Chapter Eleven, Desert Orchid…..

DESERTORCHID

 

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

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

Enjoy!

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

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

And why the fuck hadn’t he been told?

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

And where on earth was Omar?

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

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

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

Blood.

Everywhere.

It was clear Diablo was dead.

The magnificent animal had been shot through the head.

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

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

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

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

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

She was too pale.

He was going to lose her.

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

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

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

Coward.

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

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

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

And Khalid realised the man was speaking to Sarif.

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

They fought to stabilise Charisse as the army medics arrived.

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

Khalid took the phone. “Sarif?”

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

 

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

Not once did he take his eyes from Charisse.

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

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

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

Arabella never let go of Charisse’s hand.

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

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

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

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

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

Never again.

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

 

 

Charisse was drifting in a lovely white space.

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

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

Khalid.

Khalid’s voice was raised.

And he was angry, so very angry.

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

Her throat hurt.

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

What was the matter with Khalid?

Why was he shouting?

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

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

A woman told them to hush.

Then oblivion claimed her again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the fuck is this?”

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

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

“Charisse is the twin sister of Mia Chanteluelle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Abdullah took a breath and continued,

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

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

He stared at his father and leaned forward.

He needed clarity, and he needed it now.

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

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

The King nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

Bile rose like acid into Khalid’s throat.

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

“She already knows,” his father said.

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was wrong with these people?

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

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

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

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

The king shook his head.

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

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

Now he turned to his father.

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

His father shrugged.

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

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

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

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

Sarif shook his head.

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

Utter fury blasted through Khalid.

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

“Charisse met Sheik Abbas.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The person he needed to talk to was Charisse.

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

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

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

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

Christine x

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

 

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

BLURB:

Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’

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

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

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

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

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

 

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My darling, Charisse,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stunned disbelief had Charisse blink once, twice.

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

She read it twice, three times.

Why?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

“I will not!” she cried.

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

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

She stood and held out the letter to Charisse.

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

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

Arabella was quite right.

Where was her self-control?

Having a temper tantrum like a child changed nothing.

She wanted to cry enough tears to fill an ocean.

But tears changed nothing.

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

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

 

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

There are conditions to the marriage:

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

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

Good God!

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

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

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

Have courage.

All my love, Asim.”

 

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

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

Not that she had many of those.

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

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

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

Dear heaven she missed Amir so much.

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

They’d agreed never to keep secrets.

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

Her delicate fists pounded the top of the balcony.

A sympathetic hand touched her shoulder.

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

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

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

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

Charisse couldn’t stop the sting of outrage.

My Prince?”

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

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

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

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

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

She spun to face her friend with wide eyes.

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

Arabella winced at the tone.

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

Bullshit.

Charisse wasn’t having that.

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

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

 

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

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

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

She wasn’t having any of that, either.

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

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

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

She couldn’t do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now what? Charisse wondered.

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

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

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

Vultures, she fumed.

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

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

Men who were so called modernists.

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

At least Sarif appeared to have standards, morals.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

And the analogy was not lost on Charisse.

One of them carried the very devil himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid, ignorant, macho fools.

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

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

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

*Finito*

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

Christine X

DESERT ORCHID IS ALIVE!

IT'S ALIVE

IT’S ALIVE AND AVAILABLE NOW IN ALL STORES

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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