drawl that she was seriously coming to loathe.

“If you felt like this about me, why on earth did you bring me here?”

He was on his feet so fast, she reared further back on the bed.

“Why?” he roared like a bull.

Whoa.

His complete loss of control, his temper, made her shrink back.

“You were prepared to KILL MY SON, woman. My heir.”

She frowned.

“Utter nonsense,” she returned, her voice sharp.

Those dark brows rose above icy grey eyes.

“I have photographs of you attending an abortion clinic in early pregnancy.”

For about ten seconds, she stared unblinking at the wall over his shoulder, her brain working fast.

When the penny dropped, she studied him and reckoned he’d lost his tiny mind.

He certainly looked as if he had by the way he stared at her now, as if she was beyond evil.

“Actually, you’re quite wrong about that, it was a clinic…”

“Where they kill babies,” he ground out.

She slowly shook her head, wondering how the hell he’d managed to twist the facts in his mind.

“No,” she said in a soft voice. “There are times when a pregnancy goes wrong. Perhaps the baby dies in the womb. Or there’s a genetic issue with one or both parents or even the fetus itself and life is not viable.”

“The place is not a normal ante-natal unit,” he stated. “Why were you there if not to discuss ending your pregnancy?”

She blinked.

Omigod.

He’d never believe her, she realized with something like panic gripping her throat.

“I was sent there to be tested for a genetic anomaly that runs in my family,” she whispered, and just knew what was coming.

“And if you had found that anomaly, what then?”

“Then there would have been a discussion about whether life was viable… or not.”

One black brow rose.

And she knew, she just knew, that she’d lost this man’s trust forever.

If there was one thing she understood about his culture it was that a baby boy was the most precious thing to a man. Even if the child was not perfect in every way, that child was loved and adored.

Then again, when it came to her family, there was a very good reason her brother was very precious to her parents. Before she was born their first child, a son, had died at ten months with the rare genetic condition mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Nothing could be done to save him. Even worse, the joining of her parents DNA had caused the condition in the first place. It had been vital to Bella’s peace of mind that she discover if she’d inherited a gene mutation too. Her relief at being clear had been a heady time of joy for her.

“And you did not think to reach out me at that time, or did you believe I did not have a right to know?”

He had a point, she reluctantly agreed.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t give you a thought. I was sick as a dog. My brain just wasn’t functioning logically and I was terrified of bad news. When the tests results were normal, I focused on me and the baby. I made sure I ate properly and got plenty of rest. That’s it.”

He stood, towering over her.

Big.

Strong.

Masculine.

His scent alone was a potent reminder of the time they’d come together, rutting like wild animals.

Wild.

Free.

Erotic.

Hot.

All those thoughts and more had heat flood her neck, her cheeks.

And her heart sank at the look on his face for her.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that as far as I am concerned you were prepared to destroy my child, my son, if you thought it was necessary. I believe everything written in a thorough report of your movements by people I trust, people who are loyal to the throne of Quarram and the El Haribe family. As for your motivations, I do not believe you. You betrayed me and for that betrayal you will pay.”

Now she stood.

“That is not true.”

“To me you are merely a reluctant incubator. Make no mistake. My son will be born safe and well. And then you will be thrown out of my country.”

At that moment Bella knew that in this mood, he’d never believe her side of the story no matter how hard she tried to make him see sense.

Sarif was a man with a plan, and she had no idea what was coming next.

He was stubborn.

He hated her.

She hated him.

In spite of the mutual hate-fest whirling around them, a low throb of lust deep in her belly shocked her.

How in the world could she be attracted to a knuckle dragging Neanderthal?

How did any of this make sense?

When he turned on his heel, unlocked the door and banged it shut, Bella sank to the edge of the bed and just stared into space.

She took time to re-live the drama of their entire conversation.

A woman couldn’t be strong all the time.

Sometimes she needed to be alone

and let her tears fall…

 

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

Time for another two episodes of Desert Captive…

desertcaptivebanner3

 

*Waving atcha, guys!”

Who’s excited about the Royal Wedding…… We’re having a party in this house tomorrow to celebrate the wedding of the year. Cannot wait!

I’m working so hard on great stories for you. HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN is heading for final edits and my editor is in bits over some scenes. *Evil laugh*. I’m working on OUR RULES too. And GREGORIO’S BRIDE, which will be a Christmas story and is rocking along. But it’s time for the next two episodes of DESERT CAPTIVE… Enjoy!

DESERT CAPTIVE

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODES FIVE AND SIX

 

EPISODE FIVE

 

While Bella waited for him to speak, Gilchrist stood, and moved to study a vibrant bouquet of fresh flowers.

He sniffed a fat pink rose.

His fingertip stroked the velvet petal like a lover.

It sorted of reminded her of the way Sarif had touched her, his fingertips gentle as they’d stroked her bare back, after a tumultuous de-flowering that had shocked both of them to the core. The memory of how he’d towered over her, his dark face fierce, those sharp cheekbones flushed. She remembered how his eyes had gone wide as he’d cum. She remembered how he’d felt inside her, thick, powerful, overwhelming really as he’d taken her body and every thought in her mind. All those memories, and more, made her shiver.

She blinked.

Annoyed with herself, she wondered why the moment that had changed both their lives forever had leaped into her mind right at that moment.

Gilchrist was too busy with the flowers to notice, thank goodness, because that man’s intuition was a blade honed by intelligence and an experience of people that made it razor sharp.

At the moment, it appeared he needed time to gather his thoughts. and that bothered her.

It bothered her a lot, because in her experience of him in the past, the Colonel was not a man who second guessed himself.

Once he made a decision, he was a man of action.

Determined.

Driven.

Merciless.

However, it appeared, he was happy to show her a softer side to his personality, if the way he delicately inhaled the scent of another flower was anything to go by.

That tickle of alarm, of the feeling that something was off, again slid down her spine.

Without turning, he took out of his inside jacket pocket a slim silver metal device in the shape of a pen.

She recognised a device that was state-of-the-art, a new digital scanner.

He pressed a button, a tiny blinking blue light appeared and he moved the scanner around and through the flowers, beneath the clear glass vase, then did a quick and thorough sweep of the room including her bed.

While he was busy looking for God knew what, Bella sat there and waited.

Slipping the scanner into his pocket, he returned to his seat.

From a side pocket he produced a small clear plastic bag.

The bag contained three tiny bugs, listening devices.

“Found these in here this morning.”

This morning?

Something of her shock must have shown on her face because he nodded.

“I thought it wise to take precautionary measures. After all, they failed to kill you or severely injure you once. Who was to say they may not make another desperate attempt to take the life of you or your child. A nurse who is one of ours did a quick sweep of the room while you slept. To be honest, we didn’t expect to find anything, since we believed we had you wrapped up all nice and tight. You may imagine our surprise.”

Through her good eye, Bella peered at the bugs.

“They look Russian.”

He nodded.

“Well spotted.”

“Which means they didn’t overhear my conversation with Sarif, because I assume you found them before he arrived,” she muttered.

Gilchrist’s bushy brows rose above his black framed glasses.

“I suppose it all depends on who they are working for, doesn’t it?”

Her eyes flew to his.

“You suspect Sarif?”

“He actually entered the room early this morning. When he took a break, our nurse did the scan. Who else was in here alone with you?”

He was right.

Sarif had been permitted entry to her room while she slept.

Gilchrist continued, “From what I hear, to gain access, he and the Quarram Ambassador made a bit of a nuisance of themselves with the authorities who run this hospital. We slipped up there, and I can assure you a head will roll because of it.”

Returning the little bag to his pocket, he sat back, looking pleased, he had her full attention.

“From what we’ve learned of Sarif’s character, during his many trips to London to attempt a dialogue with you, and may I just say I’ve been impressed at the way you managed to keep him at arms length for so long, he is a man who is not only ruthless, but by his recent behaviour, he is not shy to place himself above the law. When I say he is not afraid to take any prisoners, I mean it in a literal sense, which is unfortunate news for you, my dear.”

Bella blinked.

“Me?”

“I know he is a difficult man, however, it’s terribly unfortunate that you are not on speaking terms with your father, Arabella.”

She frowned, not liking where the conversation was going.

“What has my father got to do with Sarif or Quarram?”

“It’s not your father I am concerned about at the moment, it is another member of your family.”

Unease slid into her belly.

“Who?”

“It’s Rupert, my dear.”

She shook her head.

“I don’t understand. Rupert’s only a boy. He’s a student. He’s studying anthropology at Cambridge.”

Gilchrist took a breath and when his eyes met hers, the expression in them—one of doom—made her breath hitch.

“Right at this moment, Rupert Faulkner is rotting in a dungeon in an ancient Moorish prison in up country Quarram.”

Bella’s head spun.

“What the hell for?”

“Apparently he tried to smuggle an ancient piece of antiquity out of the country.”

Bella didn’t hesitate.

“Bullshit. Rupert is a straight arrow.”

Gilchrist nodded.

“Quite.”

“Has the British Consul in Quarram made a formal complaint?”

“I imagine they would, if they knew anything about it.”

She blinked.

“I don’t understand.”

“It seems there is no official record of Rupert entering the country in the first place. There is certainly no official record of him having left. There is only one person who wields enough power and authority in Quarram to make custom documentation and a British citizen disappear…”

Oh, Bella could join the dots just fine.

“Sarif,” she whispered.

For a long pause no one spoke, until she blurted, “But what on earth would he have to gain?”

“Leverage.”

“For what?”

Gilchrist studied her face, her eyes.

“I think that bump on the head may have affected your reasoning. You are carrying his child. His heir. If Sarif cannot persuade you to accompany him to Quarram, it appears he’s perfectly ready, willing and able to blackmail you to bend to his Imperial will.”

Bella’s nostrils flared.

“If he did that I would kill him.”

“Understandable. However, killing Sarif would not bring your brother back. It would only sign his death sentence.”

Sincerely shocked, because Gilchrist was not describing a Sarif El Haribe that Bella recognized.

The Sarif she knew had a deep seated sense of right and wrong.

He put duty, to his people and his country, at the centre of everything he did.

“This doesn’t make sense. Sarif is no dictator or despot,” she said now. “Why would he do such a thing?”

Gilchrist lifted his hands in a who-knows gesture.

“And therein lies the rub. He has no history of violence or a psychological kink in his make up, that we know of, to suddenly morph into a tyrant. However, something fundamental has changed him. And I thought you might hold the answer to why he would entice your brother to Quarram, plant an artefact on his person as he attempted to leave the country and then make him, to all intents and purposes, disappear.”

“Wait. He enticed Rupert to Quarram? How?”

“How do you think? By offering a rare opportunity for a British anthropology team to have the first look at a new find. Kept strictly hush-hush of course. They didn’t use any of the main airports to fly in and out, for obvious reasons.”

“Thieves,” Bella breathed. “Due to the way terrorist groups in the region have pillaged world heritage sites there’s a thriving market in rare Arab antiquities.”

“Precisely. What young man of his energy and intellect, thirsty for adventure and fired up with a voracious ambition to make a name for himself in his chosen field, could possibly resist such temptation?”

Now that, temptation, she could readily believe of Sarif.

Hell, hadn’t she succumbed to his lethal temptation herself?

Bella closed her eyes.

“God, my mother must be frantic.”

Gilchrist pursed his lips.

“I suspect she might be, if she knew anything about it.”

Bella’s eyes flew to his.

“He’s not told her?” she asked referring to her father.

“Not yet. He reached out to me first. I was on my way to see you when events,” he waved a hand down her person lying in the hospital bed, “somewhat overtook us.”

Again she closed her eyes.

God, that meant her father not only knew she’d been injured, but that she was pregnant.

An unmarried mother.

He’d never forgive her for that.

This situation was one hot mess.

But it was a vivid anxiety for her baby brother that made her heart twist in her chest.

Rupert was clever.

He was physically fit since he rowed for his university team, but he was not equipped to deal with isolation, maybe even starvation and worse…

Her imagination wanted to run wild.

Then logic took control.

There was no way that any man from the royal house of El Haribe would torture an innocent young man—a boy.

“Sarif would never harm him.”

Gilchrist sat back and folded his arms.

His eyes fixed on Bella’s face.

“Are you sure about that? What about to gain parental control of a son?”

“He’s an Arab. He’d do anything to legitimise his child,” she whispered her thoughts aloud.

“Anything?” Gilchrist asked.

Facing the truth, Bella nodded.

“Anything.”

 

  EPISODE SIX

 

“Good job I have a plan,” the Colonel said.

If he did, Bella wanted to hear it.

She was ready to kick-ass.

First, she needed to know her brother was safe.

Second, she couldn’t wait to listen to Sarif’s explanation.

It had damned well better be a good one.

“I’m all ears.”

“Cambridge University, under implicit instructions from my department, have applied to Quarram for an exploration permit to send a team—actually special agents—to authenticate a find of ancient relics in the north of the country, where we believe Rupert is being held.”

The promise held in those words, that her country was actually going to do something to get her brother out, had a lovely little ripple run through Bella’s blood. A little ripple she hadn’t felt for months since she’d left the service.

“Since you’re telling me this, I assume I’ve returned to active service?”

“You’ve never been off active service, my dear.”

She nodded and took a breath.

“Okay. What’s my role?”

Gilchrist didn’t hesitate.

“Simple. You marry Sarif, become Queen of Quarram, find out what’s going on in the upper echelons of Sarif’s Court, and free your brother.”

She blinked.

The man had lost his tiny mind.

There was no way in hell she was going to marry Sarif now.

No way.

“Why on earth would I do something so stupid?”

“Vengeance?”

Bella angled her head.

“Are you really going to suggest I marry Sarif for payback for kidnapping my brother?”

“Only a thought. But now you mention it…”

“You’re crazy.”

His eyes narrowed.

“And if I made it an order?”

“You’re forgetting one small thing.”

Those bushy brows rose in a silent question.

“The baby,” she said, pointing to her bump.

He lifted a hand as if to say, no big deal.

“Once you have played your part, we will get both of you out as soon as you request it.”

This time she raised her own brows, and then made an ouch face when her head hurt.

“So, you basically want a female James Bond and a baby to do your dirty work.”

“No one will ever suspect you. It’s the perfect cover.”

At that moment, Bella reckoned that sometimes the best thing you could do was to just remain silent because no words could explain the shit going on in her heart and mind.

He must have read her mind or her face, because Gilchrist shifted closer.

“The entire region is a tinderbox. All it needs is one flare to set it alight. We need to know who are behind the attempted destabilisation of the House of El Haribe. We need someone deep inside the El Haribe family. You’re it.”

Bella simply stared at him.

Well, hell, seemed a pregnant Jemima Bond was supposed to save the frigging world.

She could do this.

After years of living with Queen Charisse heading up her personal protection team, she knew the customs, the languages, well four of them.

She was close to the El Haribe family, especially Charisse and her very westernized husband, Khalid El Haribe.

If the worst came to the worse, Charisse would lend her aid.

And the old fox was right about one thing. Married to Sarif and pregnant with his child, no one would suspect her of espionage.

She hoped.

She took a deep breath, blew out her cheeks, gave him the stink eye.

“Anything happens to my baby and you’ll be it.”

His limpid gaze met hers.

“Excellent. Your country thanks you for your service,” he said and shifted to press the red bell next to her bed.

On cue, a nurse she’d never seen before entered.

Bella studied the metal tray in her hand, in particular the huge syringe.

“What is that?”

The Colonel stood.

“A tracking device. Just in case…”

She blinked as he headed for the door.

“Where does it go?”

He turned, flashed her a white smile.

“Right buttock.”

Bella made a face, which was wasted since he’d already gone.

“Just roll on your left side,” the nurse said in a brisk tone. The woman needed to work on her bedside manner. “It will only hurt for a moment.”

Bella did as she was told.

The scent of antiseptic hit her before the shock of a cold and wet swipe on her ass.

Then—

Fuck.

Christ.

Jesus.

The pain just went on and on, had this woman never heard of a local anaesthetic?

Then there was pressure, a thumb on her ass and a plaster and that was it.

“Well done,” the nurse from hell said. She turned the wall light down low. “Try and get some sleep.”

When she was finally left alone, Bella lay back and stared at the ceiling, and thought of her brother. He’d better be safe and sound, not one hair of his head hurt,

or King Sarif El Haribe would rue the day he’d ever been born.

*********************************************

 

Looks like Sarif’s in Big Trouble. Then again, so is Bella as we will find out next week. I’m enjoying the thrills and spills of this story as it grows live right in front of your eyes! Scary stuff for an author let me tell you.

Until next time,

Christine X

 

Episode 2 of Desert Captive…

desertcaptivebanner2

Hello, my darlings,

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

Grab a coffee or a glass of wine…

EPISODE TWO

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

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

Plus, his thoughts were focused on other things.

More important things.

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

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

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

He’d been like this for months.

He’d lost weight.

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

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

Why hadn’t he shared his feelings with her?

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

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

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

Khalid was a lucky man.

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

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

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

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

Even now he could hardly believe it.

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

Almost.

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

Betrayal was a bitter taste on his tongue.

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

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

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

Sarif checked the time on the wall clock.

She was late.

Annoyance stirred in his belly.

He’d dressed carefully for the meeting.

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

The English liked their silk ties.

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

She was late.

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

He refused to acknowledge such a thing as nerves.

Nerves were a sign of weakness.

No man from the house of El Haribe was weak.

He was a King, for God’s sake.

Then he wondered, why now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

His hand fisted.

An abortion clinic.

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

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

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

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

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

His son.

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

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

Quarram.

And as for the woman who carried his son?

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

The man-boy was nineteen and a student.

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

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

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

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

No whining.

No begging.

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

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

Marry him, save her brother.

That was the deal.

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

He lusted for revenge.

He lusted for justice.

Arabella had runaway like a coward.

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

And for that he would never forgive her.

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

 

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

He’d need to play it smart.

Arabella was no fool.

The woman was highly intelligent, and a trained fighter.

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

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

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

Result.

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

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

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

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

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

His information technology skills were particularly impressive.

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

Sarif frowned. “An accident?”

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

Safir made a face of distaste.

“A hit and run.”

Hafar bowed again.

And waited.

Sarif lifted his brows.

“Something else?”

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

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

Far too late.

“The woman is Arabella Faulkner.”

***

Ooooooh, tune in next week…

Hugs,

Christine X

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

desertcaptivebanner1

 

Hello my darlings!

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

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

Chapter One

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

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

Her long stride ate up the sidewalk.

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

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

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

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

She’d not been thinking straight.

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

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

Okay, lied to.

Yes, she’d lied.

And lied.

And lied.

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

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

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

 

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

Good times.

She recalled her previous life in the military.

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

Of course, she’d been scared shitless.

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

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

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

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

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

Good times.

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

She took a deep breath.

There went the hormone apocalypse again.

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

Arabella grinned at the thought of him.

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

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

Hallelujah!

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

The road of truth, honor and integrity.

Backbone.

Ethics.

Values.

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

The whole truth.

And nothing but the truth.

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

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

Rights that meant responsibilities.

Parental responsibilities.

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

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

Her timing was bad too.

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

Protected.

Obedient.

Virgin.

 

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

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

That would have been cowardly.

Same with texting or email.

No.

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

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

To do the right thing.

Even if it was better late than never.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Her last thought was for her unborn child.

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

Too late.

The world went dark.

***

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

Until next week…..

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

Hugs,

Christine X

 

Have you heard of Book+Main?

book+mainbitesbanner

Hello my darlings!

I have great news for you, and I’m thrilled to be a part of a new platform where readers come first.  Read on…..

★★★ANNOUNCEMENT★★★

Introducing Book+Main Bites—a brand new social media platform to connect readers and authors! Something completely different than anything you’ve experienced before.

Book+Main Bites is a place where readers can follow their favorite authors, discover new books and share their favorites! The site is content-based, which means NO teaser or sale graphics. It’s 100% content in the form of excerpts, bonus scenes, deleted scenes and more.

Our first genre to launch, Book+Main Bites—Romance makes it easy to find what you want, the moment you want it. Looking for something in particular? Single dad? MC? Just type it in our search bar and all the Bites available with that storyline will pop up! Love a Bite and want more? Easily buy the related book from Amazon or iBooks! You can also share your favorites with your friends or bookmark Bites to read later! Fall in love with the writing BEFORE you buy—abandoned books are a thing of the past.

This has been a labor of love for the past year and a half and we have over 135 authors that have been testing the platform for the past 2.5 months. Everyone from #1 NYT Bestsellers to debut authors! YOU. WILL. LOVE. IT!

Pre-registration is OPEN NOW for both readers and authors! Be one of the first ones in ~ sign up now! Reader accounts are 100% FREE!

And follow me @ ccmackenzie

www.bookandmainbites.com 

unnamedccmackenzie

NEWS

cctwitterhotromance

 

Once upon a time, the year was 2007, I started writing a futuristic urban fantasy. This was before I decided to write contemporary romance. I’ve been reading since I was four years old. And I read everything you can think of from paranormal thrillers to memoirs to noir, even now. I’ve loved reading romance since picking up my first Georgette Heyer story when I was fourteen. And I especially loved reading romances with everything— laughter, tears, brave and independent women with hot alpha males and how they fall from lust into love. The romance genre appeals to me because it can, and does, include everything from slapstick comedy, angst, mystery, thriller, suspense, sci-fi, history, dark erotica, gothic, and urban fantasy. As long as the story has authentic and valid emotional conflicts between two characters at its heart and finishes with a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now, a writer can pretty much do what they want.

At that time, with my kids almost grown, two careers behind me, one in international banking and the other in interior design, and a short stay in hospital (which was a huge wake-up call) I returned to my first and secret love—writing fiction. In my head I wanted to write stories that entertain a reader. One reader. Stories that made that reader happy. Even today, twenty four published books later, that reader sits front and centre of everything I write and everything I do.

The first Ludlow Hall story, Reckless Nights In Rome, was published in April 2012. But before that, let me tell you that from 2008 that story went through six or seven lives. Nico was actually Raphael. Bronte was Chloe. The premise and theme were totally different, too. It must have been revised and edited about twelve times. Can you tell I didn’t want to let it go? And it was never supposed to be a series of stand alone romances set in the Ludlow Hall world either. Now there are ten books in the franchise with more to come. And more of the offshoot series, Ludlow Nights, coming too. I’m also working on a Monroe Brothers trilogy linked to my romantic suspense story, Desert Orchid. There are more Golddigger short stories coming, but released monthly. And the sneak peek behind the scenes at Ludlow Hall.

Anyway, back to the futuristic urban fantasy; in 2009 I entered the beginning of the fantasy in a writing competition based in the United States and run by a lovely group of girls who called themselves the Romance Junkies. After months of competition which included the first thousand words and a three thousand word pivotal moment, my story came fifth and reader feedback was awesome. That book was Constantine and The Witch. The story was about a vampire and a witch and was set in our world in the near future, 2069. However, as I began writing Constantine – the vampire, and Azalea – the witch, it became clear that the flashbacks to what had happened to humanity in the past were too numerous and, for me, made the story choppy. Personally speaking, I loathe flashbacks in books and in movies. So I put the story aside to let it simmer in my brain. But on a regular basis I added reams and reams of notes about the future world after a catalogue of global catastrophes happen in our time, an Ebola virus mutating and becoming airborne, and gateways opening to a parallel universe allowing magic to leach into our reality and this world. I also included demons, a variety of witches, powerful vampire clans and, of course, humanity teetering on the edge of extinction. Fun, eh?

My first love is paranormal romance. In the genre, anything goes. Heroes can be as unPC as they like—of course they pay for it big time. *Evil laugh* And so in 2011 I began writing The Vampyre Legal Chronicles, stories based around the powerful family of global corporate lawyers, Gillespie Pattullo and Hindmarch, who just happen to be vampyres. The first four books were published from 2014-2016 and are based in the present day and detail the circumstances of unnatural events which lead to a global crisis, an Ebola pandemic, the virtual destruction of our world and how alternative realities open gateways that allow magic – good and bad – to enter our world. I wrote about an Ebola outbreak before the African Ebola catastrophe. I wrote about alternate realities before the Hadron Collider deep underground in Cern proved the theory. There is tried and tested scientific theory of the earth’s polarity moving from North to South causing birds to fall from the sky, mammals and millions of fish stranded upon our shores.  Make of that what you will.

The first four vampyre books introduce readers to the politics and intrigue and arcane rules that surround the vampyre world in order to keep it secret from humankind. Constantine is mentioned on a regular basis from book one through to book four, but readers don’t actually ‘meet’ him until the end of book four. Book five of The Vampyre Legal Chronicles, CONSTANTINE, jumps right into 2069 where the vampyres, humans and white magic do everything they can to live together and thrive against the ultimate evil. Book five will be released this year. Yes, it’s taken me six years to get to this point with the world and the tale. At the heart of the world are the vampyres with their romantic and non-romantic relationships including family, friends, enemies, because writing about people with the issues common to everyone (whether they’re a vampyre or a cop or a scientist or a hot Italian who owns Ludlow Hall) is what I love to do.

I’m not one of those authors who writes with a complicated coordinated plan. I use an outline as a sort of map but rarely follow it, preferring to see what’s going to happen next. And let me tell you my characters never fail to surprise me. For me I need to be excited and totally immersed in the story to make it work and something needs to tingle my creativity. Nine times out of ten it’s a problem. A character has a problem, comes up with an idea on how to fix it (always the wrong solution) and away I go. For example in Reckless Nights In Rome, Italian playboy and committed bachelor Nico’s problem is that he wants Bronte Ludlow’s house and land to complete his sale of Ludlow Hall and the owner is Not Interested. Doesn’t sound much of a problem does it? But Nico makes BIG mistakes in his approach to Bronte. She surely puts him through his paces before he attains his goal and they fall madly in love into the bargain. Nico, Bronte and Rosie pulled me right into their world and have kept me, and hundreds of thousands of readers, there ever since.

It’s important for me to keep my writing fresh and new. Some readers love the Vampyre series, some don’t and prefer me to write contemporary romance grounded in the real world. When an author provides a mixture of genres, the downside is those who love one genre complain when another is published. That’s life. But I always take notice when I receive that tingle at the base of my spine. An author needs to follow their heart, go where the tingle takes them, and pray that readers come along for the ride.

Early last year I received a major tingle that gave me a character with a truly unique problem and an equally unique set of skills. And it’s taken me down a brand new path of suspense and intrigue. It’s a thrilling trilogy that is broad and wide and incredibly exciting and quite different to anything written in the market today. And that’s all I’m saying.

The Ludlow Hall stories will continue. As will the off shoot Ludlow Nights world. There are more vampyre stories—I’m really just getting started in that world because it Will Not Let Me Go. The vampyres have been a slow burn, but they’ve found their readers. It was a huge blessing to have three PNR books sitting high in the Amazon and iBook store paid charts in October/November 2016. I’ll continue to write fast paced romance with laughs and tears and hot guys like the Monroe brothers and the Kennedy brothers (I’ve already got the character problems and issues all lined up and ready to go). And best of all I have the tingle that is refusing to let me put it aside.

All I need now is to get better from the flu from hell which has laid all three of us who live in this house on our backs for almost eight weeks.

Christine X cctwitterhotromance

Marcus, book one of the Vampyre Legal Chronicles is taking the United States by storm tonight.

So thrilled to have a Bestseller #1 in three categories in Amazon USA tonight, and sales of JAMES, book two, are rocking. Thank you so much for the Scottish vampyre love.

I don’t normally share charts and numbers, but tonight has been truly amazing.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s reached out to me, joined the Vampyre mailing list and facebook page. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – READER’S ROCK!!

#1 in Paranormal

#1onparanormal28thOctober2016.png

#1 in Vampires and Angels

unnamed

#1 Witches & Wizards

1ghostswitchesandwizards

Buy HERE

Love and hugs,

Christine XXX

My favorite bad boy becomes a man…

DESERTORCHIDNEWFBBANNER

Hi, guys!

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

What readers are saying –

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

Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington mysteries

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

Amazon reviewer

 

 

 

desertnew2 copy-USA (1).jpg

 

AMAZON USA     AMAZON UK    iBOOKS  BARNES & NOBLE   KOBO

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

BLURB:

Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’

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

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

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

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

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

 

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My darling, Charisse,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stunned disbelief had Charisse blink once, twice.

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

She read it twice, three times.

Why?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

“I will not!” she cried.

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

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

She stood and held out the letter to Charisse.

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

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

Arabella was quite right.

Where was her self-control?

Having a temper tantrum like a child changed nothing.

She wanted to cry enough tears to fill an ocean.

But tears changed nothing.

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

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

 

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

There are conditions to the marriage:

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

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

Good God!

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

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

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

Have courage.

All my love, Asim.”

 

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

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

Not that she had many of those.

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

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

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

Dear heaven she missed Amir so much.

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

They’d agreed never to keep secrets.

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

Her delicate fists pounded the top of the balcony.

A sympathetic hand touched her shoulder.

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

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

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

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

Charisse couldn’t stop the sting of outrage.

My Prince?”

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

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

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

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

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

She spun to face her friend with wide eyes.

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

Arabella winced at the tone.

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

Bullshit.

Charisse wasn’t having that.

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

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

 

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

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

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

She wasn’t having any of that, either.

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

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

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

She couldn’t do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now what? Charisse wondered.

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

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

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

Vultures, she fumed.

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

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

Men who were so called modernists.

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

At least Sarif appeared to have standards, morals.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

And the analogy was not lost on Charisse.

One of them carried the very devil himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid, ignorant, macho fools.

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

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

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

*Finito*

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

Christine X

DESERT ORCHID IS ALIVE!

IT'S ALIVE

IT’S ALIVE AND AVAILABLE NOW IN ALL STORES

AMAZON  iBOOKS  KOBO  GOOGLEPLAY 

BARNES AND NOBLE  SMASHWORDS

 

Some of you might remember the original Desert Orchid story featuring Charisse and Khalid that I began in weekly episodes on this blog… two years ago (how time flies). And some of you might have wondered what on earth happened to Charisse and Khalid. Well, the story has sort of morphed, as my stories are wont to do, into something bigger. Something more exciting. Something a little bit… different.

First of all let me make clear that at the heart of the tale is a romance (this is me you’re dealing with). The story is a nail biting suspense thriller, with plenty of twists and turns, that readers (they tell me) did not see coming. In this book I get to shoot, poison, kidnap and kill. THE best fun in the world! I also emotionally torture two characters who had gone through more than their fair share of grief and torment. I just tormented them even more. I even got to deal with a couple of sociopaths – and let me tell you, writing those guys was dealing with a different kind of human.

Towards the end of editing the story, there were lengthy discussions between my editor and H and myself regarding a change of direction for the series. Deep in my heart I’ve always wanted to write a continuity series – where each book stands alone as a complete tale – with two characters strong enough to take centre stage right through the books to link the series. With Charisse and Khalid I’ve found those characters. I know them better than I know my own family. And so their story, along with their close friends, siblings, and the story of their country, Onuur, and the people who inhabit that land will carry on. The El Haribes will continue to fight against unseen forces including a terrorist War Lord, people trafficking, the drug trade and much more. And all the while, against all the odds, and personal sacrifice, a deep and abiding love prevail.

It all begins with Desert Orchid where Khalid and Charisse meet. And just let me say that the road to true love is a pretty rocky one. Against the background of falling in love, the couple deal with the reality of an unseen enemy who has waited many years until the time is right to strike. There’s heartbreak, death, betrayal and a relentless evil who will not stop until it gets what it wants. But what strengthens the couple’s initially fragile bond, is a very real selfless love that is growing between them. A love that will be tested again and again.

And since it’s Mother’s Day in the United States of America, this post is dedicated to all mom’s everywhere. Especially my own mom, Ruth, who died very suddenly before the book was completed.

Big hugs,

Christine X