Hello, my darlings,
It’s time for another couple of episodes with Sarif and Bella…
Copyright © CC MacKenzie 2018
Four days later, wearing soft blue jeans and a black cashmere sweater, Safir stared unseeing out of another window.
This one in a private room of St. Martin’s hospital in central London.
He and diplomats from his Embassy had been utterly ruthless and pulled many strings to bring the hospital officials into line, not to mention running the gauntlet of police, and certain members of the British security services, who’d carefully and thoroughly grilled him on his involvement with and intentions towards Arabella. This was a woman who was, they reminded him on a daily basis, one of their own.
She’d regained consciousness three days ago and this morning had finally given permission for him to visit her.
Diplomacy was a skill like any other, and one he was good at, which was why—barely tolerated by the nursing staff—he was finally inside Arabella’s room, while she slept.
In a jail up country in Quarram, her brother was behaving himself too, which had surprised him. He’d left explicit instruction, the boy was not to be harmed.
Something else that had also surprised him was the fact, the Faulkner family were none the wiser that one of their members was missing. Looked like her family were not close.
A stirring from the bed, had him turn to watch her.
She was still asleep.
Her injuries made his belly clutch.
For as long as he lived, he would never forget the first time he’d seen her today.
Shock had come first.
Both had combined to spin into a fist in his gut as he’d stared at the livid bruise on her face, the split lip and the grazed knuckles.
Now he took the time to study her hair, black, longer now.
He remembered, he couldn’t help it, the way they’d come together.
How they’d mated.
Her mouth might be hurt and swollen now, but he remembered how her lips had trembled, all full and soft, before their first kiss. Now he remembered how she’d sucked him deep in her throat.
He went rock hard.
So hard, he drew in a shaky breath.
God, the woman was asleep and he was standing there staring at her with a raging hard on?
How did she do this to him?
She’d thought about killing a life and he was attracted to her?
Was he crazy?
Then his gaze dropped lower.
The sight of her belly swollen with his child, had caught him totally by surprise when he’d first seen her. It caught him again as emotions, too many, too confusing, slammed into him.
Even now all those emotions and more squeezed his chest, twisted tight, and seemed to spear his heart.
Four days had given him plenty of time to brood on Arabella’s many sins.
For a while it had been touch and go they’d lose the baby.
He’d been worried sick.
But the child was—according to the medical team—a fighter.
Through the hell of an appallingly helpless anxiety, Safir had felt the first stirring of pride in his unborn child. A boy. And Safir had made a promise to God that should the child be spared, he would be a good father. It would be impossible for his son to be born a bastard. Only a legitimate child could inherit the throne.
And even though she clearly did not deserve it, he would be a loyal and faithful husband to Arabella, until the baby was born, and then he’d personally put her on a plane out of his country and out of his life. Not once did it occur to him that a woman in her delicate situation, unmarried, may not want or desire himself as a husband. As far as Safir was concerned, Arabella’s wants or desires simply didn’t come into the equation. Like him, she would be bound by duty and honor to his people, whether she liked it or not, until her usefulness was over.
It occurred to him he’d need to get rid of his French mistress, fast.
He’d give her the Paris apartment as a parting gift.
Now he had an heir he could, after all, afford to be generous.
Arabella’s voice was no more than a whisper, but it put an abrupt end to his thoughts.
He moved towards the bed.
“Yes. It is I.”
Since her right eye was swollen shut and surrounded by a dark bruise that reached from temple to chin, she peered at him through the partially closed other eye.
In spite of the spectacular mess of her face, Sarif reckoned she looked good.
The first time he’d met her, she’d blown him away.
Five months later he might not like it, but he had to admit nothing much had changed.
He could smell the scent of her shampoo.
The hospital gown was ugly as sin, the cotton the color of sickly green.
On her slim wrist was the black watch he remembered, masculine.
The watch had a webbed strap and looked like something a diver might wear.
Her mouth was swollen.
The split bottom lit for some reason made him go hard as stone.
Five months since he’d last seen her and he’d thought of her every day and every night, no matter how hard he’d tried not to.
“What are you doing here?” she asked him.
Sarif blinked and wondered if the head injury was more extensive than the doctor’s had first thought.
“Where else would I be?”
Her hand, the knuckles bruised and battered, smoothed over her baby, their baby.
“I don’t know what to say,” she whispered, sounding so unlike her normal sparky self that he frowned.
Sarif felt a strong urge to hold her.
He wanted to smooth that silky slide of dark hair back from her pale face.
But the thought occurred to him that he had no right.
He had no right to touch her, and then another truth struck him.
Perhaps he had no right to the child they’d made either?
“You are very lucky to be alive,” he said, his voice sounded hoarse, but he kept his face straight.
“So they say. They haven’t found the driver.”
“The car was found smouldering and abandoned on waste ground.” Then he added casually, “It wasn’t an accident.”
For a long time she simply stared at him, then she blinked.
“I don’t have enemies,” she said at last. “At least none who’d want to kill me.”
Sarif didn’t know about that.
He was pretty tempted to strangle her right now.
She took a deep breath that moved her chest.
Her breasts had grown a little, the nipples hard and firm jutted through the thin cotton fabric.
The ache in his groin an unwelcome distraction that shot his throught process apart.
“It’s not safe for you in London,” he said.
Bella simply watched him, that eye wary.
“What do you suggest?”
Sarif folded his arms.
“I suggest you do the right thing,” he said in a clipped tone. “For once in your life, think of someone other than yourself. Think of our child. Marry me. Live in Quarram.”
Bella said nothing for the longest moment, and Sarif held his breath until her eyes clicked to his and held.
“Just like that?”
He shook his head, and wondered why it was that nothing ever went according to plan with this woman.
“No, not just like that. I need a wife. Our child needs a father. By marrying me, I understand the sacrifice you have to make. But, as we have clearly seen, the fact is I cannot protect you here—”
“And you think I’ll be safe in Quarram?”
He did not hesitate.
“I guarantee it.”
“Brave words, Highness. There is no way your people will accept a Westerner as your consort. The whole idea of marrying me is ludicrous and you know it.”
Sarif stood utterly still, as if carved from stone.
He could not remember the last time anyone had ever spoken to him in that particular tone.
Was it possible she was going to argue?
By the look on her face, it seemed she was.
Bella squinted, her eyesight a little blurry, as she studied how much he’d changed in five short months.
He was still six foot three with the blue blood of hundreds of years of warriors flowing in his veins. Even in jeans, he looked the part. A ruler. A King.
It could be a trick of the light, but he looked older and leaner.
And since he wore his usual, do-not-mess-with-me-expression, he was not exactly a barrel of laughs.
He was a man, who took life far too seriously, she reckoned, and still ridiculously handsome of course.
She’d met plenty of handsome men before and they’d left her cold.
Well, she didn’t feel cold looking at him right now.
His hair, that glossy black, had changed too. The style had grown from the short crop he’d worn before. Now it was it was smoothed back from that wide brow. She reckoned those cheekbones were too sharp. The strong nose was too arrogant. The jaw much too stubborn.
He was just too much.
Then his dark eyes hooded beneath black brows held hers and something in them, something like a warning shivered through her. She put it down to her head injury. How could she have forgotten those dark grey eyes, eyes that didn’t look at all friendly as they held hers.
Then Sarif smiled, just a flash of white teeth. A smile that was too confident, and maybe a little smug. Her head hurt, a lot, just looking at him.
“To succeed to the throne, my child must be legitimate.” The way he paced back and forth in front of her bed, as if he was a man clearly at the end of his tether, touched something deep inside. He stopped and his gaze caught hers. “I refuse to father a bastard.”
He sounded genuine, sincere even.
“I promise to think about it,” she found herself saying.
Her head felt too heavy for her shoulders.
Dark grey eyes seemed to pin her to the pillow.
“That’s just the trouble. You have had too much time to think about it. Months. The time for thinking is over.”
And see, right there, was the bad attitude that just pressed all her hot buttons.
If only she wasn’t lying in a bed, injured, she’d be able to give him a few home truths.
Out of the blue she focused all her attention on his mouth.
Her throat went dry.
The memory of how he’d kissed her, with hunger and a demand that would not be denied, made her close her eyes. Her breasts ached. A pulse between her legs ached. In her mind, she could actually taste him and feel the way his tongue had mated with hers. He’d used his teeth on her bottom lip, and on other—places. God. The room felt too hot. Hell, she felt too hot. Baby hormones, that must be why she felt like this, hadn’t she read they often made women horny?
She opened her eyes to find him watching her with a deep interest that made her cheeks flush, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. His eyes dropped to her breasts and narrowed.
Her breath hitched when the tip of his tongue ran over his bottom lip.
And was that a bulge growing between his legs?
He was aroused?
The room seemed to snap and crackle with an electricity both of them clearly could not deny.
But it was the arrogant smirk that made her eyes narrow into slits.
How was it possible she wanted to kiss and smack that mouth both at the same time?
“Well, it’s too bad for you I live in a country where personal freedom and choice is a right and not a privilege. My answer is no.”
Sarif raised his eyes to heaven, as if praying for divine intervention.
Well, Bella didn’t believe in God, so good luck with that, pal.
He ran a hand through his hair as he took the seat next o her bed.
“Don’t you remember what we did? We worked well together, Bella.”
Actually, Bella reckoned he was right about that.
They had worked well together to neutralize troublemakers who’d done everything they could to threaten the house of El Haribe and destabilize King Khalid and Queen Charisse’s tiny kingdom Onuur.
Sarif had a quick mind, even if he was a stubborn bastard at times.
She’d challenged him—and he challenged her right back.
In spite of his heritage and background, he was open to suggestions and possibilities.
The issue was that they’d challenged each other on a personal level too.
And for a short time they had indeed made a good team.
On the other hand, they’d bickered and fought like a pair of wildcats too.
When they weren’t taking a swipe at each other, they’d fallen into bed, once.
And that one time had changed both of their lives forever.
The truth was the attraction that had driven them both had baffled them both too.
And on some fundamental level, she knew he knew that.
Any marriage between them would turn into a bloody battlefield. If she drew a red line in the desert sand, he’d cross it without a thought. And then he’d have his hands on her—and that would be it—the ultimate surrender—her body.
But now her body hummed with the memory of the feel of those strong hands over her skin, how he’d touched her everywhere, and how she’d simply gone up in flames.
She took a breath to steady the crazy fluttering in her heart and told her body to behave itself.
How could she have forgotten that ever since she’d left, it had been all over the tabloids that Prince Sarif El Haribe had recently had those hands all over a French actress?
Annoyance with him, with herself, burned bright in her belly.
“I refuse to be added to your harem and become a love slave,” she said with a decided snap in her voice.
Sarif said nothing in response to the love slave dig, which was no surprise to Bella.
He probably thought he was so far above her he could do whatever the hell he liked, and that included, wife or no wife and a wide variety of women.
Face set, he got to his feet, and moved towards the door.
He turned back to study her.
She couldn’t tell from his closed expression what he was thinking.
“You need to rest,” he said. “Do not let little stupid things influence your decision. Sleep on it and think about what is best for our child.”
Bella had the distinct feeling she hadn’t come out the winner of this latest skirmish.
Anyway, he was right.
She did need rest.
Copyright © CC MacKenzie 2018
Later that evening Bella, feeling a lot better after a nice long nap and a light supper, was wasting time flicking through a glossy magazine.
Her head throbbed every time she tried to do what Sarif had suggested, to think, and so she stopped thinking.
It was late, around ten in the evening.
When the door opened slowly, she looked up expecting to see a nurse, and went utterly still when she saw the man standing there.
She very much doubted he was here to bring her flowers.
Her old boss from CI5, Colonel Roger Gilchrist, peered at her over the top of his black framed glasses and raised bushy silver brows. He was a slim and broad-shouldered sixty-two. His raw-boned face always made Arabella think of a clever Professor. He wore a beautifully tailored charcoal suit of the finest Italian wool, a white shirt of stiff cotton, and his striped regimental tie.
His hair, a stunning mane of black and silver, was brushed back from a lean and powerful face.
“Well now, young lady, this is a nice mess you’ve got yourself into.” His voice was like grit stone spilling down a steel chute and running through a metal grate. “Spoke to your doctor. You and the baby were lucky.”
She put down her magazine.
“Didn’t see it coming.”
The Colonel took a seat and folded his arms.
“Might not be so lucky next time,” he said.
She blinked and automatically placed her hand on her belly as if to protect her baby.
“It wasn’t an accident,” she muttered her first thoughts.
And beneath her hand, her belly tightened.
“It wasn’t,” he agreed. “When you’re feeling a bit better, you can watch CCTV footage. I imagine you will want to meet the person who tried to mow down you and your child.”
Arabella had the distinct feeling she was being led to a place she didn’t want to go.
“I don’t have enemies,” she said.
When the Colonel merely angled his head and stared blandly, Arabella had to laugh.
“Okay. Maybe pals of the late and not lamented paedophile, assassin, and rapist, Omar, might have an issue with me.”
The Colonel studied her through narrowed eyes.
“What makes you think you’re the target?” He sat forward in his chair, rested his elbows on bony knees, his hands clasped. “I know you’ve had a head injury, but think about it. The whole region is a tinderbox, and with the right spark it’s ready to blow. There are powerful and greedy eyes on all El Haribe lands. They’ve already tried and failed to destabilise Onuur. If they are prepared to assassinate a Queen, what makes you think they’d baulk at killing the mother of the heir to Quarram?”
“You sound like Sarif.”
The Colonel gave her a look she knew well, a look that clearly stated do-not-mess-with-me.
“Sarif is almost as hard-headed as you are. You’ve managed to keep him at arms length for months.”
“It’s my life we’re talking about here,” she said. “I make the choices.”
“True. But he is a king.” He hesitated for a moment. “The man has rights.”
All anger seem to slide away and now Arabella nodded.
“I know that.”
“He’ll want to legitimise the child.” The Colonel slid his hand through his hair, the movement reminding her forcibly of Sarif and how he’d worn the exact same expression when he had spoken to her earlier. “He’ll want marriage.”
She knew that.
“What’s this? Marriage guidance? A bit out of your sphere of influence isn’t it?”
Gilchrist chuckled to himself.
He’d always admired Bella’s sharp mind.
Her stubborn streak.
Her absolute devotion to her country and her duty.
He had a grandson around her age.
He’d thought about introducing them, then changed his mind, because even though his grandson was as hard and tough as they came, Bella could be, well, mean.
Plus, he’d heard the rumors, Bella wasn’t into men—most of the time.
“I must admit,” he began, treading carefully. “There is an element of—surprise—shall we say, that it appears you’re pregnant via a rather conventional route.”
Bella knew the statement was his clumsy way of saying—WTF?
Her face went hot at the thought of what she and Sarif had done—they’d fucked like rabid rabbits. And of course, the old bastard didn’t miss her embarrassment.
“I always thought the Sandhurst scandal had been blown out of all proportion,” the Colonel said now, opening dialogue on a subject that was no one’s business except her own.
Arabella rubbed her belly and felt the baby kick.
“We were drunk. It was a quick fumble caught on a cell phone. And I hear it made her big bucks on the Internet.”
“Regrettable behaviour on everyone’s account,” he said, and fiddled with his shirt cuff. Then those steely eyes found hers. “Have you spoken to your father?”
Now Arabella felt dizzy.
Her father, her family, knew nothing of her recent troubles, and that was how she wanted it to stay.
“Ah, I see you haven’t. He will not be pleased when he finds out. He’s not a particularly forgiving man either. Might make trouble for you and especially for Sarif, don’t you think?”
She made a face.
If anyone knew how unforgiving her father was, she did.
However, neither could she deny a truth.
The Colonel leaned back and folded his arms.
“I have a proposition for you. A proposition that might see everyone get what they want out of this mess,” he said in that gravelly voice. But it was the tone, silk over steel, that had her watching him warily.
The old fox was up to something.
Whatever he was selling, she could always say no, couldn’t she?
Until next time…..