Desert Orchid… Chapter Twenty-Four…

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By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Twenty Four

Charisse was shivering and hurting.

God, her shoulder joints screamed.

Nausea roiled in her belly as reality crashed into her brain.

The foul tasting gag in her mouth made her stomach heave.

Her wrists were bound too tight behind her back.

It was dark, but there was a dim light from a candle burning on a ledge carved out of solid rock. She tried to roll to her knees and a fresh wave of nausea washed through her leaving her feeling wretchedly ill and weak.

Slumped against the rock, and desperately battling terror, the deep breaths she took through her nose stung.

The smell of ammonia made her eyes water.

Taking a careful inhale, Charisse tried to work out where she was.

She heard the trickle of running water. And she was cold. Very cold.

Then she understood was in the underground caverns deep beneath the palace.

Her eyes flew around the cave, but there was no sign of Omar.

She shivered.

And then went utterly still as a winged creature fluttered towards the ceiling.

A ceiling that appeared to move.

Her eyes went wide.

Oh, God, bats.

Thousands of them.

A single shudder convulsed her body.

She hated bats.

Telling herself not to freak out, Charisse tried again to roll to her knees and this time she made it.

The earth was packed hard. Somewhere along the line she’d lost a ballet shoe. And that seriously pissed her off. It took her three attempts but she managed to stagger to her feet.

Leaning her aching shoulder against the damp wall of the cave, she tried to get her bearings. She’d never ventured into the cave network alone. Asim had drummed it into her that some of the deepest tunnels, and the caves themselves, were unstable. Before his illness had taken away his ability to walk, he’d taken her into the tunnels to show her a couple of escape routes, should the worst happen. Asim was a great believer in having a disaster recovery plan. Just thinking of him now gave her the strength to channel her thoughts into an escape plan, rather than giving in to the self-indulgence of an emotional meltdown.

However, her sense of direction was skewed. She had no idea which way was north or south. Panic again bubbled and brewed in her mind, in her gut. And then she remembered that if a tunnel was going uphill then she would be going west and downhill she was going east.

With hope in her heart she staggered towards a tunnel entrance. It took her seconds to realise the route ahead was pitch black. Then she turned in a circle and spotted four more tunnel entrances. Which one would she choose? If she took the wrong path, perhaps fell and was injured, no one would ever find her because she couldn’t call for help.

Then the truth hit her.

She was trapped.

Tears burned her throat, made the cave blur and this time terror gripped her lungs and squeezed too hard. Her breath came in horrible little pants.

She staggered back to the thin blanket Omar had left on the ground.

Defeated, she dropped to her knees.

Then in her mind she heard Amir’s voice tell her, ‘If you are lost in the caves or the desert. It is crucial to remain in the one spot. That way you will be found. Trust that the people who love you will find you.’

Closing her eyes she sent a prayer that Khalid would find her.

And now her heart was filled with regret that she’d helped Arabella to leave today. Because if there was one person who had the expertise in these caves and would move a mountain to find her, it was her Arabella.

Then the sound of the shuffle of feet brought her head up, and she listened hard.

The light of a torch came from a tunnel to her right.

Her eyes went wide as a big robed figure appeared.

He stepped into the cave and pulled back his hood.

The bald head was shiny, the skin stretched taut, but the black beard below his full lips took her by surprise.

But those eyes were the same. Small and mean. Beady eyes, black as jet, slid over her from her head to her toes and back again. She read something that looked like desire and an evil that made her blood chill.

“You are awake. Good,” Omar said in a high voice that simply did not match the sheer physicality of his body.

He switched off the torch, placed it on a flat ledge. For such a large man he was very light on his feet. Then he rummaged in a box in the corner and brought out more candles. One by one he took great care to light them and place them around her as if setting a scene. The way he moved, like a dancer, and the way he hummed in his throat seriously creeped her out.

He clapped his hands twice before whirling around to face her.

Charisse pressed her body back against the rock face.

In a smooth move, he whipped the robe over his head.

He was naked except for a loose pair of cotton boxers that once upon a time had been white.

The torso was solid. No flab. But it wasn’t honed and toned either. His limbs were like tree trunks. His wrists were thick, as were his ankles. And he had no neck. The picture that flashed into her mind was one from her childhood books of fairytales, of a troll. His toenails were too long and absolutely filthy.

But it was the thick bulge of his arousal between his legs that made her eyes go wide.

Danger had found her again, the grotesque reality no longer the stuff of nightmares but a wail deep in her psyche. The trembling began in her knees and spread up her torso.

He whirled around and did a strange little skip as he danced towards the box. He poked around again, and this time found a small bottle of blue glass with a corked stopper.

Again he did a freaky little dance as he placed the bottle next to a couple of lit candles on the ledge.

He lifted her up as if she weighed nothing and turned her around.

With deft fingers he untied her wrists.

She cried out with the agony in her shoulders, at the sting of blood flowing back into her fingers.

“Oops, tied your hands too tight. Not to worry.”

The heady scent of halitosis and a body that hadn’t seen soap and water for weeks made her dizzy. But what snapped her back to reality was the squeal of duct-tape. Then his tongue was licking his full bottom lip as he was binding her wrists again, this time in front of her.

Everything happened so fast.

She was sprawled on her belly on top of a flat rock.

And now his heavy body lay on top of hers, his weight pressing her delicate hip bones into solid rock.

It hurt.

His breath hissed in her ear.

And it took everything she had not to scream in her throat.

“I was well on my way to destroying the house of El Haribe, until you came into the great Khalid’s life. The man was weak. Easy to manipulate. Until he married you. And what I am going to do to you will finally, finally, break him.”

He pulled her legs over the edge until her toes touched the floor. The position left her bottom in the air. And Charisse knew exactly what was going to happen to her.

A single heavy swat on her backside made her sob in her throat.

“I was told to bring you alive. He mentioned nothing about you untouched. I like young, virgin, ass. And I bet lover boy hasn’t touched your fine little ass, has he? No, ass is not the great Khalid’s style.”

His thick fingers didn’t fumble as they unbuttoned her jeans, slid down the zip.

Her heart was beating so fast and so hard against her ribs, in her throat, Charisse was sure it might burst. She’d felt terror like this before. And the feel of the heavy body at her back, the way his thick and rock hard erection was pressing down on her, had that dark place come alive in her mind again.

Fluid leaked from her eyes and her nose.

She told herself to be brave, that she’d survived worse.

Now thick fingers hooked into her panties at her hips.

And Charisse closed her eyes tight and braced herself.

 

By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Twenty Five tomorrow…..

Christine x

Desert Orchid… Chapter Twenty Two…

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Happy Sunday….

Here’s the next chapter, and Sarif’s confused….

Desert Orchid – Copyright

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Twenty Two

“So, you and Arabella? How did that happen?” Khalid asked Sarif.

He stretched out long legs and kicked back in his ergonomically designed chair. They were in his study enjoying tiny cups of a thick aromatic coffee.

Sarif was dressed in tight jodhpurs, his riding boots dusty. His skin, golden under a loose white robe, glistened with sweat. His cropped hair shone as black as a raven’s wing.And his response to the perfectly legitimate question was a glower as he sipped his coffee.

“Arabella is very upset with me because I announced our engagement. I do not understand her,” Sarif admitted in low growl filled to the brim with deep frustration.

Khalid couldn’t help but grin.

Oh, man. His brother had it bad. And it appeared that things were not all kissy-kissy and lovey-dovey in Sarif land.

Khalid sent him a toothy smile. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t inform her that we would marry until after I told the council.”

Khalid’s brows winged into his hairline.

“Whoa. Arabella has major ninja skills, bro. Like catching a speeding bullet in her teeth.”

His brother didn’t dignify that statement with a response, instead he stared into the liquid in his cup as if it contained the answer he needed.

“She has no choice, she must marry me.”

Intrigued, Khalid studied his brother’s face and realised that Sarif was not a happy man.

“Do you love her?”

His brother’s eyes flicked to his. “What’s love got to do with it?”

Khalid bit his bottom lip, hard.

“According to Tina Turner, a lot.”

Sarif’s cup clattered on the table as he shot to his feet. “You are not taking this seriously.”

“For God’s sake, sit down, Sarif. What is the problem?”

Sarif sat.

He slumped back in the fat leather club chair and frowned in a way that made his hawk like features look lethal.

“She refused my proposal. But now it is a matter of honour. I have told her she does not have a choice.”

Khalid knew that in many ways Sarif was a traditionalist at heart, especially when it came to females.

“You can’t force her, bro. Arabella is a twenty-first century woman. A ball-breaking warrior. You should have seen how she dealt with that bitch of a nurse and got her to talk. She was amazing.”

Now Sarif showed his teeth. “She will make a good queen.”

Khalid nodded in agreement.

“I must admit I was taken by surprise when you made your grand announcement. But once I thought about it, I think you’re right. She’ll be a good partner for you. Plus, she’ll fit right into the family. Charisse adores her.”

Now Sarif smiled, a real one this time.

“As long as Charisse is happy, you are happy?”

Khalid grinned. “You’ve got me there. I’m pussy-whipped.”

“She loves you. You are a very lucky man, my brother.”

“I know. Who’d have thought things would end up like this. When you appeared in London out of the blue, I could have murdered you.”

“Trust me, the feeling was mutual,” Sarif said in a silky voice that made Khalid’s mouth twitch.

“You can’t force Arabella to marry you,” he repeated.

The heat that rose up over his brother’s neck and fired his cheeks made Khalid frown. Sarif never blushed. Seemed there was a lot more to this than met the eye.

“She was chaste. I took something that did not belong to me.”

Khalid blinked. “You forced her?”

“No. As usual we were arguing, it became heated and then we kissed and then… When she cried out in pain, I realised I had breached a part of her that I had no right to.”

Remembering how hard it had been for Charisse to tell him she was a virgin, Khalid took a deep breath. Arabella was at least three years older than his wife, and he found it very hard to believe that a woman with her background was sexually inexperienced.

“She participated but didn’t tell you she was a virgin?”

“Things got out of hand very quickly,” his brother admitted, and again heat scorched his skin. “It is a matter of honour that I make her my wife.”

Khalid gave him a bland look.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the twenty-first century and things have changed, bro. Arabella is not from our culture and if she doesn’t want to marry you, you cannot force her.”

The atmosphere in the room changed, became tense.

“It is possible she carries my child.”

Khalid’s eyes went wide.

“You didn’t use protection?” The glittering look he received from his brother confirmed the query. “Oh man, you are in deep shit. When will you know?”

“Within days,” the response was clipped. “If she is carrying my child then we will marry as soon as possible.”

“And if she’s not?”

“Then the decision to be my wife will rest with her. As you say, I cannot force her.”

“Whatever happens, you know I am here for you,” Khalid said. And the shock in Sarif’s eyes humbled him. He’d pushed his brother away for too many years. And he realised it was more than time to mend this particular bridge. “You never gave up on me.”

Not used to public shows of affection, as one the brother’s stood and gave each other a man hug.

“Many times I wanted to kick your ass,” Sarif admitted.

Khalid’s nose twitched.

His brother smelled of horse and desert.

“You need a shower. If Arabella gets a whiff of you in this state, she’ll head for the hills. I wish you well, brother.”

Sarif grabbed his head and smacked a hard kiss on each cheek.

“It is in God’s hands.”

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Stay tuned….

Christine X

Desert Orchid – Two Chapters tonight, eighteen and nineteen… enjoy…

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AMAZON UK   AMAZON USA   iBOOKS   KOBO  GOOGLE PLAY  BARNES & NOBLE

Desert Orchid – Copyright

By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Eighteen

He was punishing himself.

To turn the screw even more, as a penance for not being open and honest with her, Khalid had made a firm promised to never, ever fall asleep in her arms. Therefore, as he did every night, in the unending hours before dawn, he sat in a chair in the corner of the bedroom, and watched his wife, the love of his life, sleep.

They’d found and shared something very rare today.

He knew he didn’t deserve her.

How could a man like him be given the extraordinary gift of her love?

A man who’d killed two beautiful young girls. Girls who’d been on the cusp of womanhood, who’d had their whole lives ahead of them. Lives snuffed out because of a single act of unutterable selfishness.

He closed his eyes, bowing his head in a shame so deep, so dark, it ate up another little piece of his soul every single day he lived.

Six years ago, life for an El Haribe prince had been good, too good. He’d partied too hard, played too hard, and it had caught up with him in the most brutal way. Hindsight was a wonderful thing. At twenty-four he’d been spoiled, and reckless, and stupid. However, his behaviour, his choices, were his responsibility, not the responsibility of two young girls.

He’d never forgive himself for what happened that day.

Not that he could remember a single thing, and Khalid didn’t know whether to be grateful for that or not. His memory about the preceding two weeks, and a month after the accident, was wiped clean. He’d been in a coma, and was told the memories may never return. But he’d never forget the moment his father had told him Jamila was dead and buried. And so was her best friend, Mia.

Gone.

Killed.

By him.

His mother had been a broken woman, a living ghost, who visited him twice a day in hospital. And he couldn’t bear to see the stun of loss, the suffering, on her beautiful face. He couldn’t bear Sarif’s pity wrapped up in grief, either.

But when he’d been told the hellish truth that he’d been drank alcohol before he’d got into the big growling beast of a speed boat, and had driven two girls to their death, something inside him had died that day, too. He’d asked endless questions of the universe. Why had they died and he lived? He didn’t deserve to live. He certainly didn’t deserve to live and be happy. In the days and weeks after he’d regained consciousness, looking at the faces of his family every day had slowly killed him. He couldn’t stand to see his father’s condemnation, his disappointment, in what his youngest son had become. Of course, his family had forgiven him. Forgiveness was what families do. But he’d pushed them away. And in the process he’d lost himself in bitterness and self-pity.

He’d moved to Europe.

Spent months partying hard in Cannes before moving permanently to London, where he’d partied even harder. Christ, he hadn’t even been able to spend his way to destitution. His paintings shocked many, but they’d thrilled the art world, especially the critics. Who’d have thought it? He couldn’t even fucking ruin himself. He’d made so much money, he hadn’t even touched his inheritance. So he’d thrown himself into the role of the dark desert prince, the reprobate who’d shamed his family and his people.

And he’d had women, plenty of women; he’d banged hundreds of them until even that basic pleasure had dimmed.

Before Charisse, he hadn’t had a woman in over a year. Of course, no one would believe it. Even his own brother had assumed he’d had two women in his bed the night he’d come to London to bring him back home. The women had been models who liked to party, and who swung both ways. So if Khalid wasn’t in the mood to shag one or both, they’d been happy to take care of themselves. And didn’t mind an audience as he painted them. But he’d tired of that scene long ago.

His art had evolved into a contemporary symbolism that the critics drooled over.

Now, he desperately wanted to paint Charisse.

Naked.

Of course, she wasn’t having it.

Another wave of self-loathing crashed over him, and he held his head in his hands.

She loved him, believed in him.

All those years ago, he’d needed someone to believe in him. He’d desperately needed someone to have faith in him during the pain of his hospital days, and during the nightmare months of his convalescence.

He’d no idea what this letter from Amir she’d been talking about meant. How the hell could his uncle have believed in him? Whatever Khalid demanded from Charisse, even her thoughts, she was prepared to share. And he knew, deep in his heart, that she wanted the same from him. She deserved nothing but the truth.

But not yet.

Surely he could enjoy these precious days with her? There was plenty of time to tell her truth about the pathetic excuse for a man that she’d married. And he knew for an absolute certainty that once she learned the exact circumstances around the accident she would never forgive him for killing her sister, an event that had brought disaster and horror to her door.

Charisse stirred in their vast bed, her hand fluttering out to reach for him.

With a sick heart and a dark shadow on his soul, Khalid crept into bed to hold her tight.

She burrowed into his side as he inhaled the scent of her hair, her skin.

With eyes wide open, he just lay there and waited for dawn.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

Charisse smiled as Rufus wagged his entire body in a fit of ecstasy as Khalid stroked his shaggy head.

They’d arrived home to Onuur, to the white palace, three hours before.

Boris refused to leave Charisse’s side. Filled with unconditional love, the wolfhound’s hazel eyes never left her face for an instant.

She’d expected a warm welcome from Yasmin and Sheik Abbas, but the tribes had gathered along the mountain plateau, their campfires burning for as far as the eye could see. The peoples of Onuur needed to see their King and Queen.

And now the Sheiks assembled in a meeting room in the palace.

Sarif was chairing the meeting.

He’d taken Arabella’s advice, and brought in a team of ex-military intelligence and specialists who liaised closely with the head of Onuur’s security team.

“Are you ready for this?” Khalid’s sharp eyes found hers, and Charisse nodded as he took her hand.

They made their way from his rooms, through the white palace, to the meeting.

A navy blue silk scarf concealed her hair. The matching sheath she wore fell to her knees. The dress had a high neck and tight long sleeves edged with silver discs at her wrists. The co-ordinating tight pants, and silver flat pumps in butter soft leather, completed the outfit. And outfit designed for her by the house of Chanel.

Her people were worried.

Rurmurs of unrest flew through the tribes, and also tall tales about Khalid. According to those rumours, he was a drunkard and behind the attempts on his wife’s life. Her people needed to see her, in the flesh, to see for themselves that she was not only alive, but happy with her new life.

And more importantly, happy with her new husband.

Khalid looked spectacular dressed in a thwab with a besht, the ceremonial robes denoting status and royalty. As they descended the magnificent staircases, the servants lining the entrance hall bowed low. As the couple passed, it was as if they all let out a collective sigh, and the tension in the palace dissipated. Their relief palpable that their queen was indeed alive and well.

Liveried servants opened huge double doors.

Khalid and Charisse entered the room and all conversation ceased as the sheikhs and Sarif turned to watch them enter. Her gaze wandered over the men gathered around the huge table. For many years Charisse had taken advice from these men. But she’d been Amir’s wife then, and even though she knew they trusted her, the nerves in her belly wound too tight.

Khalid kept a firm grip of her hand as they took their place at the top of the table. Public displays of affection between men and women were frowned upon in their culture. But Khalid waited until she was seated before he took her hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to her cold fingers. And all the while his vivid gaze held hers. Her heart soared as she read the utter devotion and love in his eyes.

She smiled up into his fabulous face.

But more importantly the Sheiks smiled, and so did his brother, Sarif.

Khalid took the seat next to her, and placed her hand in his on top of the table.

Her refused to let her go, even when she raised an enquiring brow.

Her husband’s sharp gaze fell on the Sheiks, and in spite of his words his deep voice held no apology.

“Forgive me, gentlemen. But I almost lost the woman I love twice in the past few weeks. I have no intention of releasing her until I know the threat to her and to Onuur has passed. What news of Omar?”

Sarif nodded to Sheik Abbas who had watched their entrance into the room with the eyes of a raptor.

The Sheik was the elected spokesman for the tribes.

“We have reliable information he is holed up in the mountains of Dhuma. The King is flushing him out as we speak.” His growl of a voice became soft as his eyes settled upon her. “I thank God that you survived the attempts on your life, Highness.”

Charisse inclined her head, squeezing Khalid’s hand to signal she was about to speak.

“If it had not been for the quick thinking and speed of my husband I would not be here with you today. He saved my life. The rumours spreading like locusts on the desert wind must be put to rest. Tomorrow, my husband and I shall travel together to visit certain schools. I miss the children, Sheik Abbas.”

The Sheik looked to Khalid for confirmation, and Charisse knew that was the moment her husband was given his rightful place. Khalid nodded once in agreement, even as he gave a gentle squeeze of her fingers. She hadn’t warned him of her plan to visit the children since she knew he might argue against it. But it was important that they were seen by the people to be working together and caring for her vital projects.

If Khalid didn’t like it, too bad.

If he wanted to punish her later for her decision, so be it.

But now Sarif spoke, “We’ve received more intelligence on Omar’s background. He belongs to a tribe that was banished from Quaram over forty years ago. He is the third cousin of Yusuf Hassam Nazari,” he paused at the collective gasp that went around the room. Nazari was a sociopath, a tyrant, with connections to organised crime, terrorism, and people trafficking. He had a high price on his head. And was believed to be holed up in the Hindu Kush. “Omar was originally trained by the Soviets in brain washing and infiltration techniques. It is most unfortunate that we kept him too close to the heart of our family.”

Charisse felt Khalid stiffen and glanced up at his face. He would make a wonderful poker player because his face looked as if it was carved from granite and forcibly reminded her of the first time she’d met him in her apartments.

Sarif continued, “The plan was to kill Charisse, to bring dishonour upon the house of El Haribe. To divide the loyalty of the tribes resulting in civil unrest. Not just in Onuur but throughout the lands of Quaram and Dhuma. Powerful interests have their eyes on our mineral and oil wealth. With the death of King Amir and my father’s continued ill health the jackals decided to strike.

“Unfortunately for them, my brother is a good man and a strong King. My father’s health is improving each day. As for myself, I am to marry Miss Arabella Faulkner.”

Good God.

How Charisse kept the shock of the announcement from her face, she never knew, and by the statue sitting next to her, this was the first Khalid had heard of it.

Of course she was thrilled to have Arabella as a sister-in-law. But she’d seen absolutely no sign of an attraction between Sarif and Arabella. None. Arabella’s family tree was immersed in military service to her country going back generations, all the way back to the Duke of Wellington’s time. With her military contacts and family’s power base in the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America, what a power couple she and Sarif would make. And the children of such a union would be a force to be reckoned with in the foreseeable future.

The approval of Sarif’s announcement eased the tense atmosphere in the room.

Sheik Abbas stood.

Those sharp eyes met Sarif’s. “I know I speak on behalf of everyone here and offer my congratulations, Highness. Miss Arabella Faulkner is a strong woman whose bravery and loyalty to the people of Onuur knows no bounds. May you be blessed with many sons.”

He turned to Khalid and Charisse and added, “May the whole house of El Haribe be blessed with many sons.”

Which, Charisse knew, was the Sheik’s polite way of saying, ‘Get on with it making those sons.’

 

Five days later, Charisse and Khalid had settled into a routine of sorts.

He was too quiet.

Brooding, she decided, as she eyed him over breakfast in her apartment. Today he wore black jeans and a buttoned down white shirt, and as ever, his feet were bare. She noticed he had splotches of bright green paint on his right foot.

He hadn’t spent a single night in her apartments, preferring to make love with her in his big bed in his studio. However, Charisse had made it a rule that they eat together at an allotted time for breakfast and dinner.

His most recent low mood had manifested itself in a lack of sleep, irritability and monosyllabic answers, which only seemed to intensify the longer Omar remained at large.

Khalid was more than aware that those big blue eyes watched him, and analysed him.

A rigid daily routine had never worked for him in the past. And it sure as hell wasn’t working for him now. It wasn’t how he rolled. He knew he was frustrated, overtired and wired. Working for twelve hours straight on yet another portrait of Charisse had mashed his brain. He was obsessed with her. Add in the too many duties he had to perform each and every day and his art was not going well. And he lay the blame for that firmly at her door. He’d never lived with a woman twenty-four-seven before and he found the way he had no space to do his own thing hard. Very hard. Plus, the way she’d insisted he stop whatever it was he was doing to meet her for breakfast and dinner at a designated time played merry hell with his creativity—which meant he found it well-nigh impossible to get back into the creative flow each day.

To eat with her shouldn’t be that big of a fucking deal.

After all, Charisse never asked him for anything.

Not once had she asked him for help, for support.

Not even for a kiss or a hug.

He frowned.

And now he wondered what that meant.

She never undermined his position in the palace. However, another unpalatable thought struck him. She didn’t need him. And that hurt. Charisse was a young and beautiful woman, in a ruthlessly male culture, who worked diligently on behalf of her people. With Charisse, the people came first. Everything she did, including marry him, was for the good of her people.

She was clever, kind, and utterly selfless.

And while he wasn’t in her intellectual league, neither was he kind.

He was utterly selfish, and concerned only with how events impacted him.

Now he tried to remember one time when life, the world, hadn’t revolved around his art, his pain, his needs, his guilt.

He didn’t deserve her.

She’d be much better off without him. Much better off married to a man who would be a better ruler, a better husband, a better father to the child she must bear.

The thought of another man touching her, kissing her soft fragrant skin, loving her, broke something deep within him. But surely putting her needs and Onuur’s needs, before his own, was the ultimate act of selflessness? Surely giving her up for her own good is what a real man would do?

In the early hours of this morning he’d been working on her portrait, staring into those amazing blue eyes as they stared right into him. He’d known then that the time had come to do what was right, for once. Charisse had taught him so much in such a short time. How to love a person with all of his heart. And for that he’d be forever in her debt.

He closed his eyes.

Christ, he was so fucking tired.

“This won’t work between us,” he said now.

Lifting a cup of coffee to her lips, Charisse halted. “What won’t work?”

The way she gave him big innocent eyes seriously irritated him.

He glowered and glared.

“You. Me. Us. This,” he snapped.

“Need a hug?”

“I need a divorce.”

The male ego, Charisse decided and not a little annoyed, was a monstrously fragile thing.

She knew he was overwhelmed.

She got that.

But she’d be damned if she was about to put up with him behaving like a five year old.

“No.”

“No?”

“I think there’s an echo in here,” she muttered into her cup.

His eyes narrowed. “You’re not taking this seriously.”

“Believe me, I am.”

“You won’t have a choice. If I want a divorce, I’ll get a divorce.”

“No.”

He threw his napkin on the table and stood towering over her.

“I want out. I want my life back. I don’t want to live on a dusty rock in the middle of the damned desert.”

She took another sip of her coffee, watching him over the rim of the cup. “It’s not going to work, you know.”

“What isn’t?”

“The little meltdown you’re having. I’ve got your number, Rock Star. And it won’t work.”

Temper flashed in those dark eyes. “I don’t love you. I’m over it. Over us. Over all… this.”

The words hurt, and they hurt bad.

But she reminded herself to keep calm.

“Ha ha ha.” She stood and moved into him to give him the hug he so badly needed. “That’s okay. I have enough love for both of us.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said?”

He rubbed his cheek against her hair and Charisse breathed a little sigh of relief.

“Yes, kiss me.”

He kissed her.

Lifting his head, dark eyes stared down into hers.

“I’m no good for you.”

The words were said in a sulky tone that made her bite down hard on her bottom lip.

She’d seen that look in his eyes before.

Then she had a lightbulb moment—the school children.

For some reason, he’d been terribly nervous touring three schools.

“You are very good for me. You’re having a small crisis of confidence. It will pass. You’ll be fine. They were just little children.’

“Yes, but there was hundreds of them.”

“They loved you. Especially the little girls.”

Now he lifted her hand to run his fingertips over her wrist, over the bracelet the children had given her. It was made from cheap little glass beads, hundreds of them. And because the simple gift had been made with love it had meant more to Charisse than diamonds.

She hadn’t taken it off.

He shook his head.

“It was the look in their eyes that killed me. They looked at me as if I was their sun and their moon.”

“Too much pressure, Rock Star?”

He gave a big sigh. “What if I let them down?”

“What if you don’t?”

Again she hugged him and decided now might be the time to surprise him.

Her fingers had been itching for days just waiting for the right opportunity to give him her gift. The only time he appeared to relax was while making love. Last night, he’d thought she was asleep before he’d left their bed in the middle of the night to paint. Again.

“I have something for you,” she told him in a cheery voice.

Ignoring a scowl that would sour milk, Charisse rose and left the room, returning with a large flat rectangular package.

She sat on the edge of a couch and patted the cushion next to her.

“Come over here, Rock Star, and open it.”

With a reluctance that made her lips twitch, he rose.

His brows came together as he sat next to her.

“It’s not my birthday,” he growled.

She smiled. “No, does it need to be your birthday for you to receive a gift?”

He blinked, and she read a genuine bafflement in those vivid grey eyes.

“I suppose not. I rarely receive anything unless the giver desires something in return.”

Well then, that explained a lot.

“Beware Greeks bearing gifts?”

She watched him carefully as she tucked her jean clad legs under her. Charisse found his reluctance to accept the gift interesting and wondered if he was getting wind of her anxiety because she knew her gift had the potential to blow up in her face.

He picked it up.

“What is it?’ Khalid asked and weighed it in his hand. “It’s not heavy.” He gave it a little shake. “Solid,” he said and sniffed the paper.

Amazed by his reaction, she stared at him.

“Are you always like this?” she demanded to know.

Eyes wide, she folded her arms and caught a reluctant gleam in his grey eyes. A reluctant smile tugged the corner of his mouth. He placed the parcel on the coffee table, leaned back and stared at it with a frown.

She’d had enough of this.

Charisse knelt on the sofa, gripped his chin and forced him to look at her.

“Open it!”

Keeping his eyes on hers, he tore open the brown paper, and looked down into the deliriously happy face of his dead sister.

Silence.

Charisse felt her breath hitch in her throat as all the blood drained from Khalid’s face. His knuckles went white as he snapped the wooden frame. Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead and top lip.

A shuddering rough gasp escaped from his throat.

On shaky legs, Charisse rose and went to pour him a brandy. For shock. No, she decided, water would be better. She wouldn’t re-enforce a bad habit. After pouring him water in a glass, she sat next to him, keeping her tone reasonable and voice soft, and hoped to hell she knew what she was doing.

“Here, take a sip.” Gently taking his cold hand in hers she wrapped his fingers around the glass. “A wonderful character, wasn’t she?” Charisse ran a finger down Jamila’s cheek on the photograph and flinched at the filthy expletive Khalid spat as he got to his feet.

“Why would you do such a thing?” he roared.

He hurled the water glass against the wall.

It smashed into tiny pieces.

The dogs immediately moved to her side.

Fury, despair and pain flushed his cheeks and darkened his eyes.

One hand still gripped the broken photo frame, his other arm he held tight across his belly as if in pain.

Those grey eyes, tortured now, found hers.

The incredible agony she read there meant she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow.

“Why would you hurt me like this?” he whispered.

Charisse studied him, determined to remain calm, very careful to keep pity and her love for him at bay. Six years of pent-up grief was bound to implode.

All she knew was that he needed to release the pain.

She shook her head.

“I am not hurting you, Khalid.” And she kept her eyes pinned to his. “Why do you not honour her memory?”

His head whipped back as if she’d struck him.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Anger was a good sign, she decided, and reminded herself to stay strong.

“There is not one photograph of her anywhere in the palace in Dhuma. No one talks about her or even mentions her name. It’s as if Jamila never existed.”

Khalid placed the photo gently on the table.

Then he spun around and hauled her to her feet.

Eyes dark as pitch lasered into hers.

“Perhaps because their hearts are broken!” He shook her until her teeth rattled. “Perhaps they can’t bear to be reminded of their loss. Perhaps it’s too damned painful to remember!”

Charisse met his pain head on with her own.

“Of course it is painful. It’s supposed to be painful, Khalid. She’s dead. And when you love someone so deeply, a part of you dies with them, too. That is perfectly normal.”

She flinched as his hands fisted.

His temper sparked and spat in dark eyes drowning in torment and fury.

So much suffering was reflected there that her heart broke for him.

His hands held her arms too tight.

“You have no conceivable idea of how I feel. How dare you use your psychobabble on me?”

Charisse jerked her arms free and faced him.

“Come with me,” she commanded.

His wife spun on her heel and Khalid found himself following her through the apartment.

With a flourish she flung open enormous double doors and stood back.

He didn’t want to take a step forward.

But by the way her chin lifted, by the way her eyes dared him, he entered.

The space was light and airy and the ultimate feminine sanctuary.

His feet sank into a soft carpet of ivory wool, and the room smelled of flowers and warm woman.

Taking centre stage was a huge bed strewn with white silk pillows. Its vast headboard reached the ceiling, carved ornately from wood, and painted white. All set under a dramatic tiered chandelier of dripping crystal.

“It’s a bedroom.” He stalked around the room. Surely she wasn’t considering sex at a time like this? He turned to her. “Am I supposed to be flatt…”

He stopped dead.

With his heart battering against his chest, he stood rooted to the spot and stared at the opposite wall. At a huge black and white photograph of Jamila and her best friend Mia taken a couple of months before he’d… he’d killed them.

He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.

My God, they looked so happy.

Mia held a huge lizard in her hands, and their expressions brimming over with gleeful delight.

Charisse sank to the edge of her huge bed, and let out a deep sigh.

“I love that picture. I remember the day it was taken as if it was yesterday. It was a school trip to the zoo.” She gave a soft laugh. “Our housemistress, Miss Brown, was terrified of reptiles. She was behind the camera, as you can tell by their naughty expressions.”

Khalid squeezed his eyes tight and felt something rise up and snap and release inside him. He was beyond pain.

He fell to his knees, rolled onto the floor and curled into a tight ball.

The sound of an animal keening in tortured agony sounded in the room and he realised it came from himself.

Strong, determined hands placed a pillow under his head and a blanket over him. One of those strong hands gripped his. And Khalid clung to it like a drowning man going down for the last time.

He had no idea how long he lay there weeping, it might have been hours, but at last the sea calmed.

For the first time in his life he felt—anchored.

Throughout it all Charisse never stopped stroking his hair.

His throat felt raw and his voice hoarse as he spoke, “I killed them.”

Charisse pressed her slim body into his back, her arm slipped across his waist to hold him tight.

He clung on to her hand for dear life.

“What do you remember?” she whispered.

At last Khalid’s shuddering breathing steadied and Charisse knew they were only in the calm of the eye of the storm.

“The weather was glorious. A perfect Mediterranean day in May. No wind. The girls were so excited posing in their bikinis, like super models, they said. No longer girls, not quite women.” He gave an unsteady laugh. “I remember Sarif saying Papa had already decided to chain Jamila to her room. She wasn’t getting out again until she was thirty. That she would give us all grey hair. And I remember Mama rolling her eyes.”

The sob caught in his throat squeezed her heart, but she’d started this, so she would finish it.

“What happened next?”

“The boat was new. A Sun seeker, fast, shiny, sleek. Mia leapt aboard first saying it smelled new. Like a new car.”

He squeezed her hand even harder, turned to lie on his back and stared unblinking into the ceiling.

Charisse leaned on her elbow, head on her hand. Her other hand was still gripped by his.

“It was just the three of us. Omar was to follow on another boat. The girls waved to Sarif and my parents standing on the dock. They’d posed for photos with Sarif telling them to behave like ladies.” He frowned, eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling as his mind took him back to what he remembered of that day. “Jamila said, ‘This is pathetic, Khalid. Go faster.’ Mia just laughed. I pushed the throttle and the bow rose, it kicked forward. We were laughing and cheering…” Tears now ran into his hairline. His eyes met hers. And she read the heartbreak, the confusion.  “I don’t remember. I woke up in hospital.” He squeezed his eyes tight shut. “I killed them.”

“Why do you feel that? It was an accident.”

He turned to her and stared into her eyes. “Why didn’t I see the resemblance when we met? You are so like Mia.”

Khalid read utter trust, sympathy and empathy in those deep blue eyes.

And knew he didn’t deserve it.

“I’d been drinking,” he admitted the truth.

Charisse jerked back, eyes wide and cool, and it broke his heart to see the shock and the anger. “How many?”

“I can’t remember.”

“If you can remember conversations, then clearly, you must be able to remember how much alcohol you had to drink?”

Khalid frowned now and shook his head.

“I don’t know if I can remember conversations or if that’s what I was told was said.”

Charisse held his gaze.

“Okay. Let’s think about this logically for a moment. Would your parents or your brother permit you to go out in a powerful boat with their most precious possession if they thought for a moment you’d been drinking? It doesn’t make sense!”

He shook his head.

She rose to her feet.

“Stay right there. I’ll be back in a moment.” Turning to the wolfhounds who were watching them from the doorway, she made a hand signal and issued the instruction, “Guard him.”

Khalid lay on his back staring at the fan on the ceiling lazily stirring the hot air and thought of the days and weeks after the accident. He’d been doped with morphine for a broken collar bone, six cracked ribs and a fractured skull. He could have sworn a voice told him he’d been drinking. That he’d killed those children. That his family would never forgive him.

His hand fisted now, what was the point of going over and over it all again?

Charisse entered the room carrying a thick file.

She dropped on the floor beside him and gave him a very level look.

“Take that expression off your face, Khalid. And stop thinking.” She kissed him on the nose. “You think too damned much. Didn’t anyone give you the basic facts?” Flicking through documents and muttering to herself about stubborn fools, she pulled out a sheaf of papers.

“Here we are. Your blood tests. Hospitals do these as a matter of routine after any accident,” she said as if talking to an imbecile. She pointed to a line which stated blood alcohol level. “What does it say?” She demanded and watched him read the result.

He sat up as she raised her eyebrows and a small weight lifted from his heart.

He cleared his throat, “Nil.”

Charisse crossed her legs into the lotus position and flicked her fingers in a ‘come here’ gesture.

“Speak to me, Rock Star. If this fact is telling you in black and white that you were sober, why did you think you were drinking? If you look at the results more closely there is no trace of substance abuse. Not even an aspirin.”

“I’ve never touched drugs.” He read through the documents then lifted his head and stared into her face. “Where the hell did you get these?”

“Amir demanded copies of everything. He went over each fact with me.” She tucked her hair behind her ears. “It helped me deal with acceptance.” Then she rubbed her nose and didn’t quite meet his eyes. “And forgiveness.”

His dark eyes snapped to hers. “You blamed me?”

“In the beginning, for a while, yes, I did.”

He rose and tugged her to her feet.

His hand cupped her chin.

As he pressed his mouth to the side of hers, he felt her tremble as she continued,

“Mia’s death was a catalyst for a chain of events that brought me here. I blamed you for many things.”

His hand smoothed the skin on the back of her neck and he pulled her closer, stared down into those amazing blue eyes and saw the truth there.

“But you don’t blame me now. Why is that?”

“Facts. I have the truth. It was an accident, Khalid. There were witnesses.”

Khalid took a step back, but kept hold of her hand and those dark, intense eyes stayed on hers.

“I don’t deserve you.”

Charisse pulled her hand from his as jumpy nerves danced in her gut.

She read guilt in those dark eyes.

And she knew this still wasn’t over.

“Tell me, Khalid. Did you love your sister?”

His eyes narrowed fractionally and she could see his brain trying to figure out where the conversation was going.

“Very much.”

“Were you a good brother?”

His eyes never left hers and she read the truth. “Yes,” he said.

“Did she love you, adore you?”

He blinked. “Yes.”

Charisse moved to stand before the vast black and white photograph on the wall and stared into those beautiful, happy faces, and continued,

“How would Jamila feel, do you think, if she knew you were punishing yourself? Would she be proud of how you refuse to accept any happiness in life? How you refuse to give and receive true love? Is a life of misery what she would want for you?

“Do you want to know what I think?” she continued, turned and looked him dead in the eye. “I think she’d be ashamed of you, Khalid, and desperately, desperately sad.”

The flash of pain in those dark eyes told her she’d shocked him.

He stood as if turned to stone.

A voice warned her he’d had enough, but she moved to a beautifully carved small bureau.

“I have many other photos of the girls in albums here. Why don’t you sit and go through them and the documents? Take all the time you need.”

He didn’t move, didn’t say a word.

Backing out of the room, she was babbling and had no idea why, which made her nerves jump even more and her stomach clutch even harder. “I’ll be out here if you need me for anything.”

Charisse closed the doors and puffed out a breath.

It was the look in his eyes that had unnerved her.

Dark, demanding and predatory. And… tempted.

Boris looked exactly like that when he’d spotted a roasted chicken when cook’s back was turned. If Charisse had not given him a warning look, the wolfhound would have swallowed it whole.

That same temptation was in Khalid’s eyes, too.

He was tempted to do something to her and she didn’t want to begin to think of what that might be.

And she realised he hadn’t answered her initial question.

The medical records had not been sealed.

The results clear for anyone who’d wished to check them.

Who had told him he had been drinking?

She sighed.

Something was still very wrong.

Underneath that sophisticate, sexy shell, her husband was so incredibly vulnerable.

And why did that make her feel as weak as a newborn puppy?

Analysing the situation with her own unique brand of logic, Charisse couldn’t decide whether she liked or feared his vulnerability. Maybe both? How confusing was that?

Exercise, that’s what she needed.

It would clear her mind.

 

 

Desert Orchid – Copyright

By CC MacKenzie

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Twenty coming tomorrow…. will Khalid ever find peace?

 

Christine X

Happy Valentine’s Day, and do I have the perfect read for you…..Desert Orchid, Chapter Seventeen…..

desertorchid17

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Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014 Desert Orchid

 

Chapter Seventeen

Five days later, one of the many things that intrigued Charisse about her new husband was his apparent inability to simply be still.

The idea of relaxation was a complete anathema to Khalid.

The morning after the massage, her gasp of awe as she’d stepped out of the sliding doors of their bedroom had made him laugh into her hair. He’d held her tight as she’d leaned back into the hard length of his body. She’d simply inhaled the clear mountain air and absorbed the reality of the stupendous views of mountain tops for as far as the eye could see.

Amir had rarely taken her out of Onuur. As part of his quest to complete her education, and for her to experience other cultures, Amir had taken her to a mountain resort in the African country of Zimbabwe. The resort of ‘Leopard’s Rock’ was a place with stupendous views right over the mountains of the moon into Mozambique. The views here reminded her of that amazing sight.

The vast property, carved out of rock, had a comprehensive library she loved to explore. As well as a state-of-the-art gymnasium, there was a rock pool with gin-clear water fed by an underground spring. There were a couple of entertainment rooms, one of which held a cinema screen with six velvet loungers, the colour of red wine, and large enough to fit two people.

Just last night he’d made love to her in one of those loungers while enjoying a movie.

Khalid also spent a great deal of time drawing using pen and ink. And usually he was drawing her, which was taking a bit of getting used to, especially the way that intense gaze analysed her face, and her body. Those darkly brooding eyes missed absolutely nothing. He was beginning to know and understand her in ways that made her uneasy. He saw too much. He’d taken possession, not just of her body, but of her mind.

The trouble was, Charisse mused, as she floated on her back in the heavenly cool water of the rock pool, that though he understood her, Khalid himself remained a man of mystery. Every time she thought she’d found the heart of him, yet another layer appeared.

She’d begun to suspect that emotionally he deliberately kept her at arm’s length. Now she wondered why that was, and what she was going to do about it.

Something else that bothered her was that a full night’s sleep eluded her husband.

Even after making love he appeared to find it impossible to switch off.

Not once had she woken to find him asleep. Although he permitted her to rest and recover after making love, she knew that if she’d been physically one hundred per cent fit, he would turn to her many times during the night. His hunger for her body showed no signs of abating. Not that she was complaining, the feeling was mutual and she loved every single thing he did to her.

However, the one subject that he refused to discuss with her was the boating accident, which had had such a devastating impact on him, and on his relationship with his family. Her instincts told her that if she could just get him to open up and talk about the event, she might develop an insight into what tormented him.

Two days ago she’d been relaxing by the pool and mentioned something his mother had said about his sister. The agonising look on his face was something she’d never forget in a hurry. He’d stood and simply walked away. It had taught her to think carefully in case she spoke out of turn. But having to take care with her thoughts, her words, had meant Charisse couldn’t relax and just be herself.

In her old life, Amir had demanded that she question something she did not understand. He’d encouraged her to analyse and dissect a situation or problem in order to find a solution.

Now, she discovered she was unable to do that with her new husband. And she was intelligent enough to understand that the tension and anxiety she was experiencing around Khalid, because she was not being her authentic self, would only get worse if this situation continued. Khalid was perfectly correct. He was a difficult man to live with, and their tricky bonding situation was affecting her usual good humour.

He also didn’t want to know anything of the events that had led to her father’s physical abuse, which was  all the more bewildering when she considered the lengths he’d gone to, and how determined he’d been, to ensure she accepted the physical scars that marred her flesh. There hadn’t been a repeat of the wonderful massage, either. She still hadn’t learned how to ask him for pleasure. And tried not to be bitterly disappointed that he hadn’t taken her to the dizzy heights of their first night together. Just thinking about it now made her nipples bead too tight as a liquid heat throbbed between her legs.

“Darlin’, Tell me the thought that’s just gone through that beautiful head,” Khalid drawled from his position under a vast sunshade. He was lazing on a lounger with a pad and pencil in his hand. As usual he was drawing her.

Charisse closed her eyes and just let herself float.

He did, did he?

Irritation with his attitude and his demand to know her thoughts coiled in her belly.

Reluctantly, she opened her eyes to find him standing at the edge of the rock pool. He wore multi-coloured board shorts, his eyes fixed on her. Yet again, her lungs squeezed at the picture of pure male perfection. His strong arms were folded across a wide muscular chest bronzed by the sun. Black hair tied back at the neck. A wave of pure lust threatened to overwhelm her. With interest he studied the traitorous heat flooding her face. Then his sharp gaze dropped to her screaming nipples and those dark eyes narrowed fractionally.

Eyes that saw too damned much, she decided, feeling annoyed and strangely vulnerable.

No way was she going to tell him she was recalling the deep pleasure of having her bottom massaged. Why should she encourage the gorgeous specimen of manhood standing there looking too damned hot for his own good. Plus, she didn’t want to beg for it. Why should she?

So she frowned at him, and pouted in a way that had dark brows wing into his hair.

He ran his teeth over his bottom lip—always a warning sign.

Nerves might clutch in her belly, but on this occasion, Charisse decided to ignore the warning.

“My thoughts are no concern of yours,” she informed him, not bothering to hide the bite in her voice. She moved her arms in lazy circles, tipping back her head in the water to enjoy the heat of the late afternoon sun on her face. All the while she watched him under her thick lashes.

The flash in those dark eyes alerted her to his present mood.

Not good.

“Get out of the pool,” he ordered in a do-not-mess-with-me voice.

Her heart beat a little faster in her chest, with excitement, and with something that felt like fear.

However, the little devil that lived in her psyche, and rarely gave her any trouble, nudged her now. She was perfectly happy where she was, thank you very much. Plus, she was sick of him always getting his own way. It was okay for him to crawl around her mind, but not for her to talk to him about the things that mattered in his.

“No,” she said. And tossed in a glare for good measure.

He blinked.

Then those eyes went too dark as they held hers with an intensity that made her throat go bone dry.

What on earth was she doing?

Challenging him was like poking a big bad tempered panther with a pointy stick.

When he spoke the deadly softness in that deep voice made her tremble,

“Believe me. You don’t want me coming in there to get you, baby.”

For two seconds she toyed with telling him to get lost before she decided against the idea.

Throwing him a look that would melt solid steel, Charisse took her own sweet time as she swam to the steps.

Climbing out of the rock pool, she turned her back to him as she bent to wring water out of her hair. The white string bikini she wore was no more than three small scraps of fabric that hardly covered the bare essentials. These days she’d learned to overcome any inhibitions she might have with her body since Khalid made sure she was as comfortable naked as she was clothed. Hardly surprising, since she spent most of her time naked around him.

He held out a big white towel.

The scent of him as he stood too close jangled her nerves.

She took the towel with a muttered, “Thank you.”

After all good manners cost nothing.

And as her heart thudded against her ribs, she hid her face in fluffy white cotton trying to gather her scattered wits. Why was she so on edge and snarky with him?

Avoiding his eyes, she spent a long time dabbing at her legs, arms and her torso.

Her wound was healing nicely, and the arnica ointment Junah religiously used every day was doing the trick. Excellent food and plenty of rest had helped, too. Today she was feeling better than she had for months. She was filling out a little, she noticed, as she pressed the towel to her breasts.

The late afternoon sun was still fierce and Khalid took her hand to tow her under the shade of a vast cream umbrella.

It never ceased to amaze her how a simple touch of his hand had the nerves jump deep in her belly. Right on cue her nipples responded. He took the towel from her and patted it across her shoulders, her back, before turning her to face him. She kept her eyes firmly on his wide chest. And her mouth watered to press her lips against those tight dark nipples. Her gaze ran down the light sprinkling of sleek black hair that slid down in a dreamy path over rock hard abs and down under the waist of his slow slung shorts. And she couldn’t fail to notice the thick hard bulge of his arousal.

Knowing the move would be like a red rag to a bull, Charisse licked her lips.

“Look at me.” With a reluctance that made his lips twitch, her eyes met his. “I asked you a question.”

Her inner devil gave her another nudge.

With each word she poked her index finger into that rock hard chest, “My thoughts are none of your business.”

He caught her hand, brought it to his mouth. One after the other he sucked each finger so slowly, so thoroughly, that arousal flared between her legs. She had to bite down hard on her bottom lip to trap the moan in her throat.

“What’s the matter, baby? You look all hot and bothered and… frustrated. You been having wicked thoughts?”

Her eyes dropped to his mouth as he gave her fingers a final lick with the flat of his tongue. A sensation that made her shudder as she felt the slippery heat of his tongue in her secret places. Instead of releasing her hand, he took her fingers in his own and slid them down her torso, over her flat belly, under her bikini bottom and into the hot, slick, heat between her legs.

Stunned disbelief had her eyes glued to his.

She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think as he guided her fingers to pleasure herself again and again until she gasped and shuddered.

Just as she’d begun to ride their joined fingers, he stepped away.

Shame burned her cheeks and her eyes slid from his.

Immediately, strong fingers gripped her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes.

He watched her with an intensity that made her heart go wild in her chest.

“I’m not having you look at me like that. Take off the bikini.”

Alarm flared in her chest. “What about the servants?”

Those dark eyes never left hers. “In their quarters until I require them. Strip.”

He released her and then turned to sit among cream cushions on a comfortable chair. Then he sat back and relaxed as he watched her struggle with the wet knots of her white bikini. By the time she’d managed to undo the top and slip out of the bottoms, the jumpy nerves in her belly were screaming.

Before she could utter a single word of complaint, she was scooped up in his strong arms, and he marched through the open glass door of their bedroom.

Khalid growled low in his throat and tossed her onto the soft bed.

He stripped out of his board shorts, his thick erection reaching for the ceiling.

Crisp cotton sheets cooled her fevered flesh, but Charisse barely had time to take a breath before he lowered himself on top of her. Every inch of skin heated by the sun touched hers, the sensation almost made her go up in flames of need.

How could he possibly have known loving Charisse could be like this?

Something had changed with her.

Instead of giving in to the need to take her fast and furious, Khalid decided to take it slow and easy. This time his kiss was soft, a delicate brush of the lips, not a crushing plunder of that soft mouth. He took his time savouring the taste, the flavour of her. Her mouth was so sweet, so soft, so wet. His tongue slid in to tangle with hers, and when she moaned he could have wept with the pleasure of it.

His hands went on a slow, gentle, discovery of her body. And she shuddered deliciously under him as he explored the soft fullness of her breasts, her belly, her hips. His knee gently nudged to push her legs apart. Mouth still fused to hers, he sighed in contentment as he settled his hips into the welcoming cradle of her hips. And it felt so good.

He didn’t speak.

He didn’t need to.

It appeared his wife knew exactly what he wanted her to do. Her endless legs wound around his hips as she tilted her pelvis to let him take her.

As slowly, slowly, he entered the doorway to heaven, he took her hands in his, their fingers threaded together. His thrusts were so slow and easy and deep. Her soft sighs and gentle cries of pleasure almost made him weep. Now those big blue eyes went hazy with desire and pleasure.

“Look at me, baby. See what you do to me.”

She blinked and her eyes focused on his and he knew he could drown in those sky blue depths. The sly voice in his mind tried to intrude on this special moment, but he thrust it away. And he opened his heart, his soul, to this amazing woman. She was so brave, so loving, so giving. “I love you, Charisse. Come with me, baby. Come with me.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out, only a low cry of completion as they soared together, two hearts beating as one.

Khalid’s body was still joined to hers, as he took her mouth again.

He’d never made love to her like this, as if she was the only woman in the world for him.

And her whole being sang from the glory of it.

Using lips, teeth and tongue, he nibbled a gentle path across her jaw to the sensitive spot where her pulse thundered under her ear. And Charisse couldn’t help it. Tears spilled over to leak into her hairline and the pillow. A sob escaped from her throat and his head jerked up to stare hard at her for a long moment, until he realised they were happy tears. And those eyes went soft and tender as he sipped the salty fluid on her cheeks. Reaching up to grip his hair, she indulged herself by tunnelling her fingers through those locks of dark silk.

“I love you so, so, much, Rock Star.”

He raised his head and gave her a genuine smile of such happiness it made her heart tremble. God, he looked fabulous when he was relaxed and so terribly happy. As her hand cupped his face, and her fingers stroked the taut skin across his cheeks, his brows, she clearly saw the little boy in the man.

“I already told you I can’t sing,” he admitted with a grin. “Tone deaf. Sarif used to say I sounded like a desert dog howling at the moon.”

Her laugh made him wince as his shaft twitched inside her. “It’s a bit sensitive,” he growled, and pretended to bite her neck.

“Sorry. I’ll try to keep still.” He tried to withdraw from her, but she clamped her long legs around his waist, and squeezed. “No. I like it this way.”

Khalid stared down into her eyes, kissed her mouth. “You’ve become very demanding. I’m too heavy for you.”

She shook her head. “That was the most wonderful lovemaking. Thank you.”

That smile came again, this time even wider. “It was my pleasure, darlin’.”

Again, he kissed her and this time it was so very soft, just a whisper. It was like a benediction, and Charisse felt something fundamental shift between them. He hardened inside her. They hadn’t just had great sex. They’d made love. Now he took her hand and pressed his mouth to the palm before pressing it to the strong beat of his heart.

Then he leaned on an elbow, slid his hand down her thigh to pull up her knee, opening her wider to him as his hips thrust slow and easy. The sensation of him swelling inside her caught the air in her lungs.

“What happened to recovery time?” she wondered.

He blushed.

She couldn’t believe it, Khalid embarrassed?

“Only with you, baby. It’s never happened before. I can’t get enough of you.”

“Kiss me, Khalid.”

His mouth explored hers, as his lips teased and tantalised and tasted. He savoured and sucked, nibbled and explored as his hips continued to stroke his rock hard body against her sweet spot. Then he rolled his hips and nothing could stop the hot passion of their coupling. He slipped his tongue inside her mouth in a shallow rhythm that sent her soaring, and she gave him thrust for thrust as they climaxed together.

As he collapsed on top of her, it was difficult to breathe, but Charisse didn’t care. Yes, he was difficult to live with, too bossy and dominant. But she wouldn’t change a single thing about him. She loved and was loved. What more could any woman ask for?

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014 Desert Orchid

 

Hmm, things going too smoothly for Khalid and Charisse?

Stay tuned for Chapter Eighteen…..

Christine X

Desert Orchid, Chapter Twelve…

DESERT ORCHID CHAPTERtwelve

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Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Twelve

Charisse awoke in a sunny bedroom.

She smelled antiseptic and flowers.

All was quiet.

She had a cannula in her left arm.

Her other hand was held by Khalid’s. His dark head rested on her bed. He was sound asleep. Deep lines of exhaustion ran down each side of his beautiful mouth.

A young woman wearing a nurses’ uniform popped her head in the door and padded to her bedside.

She smiled at Charisse. “Would you like to suck on ice?”

Charisse nodded as Khalid’s head jerked up.

His dark eyes flew to hers. “Hey, honey. How’re you feeling?”

The nurse slipped a sliver of ice in her mouth and the liquid melted in her parched throat. She gave her another as Charisse became aware of a dull ache near her left hip.

“What–?” she croaked.

“What happened?” Khalid finished the question for her, and she gave a nod. “You were shot.” His eyes stayed on hers as a black brow rose. “And when you’re feeling better, we are going to have a little chat about your late night jaunts into the desert.”

“Diablo?” she whispered.

She read the grief and sad truth in his eyes.

His fingers squeezed hers. Her mouth trembled. Asim had given her Diablo as a colt. She’d even helped to train him. Her eyes closed tight as the pain of yet another loss battered her heart.

Then her eyes flew open.

“The dogs?”

Hot tears ran from her eyes, into her hairline, to seep into her pillow.

“They are fine,” Khalid said, his voice brusque.

Her eyes met his and she read the fury.

Who could blame him?

She’d left the palace without his permission.

By now he knew about her meeting with Sheik Abbas, about Omar, and he’d want to know exactly why she hadn’t told him. It now hit Charisse hard that she’d behaved very badly. In fact, by leaving the palace without proper protection she’d been incredibly stupid. On the day of their marriage Khalid would become the ruler of Onuur. She hadn’t given him his place, or the proper respect.

The ache in her side reminded her of why she was here. Pushing down the blanket, she lifted her hospital gown to investigate the wound. And winced when she saw a livid bruise the size of a man’s fist glowing red and angry under a white dressing taped to her side.

“A little nick,” Khalid told her in a drawl that did nothing to hide his annoyance.

Her face burned as his hand reached over to slide her gown over the wound and pull up the sheet.

She opened her mouth, but before she said a word, a doctor entered.

As the medic gently examined her wound, Charisse expected Khalid to leave the room, but he didn’t budge. The doctor made it clear she’d had a lucky escape. She was expected to make a full and quick recovery.

But when the nurse turned her over to lie partially on her tummy, Charisse’s face burned. The soft moan that escaped from her throat was not just of pain, but of mortification, too.

Oh no.

Khalid’s shocked inhale of breath made her bite down hard on her bottom lip.

He’d be horrified and appalled. Any normal man would be by the livid scars that marred the flesh of her lower back, her buttocks.

The nurse returned her to rest on her back, and Charisse closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at the nurse, or the doctor. And certainly not at Khalid who now held her hand as if he’d never let it go.

The sound of the door closing had her open her eyes to find they were alone.

“Look at me.” His tone informed her it was an order, not a request.

Heart pounding in her chest, she did as she was told.

Dark eyes burned into hers with an intensity that made her lick her dry lips.

Her eyes stung.

“Did my uncle do that to… ?”

Horrified he should even consider such a thing, she shook her head.

“No,” she whispered.

Those eyes never left hers. “Your father? Don’t look so surprised. I’ve been hearing plenty about that son-of-a-bitch.” Now he took her hand to his mouth and pressed a gentle kiss on her fingers. “Why on earth didn’t you tell me what had happened to you?”

Not prepared to go there with him, not yet, she shook her head.

Another fat tear escaped and ran into her hairline.

He pressed another kiss to her fingertips.

“Okay. You need to sleep. But, Charisse, we have a lot to talk about.”

And she looked forward to that conversation with nothing but dread.

Ten days later, Charisse lay on a fat cushioned daybed made of white wicker.

The bed was set in the shade of a tree in the stunning rose garden of the royal palace in Dhuma.

She was dressed in a light kimono of silk the colour of fresh butter and buttoned to the neck, fitted matching pants, and gold ballet slippers. With drowsy eyes she watched honey bees buzz lazily from flower to flower. The air, warm and scented, was having a soporific affect on her senses, leaving her more relaxed than she had been for months.

Arabella was now seconded to Prince Sarif’s personal staff. And she was co-ordinating the search for Omar. The man had disappeared. The theory was that someone was hiding him. And Khalid feared a conspiracy.

Sheik Abbas had arrived to see for himself that Charisse was in fact alive and gaining strength by the day. He’d offered his support to help root out the source of growing dissent against Khalid in Onuur. Sheik Abbas had also managed to receive an undertaking from the King Abdullah and his sons that once Omar was found, he would be handed over to him to receive a just punishment for his crimes. For once Khalid and Charisse were in agreement, perfectly happy to let the tribes deal with the man.

There had been a tricky moment when Khalid had made it crystal clear to the Sheik that his future wife would no longer be meeting him in the middle of the night in the desert. Things had been tense between two proud men before they’d come to an understanding, as Arabella called it.

The stitches in Charisse’s wound had been removed.

And although still in a little discomfort, she was healing very nicely and had cut back on painkillers. The doctors were more than happy with her progress.

Arrangements for her delayed wedding to Khalid were also well underway.

They were to be married in a low-key ceremony in two days at the royal palace in Dhuma, followed by two weeks alone at Sarif’s ocean-front hideaway.

Khalid still hadn’t had his little talk with Charisse. And her nerves were in shreds every time she thought about digging up a past she preferred to keep buried nice and deep in her psyche. She believed in living in the moment and thinking about the next day, not time travelling into the past or the future.

Now she turned to the woman who was making herself comfortable in the chair next to her.

Queen Janaan was slim and tall. Dressed in a sheath of navy blue silk, she was a stunning brunette with delicate features and an amazing bone structure that she’d handed down to her sons. Although in her late fifties, she looked a decade younger. Her smooth skin was unlined. Now Janaan poured mint tea into a fragile cup and handed it to her.

Charisse smiled. “Thank you.”

Over the past days she’d found Khalid’s mother to be a lovely, warm woman. A woman who cared deeply for her family and her country. Her name before she’d taken the honorary name of Janaan, which meant the soul of the people, had been Catherine.

Pale grey eyes, just like her son’s, twinkled now as she smiled.

“You’re welcome,” she responded, her voice friendly with a lovely soft Texan drawl that always made Charisse smile. “Charisse is a special name. Did you know it means beauty, grace and kindness? It suits you.”

The beautiful woman wrinkled her nose and shook her head, which made Janaan’s eyes dance. “You don’t like compliments?”

A quizzical look entered those grey eyes when Charisse puffed out her cheeks, deciding that was a no-win question.

“I’ve never found my appearance to be a blessing, Highness. More of a curse.” And that was putting it mildly.

Janaan’s eyes went cool. “What happened to you after your mother died was the work of a monster, not a man.”

Refusing to let the sly slide of fear take root in her stomach, Charisse gave a jerky shrug of a narrow shoulder.

“It is what it is, Highness.”

Charisse didn’t want to be rude, but neither did she want to talk about her past. God knew she’d done enough of that with the psychologists Amir had insisted she’d talked to. As far as Charisse was concerned she was all talked out. She accepted that nothing that had happened to her had been her fault. That she’d done nothing to provoke her father’s behaviour towards her. That she could have done nothing to stop her mother taking her own life. She’d accepted all of it, and more.

“When it is just the two of us talking like this, please call me Janaan. Highness becomes  a little wearing after a while, don’t you agree?”

Charisse grinned in response to the twinkle dancing in the Queen’s eyes.

Now Janaan’s eyes went wide. “I can see why Khalid is madly in love with you,” she said.

Sincerely shocked, Charisse simply stared. “He doesn’t know me. It’s only been weeks since we met.” Alarm and something like excitement skittered up her spine. “Surely you are mistaken?”

Janaan’s dark brows winged into her hairline. “I know my son. He understands women very well.” Now her lips thinned in annoyed disapproval. “Of course, he’s had plenty of practice… of a certain type… You, I imagine, are a unique experience for him.”

Charisse still felt the after effects of a general anaesthetic, a sluggish thought process. But her pulse kicked as the words sank into her brain.

“I am not altogether sure I want to be a unique experience for him. There’s nothing special about me.”

Janaan blinked.

Then her grey eyes went sharp and cool in a way that made Charisse wonder what on earth she’d said to offend her.

“You do not strike me as a stupid woman, Charisse,” she said briskly.

The verbal slap on the wrist was a shock.

Stung, Charisse lifted her chin.

“I’m not. However, neither am I delusional. Khalid craves excitement. He craves the next thrill. I’ve never known a man who jumps from one thing to another. He finishes nothing, except his paintings.” With relief she saw Janaan relax and the warmth return to her grey eyes. Khalid’s mother, she realised, was no pushover. “He will soon tire of me,” Charisse added, believing every word.

Janaan shook her head.

“You have much to learn about men. However, I won’t interfere.” She smiled, took a sip of her tea. “It will be interesting to see how he copes with his feelings.”

Charisse frowned as she took a sip of her own tea.

Didn’t Janaan understand how damaged her youngest son was?

Placing her cup and saucer on the table between them, Charisse gazed at the older woman.

“Do you have any idea how greatly he suffers? That he never sleeps? He paints all day and all night.”

Colour drained from Janaan’s smooth skin, leaving her too pale. Her slim hands fisted on her lap, and Charisse’s stomach clutched. Wondering if she was doing the right thing by talking to Khalid’s mother about him, she swung her legs down and moved carefully to sit next to her. She took the queen’s hand before continuing,

“He never speaks of the accident that killed my sister and his. If I try to broach the subject of his past, he closes himself off. I believe he carries the burden of guilt. And it is a heavy burden too hard to bear. It may destroy him.”

Janaan stared at Charisse in fear. A fear which turned to confusion and upset.

The queen rose, and began to pace back and forth.

She stopped and turned to look down at her future daughter-in-law.

The grey eyes were stormy now as they clashed with hers.

“None of us blame him. The powerboat came out of nowhere and shot cross their path. There was nothing, nothing, Khalid could have done to avoid the collision…” The horror of that day poured into her mind. She placed a hand over her mouth, eyes huge and filled to the brim with swimming emotions. “Dear God, I know he’s always held himself responsible, but I had no idea he…” She blinked back tears and sank to the edge of the couch. Her eyes were fixed on Charisse. “After the accident, we were so devastated to lose Jamila. And we feared we were going to lose Khalid, too. He was in a coma for many days. He recovered physically. But psychologically he has remained closed off to us. I have tried to reach him…

“And I know Sarif has fought a battle to bring him back to us, but his attempts have led to nothing but arguments and made Khalid distance himself even further from his family, and his country.”

The whole family, Charisse realised now, had never come to terms with the loss of a beloved daughter and sister.

Something that had struck her quite forcibly when she’d arrived at the beautiful palace in Dhuma now entered her mind. “I notice there are no photographs of Jamila.”

Janaan flinched, as if from a hard slap. Charisse was famous for her tact and diplomacy. Now she wondered where the hell it had gone.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…” Horrified to have hurt a woman who’d been nothing but kind to her, she closed her eyes. “I have a big mouth…”

“No. No, child.” Janaan lifted her purse of soft leather, plucked a tissue and dabbed her eyes. “You are quite right. There are no photographs of Jamila in the main reception areas. We’ve been selfish enough to keep her to ourselves in our private apartments. Please, Charisse, do not look so stricken. You have not offended me.”

After an endless moment, during which Charisse silently berated herself for her crass stupidity and insensitivity, Janaan blew her nose heroically.

Their eyes locked as the queen shook her head.

“You were far too young to be married to Amir. If only I’d known about it. I’d have kept you with me. Amir was old enough to be your grandfather. And grandfather’s, Charisse, do not make love to their granddaughters,” Janaan said in a tightly disapproving voice.

Baffled, Charisse blinked.

Then her mouth made an O shape in shock.

Heat burned up her neck, into her face, and she shook her head.

Her voice was no more than a whisper, “Oh no. No. Our relationship was not a physical one.”

With dismay growing by the moment, she read the patent disbelief in Janaan’s sharp gaze.

When, Charisse wondered, would she learn to shut her mouth?

However, there was no way she would permit the queen to make wrong assumptions, or blame Amir, a man who had treated her like a daughter, for something he had not done.

With her heart hammering in her throat, Charisse realised that nothing but the truth would do. It didn’t matter that just thinking about the circumstances that had brought her to Amir made her body tremble, or that a cold sweat trickled down her back. For years she’d blamed herself, her looks, for what had happened. Until Amir had brought in two therapists who specialised in helping victims of child abuse to help her understand, and to finally accept, that her father’s behaviour was not her responsibility.

But she couldn’t seem to help the sense of shame – a shame that went too deep in her psyche – for the fact that her own flesh and blood had used his fists, and worse, on a vulnerable, defenceless, child. A child who had already lost so much. Mortification incinerated her flesh from her toes to her scalp as Charisse bowed her head to fix her swimming gaze on the white knuckles of hands clenched too tightly in her lap.

Her voice was no more than a hoarse whisper, “My mother didn’t have an easy or happy time of it in her marriage. My father was too controlling and demanding, obsessed with Mia, and not in a healthy way. Looking back, I think that was why my mother fought for my sister and I to attend boarding school in England. After Mia and my mother died, my father, I think, became unhinged. At least that’s what Amir believed. My father tried to have…” Her whole body gave a convulsive shudder as she gave Janaan the edited version of events. “Intimate relations with me… I fought him… but he is big and strong and I couldn’t… in the end he couldn’t maintain an… he wasn’t able to do it. So he used his fists, his feet, and a riding crop to beat me until I bled.

“By the time I came to Amir I was ill, and emotionally traumatised. For six months I couldn’t utter a word. Amir looked after me, cared for me, educated me, and loved me as a father should love a daughter. He never once looked upon me as a sexual object of desire. I owe him my life.”

“Bastard!” The way Janaan snarled the world viciously, brought Charisse’s head up. Their eyes met and she read nothing but fury, along with an unstinting support, which lightened the heavy load Charisse carried deep within her heart. “I am referring to your father, child. Amir kept you in seclusion?”

“Yes. To protect me. But it was my choice, too.”

Janaan narrowed her eyes. Her soft mouth went tight.

“And you always wear the veil?”

Charisse felt tension built across her shoulders at the implied criticism. “Yes, when I leave the palace. My husband requested that I comply with tradition.”

“Forgive me, but I am confused. For a woman who complies with tradition, what on earth were you doing riding out in the middle of the night to meet a Sheik in the desert?”

It was a very good question.

And now Charisse wondered how she was going to explain the complex working relationship she’d had with her late husband.

“Amir was a unique mix of the old world meeting the new. I might be a woman, but he only saw my intellectual capabilities and skills, not my gender. He regarded me as the right person for the job. Because my only agenda was to represent him and do what was best for the people, he trusted me implicitly to be his voice during government meetings. And, yes, he did permit me to meet with the most powerful man after the king in our country. He also expected me to be modest at all times and to wear traditional dress and to behave in a certain way. I did not and do not have a problem with his beliefs.”

“I find the idea of me standing in for Abdullah in meetings simply… fascinating. As far as clothing is concerned, you might find, my dear, that Khalid believes differently. Although, as my son, he respects a woman’s right to choose.” She paused, thought hard for a long moment. “And so your father wants you dead.” The remark was a statement rather than a question.

Charisse shrugged. “If he is the one who has put a price on my head. And we must remember that we do not have proof. If it is, then he fears losing everything he has worked for if the truth comes out.”

Even though she’d expected to have this conversation with Khalid, Charisse had found it a huge release, even cathartic, to talk about her past and the present situation with Janaan. And she found it easy to tell her nothing but the truth.

“The more powerful my father became, the more Amir believed he would harm me. And that, I think, is why Amir thought of Khalid as my husband. He spoke to King Abdullah of his plan.”

Janaan lifted a perfect eyebrow and nodded very slowly.

“And my husband, as I discovered very long ago, is perfectly capable of keeping secrets.” She gave a twisted smile, and patted Charisse’s cold hand. “Don’t look so anxious. You are not telling tales. This is typical behaviour of an El Haribe male. The little women are to be protected at all costs while the big strong men keep them safe.”

With a decided gleam in her grey eyes, she lifted a little silver bell and rang it once.

A servant, clad in the livery of the royal household, materialised and bowed deeply.

“Champagne on ice. And a platter of fresh fruit,” the queen ordered in an unexpected slow Texan drawl that had Charisse biting down hard on her bottom lip.

Trying hard not to laugh at how much the queen resembled Khalid when she was in the mood to be naughty, Charisse grinned into grey eyes brimming with sheer wickedness.

“Are we celebrating?”

“You betcha, honey!” Janaan sat back on the couch. Crossing long legs, she folded her arms and stared into the distance, apparently deep in thought.

After a timeless moment, Charisse placed her elbow on the arm of the couch, rested her chin on her hand, and decided to nudge the conversation along.

“Want to give me a clue what we’re celebrating, Janaan?”

The queen simply held up a finger as a silver platter of sliced mango and a variety of berries was placed on the table. Tall glasses of delicate crystal were filled with liquid bubbles that sparkled and fizzed. A heavy ice bucket of solid silver was placed on the table and held an open bottle of the best champagne.

Once the servants had bowed and left, Janaan handed a glass to Charisse and picked up her own. She clinked their glasses together and announced gaily, “To us! Never let the bastards get you down.” She took a sip, then their glasses clinked musically again. “Don’t get angry, get even.” Another sip and another musical clink. “And welcome to the family, honey.”

Charisse rarely drank alcohol.

She didn’t have the head for it.

Then she decided, what the hell, it would be churlish of her to refuse.

So she took a long sip. It was fruity and gorgeously pleasant. So she took another.

Janaan sat back, again deep in thought.

Watching her, her future daughter-in-law realised there was a tough cookie under Janaan’s fragile, polished exterior.

Silence reigned until the first glass was empty and refilled.

Then Janaan made a low, “Hmm,” sound under her breath.

Charisse wondered what on earth was coming next.

She didn’t have long to wait.

“Khalid cares deeply for you. He is madly in love. He is worried about you. Very worried. And that is a very, very, good thing,” Janaan drawled, sounding as if she was back in Texas.

Bewildered, but having the time of her life, Charisse gave her big eyes.

“Why is the fact he is worried about me a good thing?”

“Because if he’s worried about you, it means he is not brooding. It means he’s not in one of his black moods.” Janaan’s eyes slid to hers. “You’d better prepare yourself for those. I’ve often wondered if we should have insisted that Khalid have counselling after the accident. But he refused to entertain the idea. My son is very stubborn. You do realize he’ll blame himself for everything that has happened to you.”

Annoyed, Charisse took another sip of her wine. “That’s ridiculous. How is he responsible for my father’s behaviour?”

“Cause and effect. He’ll see the death of Mia, which he firmly believes is his fault, as the catalyst that killed your mother, tipped your father over the edge, and made him abuse you. Then there’s the fact you were shot on his watch. Since his bodyguard is in the frame, he’ll quite happily take the blame for that, too. And then there’s the orchestrated unrest in Onuur, which he’ll worry over like a dog with a bone. All the while holding himself responsible. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

Tiny wings of anxiety fluttered at her throat as Charisse did indeed see where Janaan was going.

“If you’re correct, then there is no logic to his thinking. He’ll put himself under immense pressure.”

The queen considered the remarks as they sipped their wine.

“Logic has nothing to do with Khalid’s thinking, or his behaviour. When he’s in a funk you’ll need to learn how to distract him.” Grey eyes studied her over the rim of her glass and Charisse felt the need to squirm under a direct gaze that reminded her so much of Khalid.

“You are a virgin?”

Charisse inhaled wine and choked.

Janaan handed her a tissue.

Once she’d caught her breath, her eyes flew to Khalid’s mother who’d cocked her head to watch her carefully. Since the truth was burning her cheekbones, what on earth was the point of lying? Taking a deep breath as if she was about to dive into the deep end of her swimming pool, she met eyes that missed nothing.

“Khalid made love to me shortly after we met.”

The delighted peal of laughter from Khalid’s mother was the last thing she’d been expecting. Janaan shook her head. Torn between mortification and the thrill of being able to talk about such things with another woman, Charisse couldn’t help but grin in return.

Thank goodness the woman didn’t think she was a slut.

“That’s my boy! He never hangs around when he wants something. I’ve heard all about Khalid’s sexual prowess.”

“Really, mother?” a deep voice drawled from behind them.

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Thirteen tomorrow… and Khalid takes things into his own hands…..

Christine X

Desert Orchid, Chapter Six…

 

DESERTORCHID

BUY HERE:  GOOGLE PLAY   iBOOKS   BARNES & NOBLE   KOBO   AMAZON

 

 Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Six

As she inserted earrings of fragile gold into her earlobes, Charisse refused to let the butterflies in her belly morph into bats.

The jewels were tissue thin and dangled like chandeliers to skim her shoulders. She’d tied her hair back to the nape of her neck, and Yasmin had added a matching bracelet to her narrow wrist.

With a critical eye Charisse stood and studied her reflection in the vast mirror leaning against the wall of her dressing room. Delicately applied mineral powder lightly covered her skin, making it appear pearlescent. Smudged kohl lined her eyes, and her mouth wore clear lip gloss.

“I never wear makeup, Yasmin. I don’t see why I need to start now.” Charisse leaned closer into the mirror to inspect her sister-in-law’s handiwork. The fluttering in her heart bothered her—it bothered her a lot. It had been going on all day since The Kiss. “I don’t look like me.”

“You do look like you, only more you.”

“That comment doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t need to make sense, it just is. Now turn around and let me look at you.”

Charisse did as she was told.

Her dress had been specially designed for her by the house of Chanel. It was made of heavy black silk to just above the knee with a high round neck and tight sleeves to her elbows. The neckline, hemline and sleeves were stitched with fine gold and silver embroidered leaves, which matched the embroidery at the hem of narrow legged Capri pants the colour of pewter. On her slim feet were open toed sandals of soft gold leather, which tied at the ankle. A waterfall of tiny gold balls fell from the ankle strap across her lightly tanned feet.

“You look beautiful, habibiti,” Yasmin told her as she placed a slim gold band around her neck.

Since Charisse regarded her supposed beauty as nothing more than a curse, vanity had never been a problem. After all, her looks had brought her nothing but fear, rejection and horror. Unlike most women her age, she never wore artificial enhancements. Until the arrival of Khalid there had been no one in her immediate sphere of influence to tell her she looked sexy or desirable. Why would they? Certainly Asim had taken absolutely no notice of her appearance. He’d taught her, showed her, that her mind was a beautiful and wondrous thing. And he’d encouraged her to voice whatever entered her mind as long as the thought was worth hearing. Their debates on the pros and cons of global communication technology, along with the positives and negatives of social networking, used to rage for days. If something didn’t make sense to her, Asim had encouraged her to unravel the facts, seek the alternative point of view, and to get to the heart of the matter.

To Charisse’s way of thinking Khalid might be a handsome (okay, stunning) man, but he was a man with real issues of character. He might have made a promise to his father and say he was reformed, but she wasn’t buying it.

In her world actions spoke louder than words. His well-documented behaviour, how he’d partied his way through three continents, living and bedding woman after woman, was a recorded fact not fiction. How could he expect her to accept his word that he was happy to give up his way of life, to change the habits of a lifetime, and embrace the polar opposite in just few days? Then rule a country, marry a complete stranger, father a child and live happily-ever-after was too incredible for Charisse to believe. Remembering the passion in his eyes when he spoke of making the oath to his father, Khalid had certainly sounded sincere. But would a promise be enough for an enduring change in his behaviour?

These thoughts and more spun around her brain.

Perhaps the words Asim had written in his letter about her helping Khalid fulfil his potential should be her goal? It sounded arrogant, but if Asim reckoned his nephew had potential, then surely it was up to her to help Khalid realise that the life he’d promised to embrace was now full of fantastic possibilities. That there was nothing he could not do, if he put his mind to it.

If anyone had told her she had an impossible task ahead, Charisse might have argued that no one, not even a spoiled prince, deserved to be tossed onto the scrap heap of life. As far as she was concerned, she’d been given a chance to live a full life, therefore Khalid deserved the same opportunity.

Ultimately, for their relationship to work, it was up to Khalid to make a real effort.

As Yasmin dabbed a light floral scent behind her ears, Charisse had to admit that the signs, thus far, were not favourable. Except, of course, for the amazing sexual chemistry that burned between them. But she understood enough of the human condition to acknowledge the fact that when attraction burned too hot it tended to burn out too fast.

And then where would that leave them?

The common bonds that underpinned a successful relationship were friendship and a deep mutual respect. As for love, well, she didn’t dwell on such a fickle emotion. It was much better to focus on reality rather than to wish upon a distant dream.

But tonight was only about dinner. Nothing more.

She would keep it casual, after all Khalid was a healthy male in his sexual prime and it was only natural that she felt attracted to him. But the trouble was he only had to enter a room and her hormones went crazy.

Charisse gave Yasmin a poor excuse for a smile and pressed the flat of her hand to her stomach. “I feel sick with nerves.”

Yasmin merely cocked her head, took her hand to lead her to the door.

“You have nothing to worry about. My nephews’ behaviour has been a welcome surprise. They’ve been very polite and respectful to me.” Charisse zoned out the older woman’s voice as they left the apartment and entered the elevator with Arabella bringing up the rear. Her sister-in-law appeared not to notice her lack of a response as she added in a sly tone, “And they are both incredibly handsome, don’t you think?”

Over Yasmin’s head Arabella sent Charisse a wicked grin as her dark-brown eyes danced into hers.

That grin made Charisse narrow her eyes. “Why are you not dressed?” she demanded to know. “I’m certain I invited you to join us for dinner this evening.”

He bodyguard gave her wide eyes.

“Did you? I don’t remember. Perhaps another time,” Arabella said in a silky voice that didn’t fool her queen for a moment. She knew her bodyguard regarded the invitation to dine with the princes as a break of protocol. Arabella had a stubborn streak a mile wide. However, as far as Charisse was concerned, Arabella had disobeyed a direct order. But before she could respond, they entered the formal reception room to find both El Haribe Princes waiting beside the magnificent fireplace of black marble. Logs crackled and flames danced in the grate. The nights were cold in the mountains. And Charisse was aware that her bodyguard had snapped to attention at her side.

Khalid strolled towards them like a big black cat, his eyes scanning Charisse from head to toe and back again. A smile of appreciation, of approval, tugged the corners of that marvellous mouth. He was dressed in a suit of dark grey silk with a white shirt and no tie. His glossy hair was tied at the neck accentuating his slashing bone structure. He looked like a rock star.

Without hesitation he moved in to take both her hands in his and brought them to his lips. All the while those penetrating eyes pinned hers. The familiar scent of his cologne mingled with the clean male heat from his body. The smell of him wound around her heightened senses, and her throat went bone dry.

He bent to kiss her, his breath burning a path across her cheek as he whispered in her ear,

“You look amazing.”

Before she could respond, he’d taken her hand in his while the other snuck around her narrow waist and pulled her into his side in a possessively masculine gesture that weakened her knees.

“Sarif, meet Her Royal Highness Queen Charisse,” Khalid drawled in a way that made her cheeks burn along with an overwhelming urge to run for her life.

Prince Sarif El Haribe sent his brother a bland look before his dark eyes, sharp and watchful, met hers.

He smiled.

Charisse realised she’d been holding her breath wondering what kind of reception she’d receive from the eldest of King Abdullah’s sons. But Sarif was kindness personified as he took her hand from his brother and bent to press his forehead to her fingertips.

He straightened and returned her hand into his brother’s keeping.

“My pleasure. I am so sorry for your loss. My uncle was a very private, a very unique, man.”

Sarif’s accent was British rather than American, although she picked up the slight transatlantic drawl in his speech, too. He was as tall and certainly as charismatic as his brother, but she didn’t receive that strange hum of attraction when she held his hand as she did with Khalid.

Her eyes stung as she returned his smile. “Thank you. Amir was a wonderful man.”

 

As Yasmin exchanged greetings with Sarif, Charisse found herself towed to a low couch.

Khalid tucked her into a corner and sat next to her, his big body turned towards hers and his arm stretched across the back of the couch, effectively blocking her in. His hand found hers and her eyes rose to meet his as again he took her fingertips to his lips.

Not used to public displays of affection, she couldn’t help the heat that scorched her neck and her cheeks.

His little chuckle of delight made her bite down hard on her bottom lip.

Her eyes flew to his and the proprietorial look in those eyes seriously unnerved her.

What they talked about over dinner she never knew since her entire being was too aware of Khalid. Of the stroke of his finger over the back of her hand. Of his solicitous attention to her every need. An attention that had Yasmin beaming benevolently upon them. But his behaviour left Charisse feeling terribly trapped and claustrophobic.

Swallowing her growing anxiety about the way she was being treated in public, Charisse wondered if the night would ever end. But Sarif spoke directly to her now and she paid attention to the conversation realising it was about literacy, specifically adult literacy.

More than delighted to discuss her favourite topic, she leaned over the table and for many minutes she forgot all about Khalid, forgot all about her overwhelming attraction to him, forgot all about wedding plans and her future as she explained the programme of mobile education centres, which had Sarif firing questions.

Perched on the edge of her dining chair, and using her hands to express her enthusiasm for her pet project, Charisse spoke, “The point is that our people are nomads. They pack-up and travel to who knows where, but the Sheiks keep in touch with our education centres and mobile health centres via satellite technology powered by solar energy. If there’s one resource we have plenty of it is the sun. Of course things change, but when the tribes arrive in Onuur we have in-depth records of births, deaths and marriages, which make it reasonably simple to plan ahead.”

Sarif frowned.

“So bringing the tribes into the twenty-first century, into the cities and towns is not where you see growth?”

Charisse shrugged.

“For many years Asim studied the histories of our peoples. As I said, they are nomads and often do not adapt well to city living. Asim firmly believed it was up to each tribe to decide how they wanted to live. It is not for us to force our technology and modern ways upon them. Surely that’s the whole point of being free? To be free to choose their own destiny? Therefore we decided to take education, support and medical help, to them. The key was to gain the trust of the men but more importantly, the women. Even though they defer to their men folk, women are the most forward thinking and open minded people among the tribes. We’ve sent four bright students, girls, to Oxford this year and many more to medical school in the United States and the United Kingdom, funded by those countries, and the students are all determined to return home to help their people.”

Enthusiasm gleamed in Sarif’s dark eyes as he leaned forward and he was about to speak when Charisse became aware of strong fingers massaging the sensitive skin of her neck in a possessive gesture that made her breath hitch in her throat.

“I believe we have a department of education who oversees all projects,” Khalid drawled in a silky voice that had her heart kick against her ribs. He continued, “Charisse promised to show me the gardens, particularly the orchids. And with the moon full this evening, I cannot think of a more romantic setting for me to woo my future wife.”

By her jolt of surprise, Charisse hoped it wasn’t obvious that she’d made Khalid no such promise.

Sarif bowed his head and sat back, deferring to his brother.

Khalid stood, took her hand and Charisse realised she had no choice but to go with him as Sarif wished them goodnight.

They strolled through the palace, out into the cool night, and into the garden.

And Charisse was acutely aware that Khalid El Haribe was not a happy man.

The tension rolling off him in waves made the jumpy nerves in her tummy wind even tighter. Something had upset him. Even though she wracked her brain, she couldn’t imagine what on earth she’d said to make him so angry.

Leading the way past a magnificent fountain trickling water through many rock pools, she sank to the edge of a wide bench made of cool marble. Tipping her head back to study the night sky, she wondered what on earth was the matter with the man she’d promised to marry,who now paced back and forth like a big black panther.

Hands thrust into his trouser pockets, Khalid stood before her and glowered and glared into her face.

“Just what the hell was all that about?”

Charisse was tired.

She was stressed.

And she was, she realised, seriously ticked off with his appalling attitude.

Her chin came up.

“You’ve lost me. Your brother and I did nothing more than exchange ideas about his education programme in Quaram, comparing it to the one we’ve implemented here in Onuur.” Her eyebrows rose. “What’s the matter, Khalid? If you’re not the centre of the known universe you simply throw a little temper tantrum and interrupt a serious conversation about vulnerable people?”

She stood.

And realised immediately that those dark eyes had narrowed into slits.

The way his mouth went tight, she realised they were going to have a scene.

Oh, God, she hated scenes.

Then annoyance with him, and with herself, that she’d even consider appeasing a person who was behaving like a spoiled and indulged child, Charisse decided it was just too bad if Khalid didn’t like the truth because he’d better get used to it.

Okay, her legs felt like rubber and her stomach lurched.

But she forced herself to get over it.

Her hands rested on her hips and she spread her legs.

“What the hell is your damned problem?”

 

 

 

Khalid blinked twice.

And simply stared at someone who’d morphed from a shrinking violet into a spitting kitten and who was looking at him entirely without fear.

What had happened to the shy, retiring, broken-hearted widow?

The woman standing before him now looked as if she could rip out his heart.

Those big blue eyes stared into his in a way that made his lungs tight and he found himself trying very hard not to laugh.

God, she was simply amazing, standing there looking ready to punch him and seriously annoyed that he’d interrupted her cosy little chat with his brother.

And that thought brought his mind back to how he’d felt sitting between them like a lemming listening to his brother and Charisse discuss things that had made him feel increasingly uneasy.

Why?

The realisation now hit him that he’d felt uncomfortable because Charisse and Sarif spoke the same language. They cared desperately about their people and the way they lived their lives. They worried about what was best for them and how to help them prosper.

And yes, he was honest enough with himself to admit that the way his brother and his future wife had connected did make him feel somehow… inadequate.

But was it their fault that he felt somehow less than they were?

For the first time in his life Khalid had to admit that he was responsible for his own feelings.

All these thoughts and more raced through his mind as he stood staring down at the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and so did something else.

Fear.

A heavy stone of fear settled in his gut.

Fear that he’d never measure up to his father, his mother, his brother and his future wife.

Fear that he’d fail again to be a man, a good husband, a good father and a good son made something like panic grip him by the throat.

Jesus, what had made him think he could do this?

Watching him very carefully, Charisse narrowed her blue eyes into slits now as she stared up at him, and Khalid had the deeply uncomfortable feeling that she could read his mind.

“I do believe you’re jealous,” she murmured.

 

He opened his mouth to refute the outrageous suggestion because it had been crystal clear to him that although his brother and Charisse were evenly matched intellectually, they were not remotely attracted to one another.

But then again, surely it might sound better to appear jealous rather than insecure?

There had always been a competitive sibling rivalry between him and Sarif, which brought into his mind the one thing that had seriously annoyed him.

“You were the one who said you would much rather marry my brother, remember?”

Her eyes never left his as she frowned now and said nothing for an unremitting moment.

And all the while those narrowed blue eyes never left his.

Again, he had the spooky feeling she was reading his mind.

Charisse, Khalid was coming to realise, was one sharp cookie.

“You don’t want it, do you?”

Confused, he blinked.

“It?”

“The country, the people, and me. You don’t want us. Do you, Prince?”

 

Deliberately testing him, Charisse had made the tone insulting.

She didn’t miss the spark of sheer temper in his dark eyes, quickly hidden, but she noticed something else, too. The hand in his trouser pocket was fiddling with what appeared to be worry beads.

Khalid was nervous?

And he hadn’t once participated in the education debate with his brother.

Interesting.

Let’s see what you’re made of, Khalid.

“You are nothing but a party animal who’s made a career out of avoiding any semblance of responsibility for himself, his family and his country. Drinking and whoring are hardly the requisite skills for running a country. And by your behaviour this evening, you’ve just proved to me that the ability to discuss serious issues is beyond you.”

For a moment Charisse thought she’d pushed him too far, but the stunned shock on his face made her reckless.

The time had come to shove him over the edge.

She took a step towards him.

He took a step back.

“If you were me, Prince, and had a choice, how would you feel about marrying a whoring tom-cat like you?”

 

Completely thrown by the face of an angel with the voice of the Devil, Khalid shook his head to clear his thoughts.

One minute she’d been pleasant and purring to his brother, the next she was hissing and spitting at him. Plus, she had unerringly put her finger on the crux of the matter.

He gave her a tight little smile.

“Of course, you are correct. I wouldn’t choose me over Sarif, either. However, in the spirit of plain speaking, you still haven’t explained to me how a sixteen year old was paid over three million Euros to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather?”

Silence.

Their eyes clashed with mutual loathing.

When she remained silent he simply shrugged.

And then unwittingly hammered another nail into his own coffin.

“Now who’s the whore?” he drawled.

 

Unrelenting grey eyes bored into hers.

Khalid studied her with an intensity, a focus, Charisse found terribly disturbing.

Then he turned to walk away.

But a righteous anger burned the very marrow in her bones.

How dare he call her a whore?

“Coward!” she yelled at the top of her voice.

He stopped dead.

Very slowly Khalid turned and now those furious eyes found hers.

A shiver of apprehension slid down her spine as that deep voice drawled,

What did you just call me?”

Later, she’d wonder what had possessed her as sheer temper won the struggle with common sense.

Trembling, she dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands as the air around them crackled and sparked with their joint fury.

She lifted her chin. “I said you are a coward. And if you ever call me a whore again, I will make you very, very sorry.”

In one stride he stood before her and it took every ounce of courage she had not to step back or turn and flee.

He might be bigger, stronger, and breathtakingly gorgeous, but she refused to let him intimidate her.

If he hadn’t smiled like a big hungry tiger and looked at her as if she was dog dirt she might have just held onto her temper. But since he did both, her arm swung back and the sound of the crack of her fist against his hard jaw reverberated around the garden.

His head jerked back and Charisse gasped as agony lanced up her arm and into her shoulder.

“You little witch. You hit me!”

Stunned, Khalid pressed his fingertips to his lip, checked out the blood, and stared at her as if she’d lost her mind.

Wondering if she’d broken her fingers, Charisse saw with something like horror those eyes go black with utter fury.

Omigod.

 

Ignoring the pain in her hand, and with her heart hammering in her throat, Charisse decided she’d lost her mind. There was something about him that seemed to bring out the worst in her. She’d never struck another human being in her life. A horrible mix of guilt, shame and sickness burned in her throat.

But the time had come to make a stand.

She refused to back down now, because if she lost the battle for consideration from him this evening, she’d lose the war in the long run.

“And I’ll do it again in a heartbeat if you don’t begin to show a little respect,” she yelled at the top of her voice.

The look in his eye made her want to flee for her life.

Something must have shown in her face because he actually growled the words,

“If you run I’ll catch you and things will be even worse for you, my little wildcat.”

Her terrified heart pumped even more adrenaline through her system, but pride rode to her rescue. And that pride made her chin jerk. Her nostrils flared as her eyes clashed with his.

“Lay one finger on me and you’ll be sorry. You’re nothing but a big blowhard and a bully. And you can’t take it when someone smaller and weaker and smarter stands up to you.”

He grabbed the hand that had struck him to check out her fingers, which were already swollen.

His touch made the strange ache low in her belly get worse.

Charisse couldn’t tear her eyes from his split lip.

Oh God, what had she done?

Those dark eyes narrowed now on hers.

“You think hitting me is the best way to earn my respect?”

Of course she didn’t, but Charisse would rather lie naked on hot coals than admit it.

Her whole body was trembling now and she cursed herself for it as their eyes battled and all logical thought evaporated.

“I hate you.”

He flashed her the predatory smile that seemed to press every single hot button in her system.

Her hand fisted in his.

“Fuck it,” he said.

 

For a big man he moved fast, and Charisse found herself slung over his shoulder like a bag of coal and marched through the garden and into the palace.

Her hair had come loose and dangled over her hot face.

Khalid held her knees close to his chest as her fists battered his strong back.

It was like hitting solid rock.

Her cheeks went nuclear as a weird sort of dark excitement fought with fear and rage.

“Put me down you frog-faced baboon!”

The flat of the hand that connected with her bottom landed hard enough to hurt, a lot.

Her howl of utter fury coincided with a deterioration in her language that was frowned upon even in the gutter.

Sarif, Yasmin and Arabella all entered the hall, and watched with wide-eyed interest as Khalid strode past them carrying a queen who had apparently lost all sense of decorum.

“I don’t think that is the best way to endear yourself to your future wife, Khalid,” muttered Sarif as he folded his arms and leaned against a wide sandstone pillar to catch the show.

His brother merely growled.

“It appears her impressive education is sadly lacking in discipline,” came the clipped response. A response that had her small fists ineffectually pummelling his back.

Charisse’s blonde head snapped up. And her wild eyes settled with something like evil relief on Arabella.

She pointed to her bodyguard.

“Shoot him!” she commanded in her best queenly tone.

Then completely ruined the effect as she blew a strand of blonde hair out of her face.

And she almost screamed in frustration when her friend, her protector, simply shook her head.

“Nope. I never get involved in domestic disputes. And you’ve forgotten every single move I taught you.”

What had Arabella taught her?

Charisse desperately tried to recall a single self-defence move, but her loss of temper meant her brain was refusing to co-operate. So instead of thinking, she gripped the silky black tail of her tormentor’s hair and pulled with all her might.

His howl of pain was music to her ears.

However, retaliation came down swift and hard on her backside.

Her cry echoed through the vast hall.

“That was such a girly move, Highness,” Arabella called out in disgust.

Sarif sent Arabella slitty eyes as Yasmin grinned behind her hand.

“Oh my! She never really had a proper childhood, you know. It’s so lovely to see my darling girl having fun.”

“Yeah, they’re nothing but a couple of crazy kids,” Arabella muttered.

They all watched as the elevator door closed behind a seriously steamed Khalid, and a Charisse promising a slow and painful death.

 

 

Entering his rooms, Khalid kicked the door closed and slid his future wife down his body so slowly that her shocked gasp echoed the ache of his own physical response.

With her small feet dangling off the floor, he held her close, hip to hip, his hand to her tight little ass pressing her soft body against a rock hard erection. Rolling his hips in a way that made her gasp again, big eyes stared into his before flickering to his mouth. And even as the heat of mortification burned her cheeks, he watched her temper drain away to be replaced by an honest regret that made his chest tight.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” she whispered.

Her hands slid up his arms to grip his shoulders.

Any residual anger with her leaked away to be replaced by a dark desire.

Again, she’d shown a lot of courage.

The memory of how she’d ordered her bodyguard to shoot him tickled Khalid’s highly developed sense of humour.

“I’m sorry for calling you a whore,” he said, studying her face. “When you’re ready, you must tell me the story of how you met my uncle.”

He didn’t miss the flash of anguish in those blue eyes, even as a dimple appeared next to her full mouth. “One day, I will.”

The scent of her, the feel of her soft body in his arms, made his breath hitch.

Now he slid her down until her feet hit the floor.

And he cupped her chin to tilt her head back.

He kissed her with care, since he wouldn’t put it past her to bite his split lip.

But she returned the kiss just as tenderly, and in a way that calmed the anxieties spinning in his overactive brain.

He pulled back to study the expression in her fabulous eyes.

“Promise?” he asked.

Again he didn’t miss the ghost of pain in those blue eyes.

“I promise.”

However, the chattering gremlins of self doubt that lived in his mind taunted him that he wasn’t good enough for Charisse. That everything he touched he destroyed and everyone he’d ever loved in his life was now gone or hated him. Since he’d given up booze sleep eluded him. These days he was lucky to get two or three nightmare-filled hours a night. To cope he’d buried himself in his art. His agent was going to be over the moon at his creative output. And even if he said it himself, some of the new work was the best he’d ever done.

Charisse stared up at him, wrapping her arms around his waist, as her big blue eyes held his.

“Speak to me, Rock Star. I can almost hear the wheels spinning in that overactive brain of yours.”

Rock Star?

The feel of her soft body pressed against the hardness of his made the breath hitch in his lungs. All negative thoughts fled as his groin swelled in response.

Of course he could do this.

With Charisse in his arms he could do anything.

His big hands cupped her beautiful face and tilted her head back as his eyes searched hers. “What did you just call me?”

Her cheeky grin reminded him of a child caught with its hand in the cookie jar.

A grin that ripped his heart wide open. And Charisse stepped right in.

“When I first saw you I thought you looked like a Rock Star.”

His mouth twitched as he stared into her lovely face, and Khalid decided he could live with that. “Yeah? Which one? Chris Martin, Bon Jovi?”

She gave him a dead on stare and said, “Nope. Alice Cooper.”

Shock made him simply blink at her before he roared with a laughter that made her grin up into his face.

“You little devil!”

He desperately wanted to make love to her and make her his.

Now.

Tonight.

But something in her eyes, something that looked like trust, made him take a step back.

The time had come to put his money where his mouth was.

She wanted, demanded, his respect. And despite the fact that he’d thought she was someone only looking out for number one, his intuition told him he’d been wrong about her. Charisse had no idea she already possessed his respect.

However, he needed her respect, too.

They’d had their first real fight and got through it relatively unscathed. Plus, the fact she was openly teasing him told Khalid she might be learning to like him and he didn’t want to do anything to spoil the precious moment.

And he also understood that she wanted him to talk to her, to open up to her.

“I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Before we met I had no idea what you looked like or how old you were,” he admitted now. “After everything I’d heard about you I thought you were a woman with her biological clock ticking. I was praying you didn’t have a squint and had all your own teeth.”

She threw her head back as her delighted laugh bounced of the high ceiling and echoed around the room.

“Poor Khalid, you had no idea what you were getting yourself into.” Then her eyes went serious as they held his. “Why did you agree to do this if your heart is not in it?”

He didn’t attempt not to understand her and spoke from the heart.

“Because it’s a chance for me to right a wrong.”

After staring at him for an endless moment, she nodded, pressed her cheek to his chest and gave him a hard hug that brought a lump to his throat.

He stroked her hair.

Her voice was soft and low.

“That’s as good a reason as any,” she whispered.

The heady scent of her hair mingled with a hint of jasmine and warm, sexy, woman.

Her soft breasts pressed against him and as her nipples pebbled he prayed for the strength to deny his aching arousal.

He pulled back and took her hands in his.

“Let me walk you to your rooms.”

And his heart leaped at the flash of bitter disappointment in her blue eyes.

For a man used to having anything he wanted, when he wanted it, denying himself the instant gratification and release of plunging into her willing body was a salutary lesson in self-restraint.

 

Later, as he strolled through his rooms and stripped to his skin, Khalid hit the shower and turned it as cold as it could go. And all the while he pumped his aching shaft in his tight fist until he gasped out his release.

But it wasn’t enough.

Charisse was under his skin.

She was in his blood.

And he wondered now how long he’d be able to refuse himself the pleasure of that soft, sexy, body.

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Seven tomorrow…..

Christine x

Desert Orchid, Chapter five… an understanding…..

 

 

DESERTORCHID

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Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

Chapter Five

 

“Why are there no children?”

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

Why wouldn’t her brain function?

Why were there black spots in front of her eyes?

The room spun.

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

His eyes went dark as they dropped to her mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could she have agreed to marry this man?

She couldn’t do it.

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

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

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

She took a shaky breath.

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

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

She stared down at her hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She frowned.

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

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

And that need made her pull back.

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

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

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

But why had her question annoyed him?

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

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

 

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

Confused, they turned to Charisse to give them direction.

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

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

Hand in hand he led her out of her apartments.

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

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

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

He pulled her through large double doors.

She smelled fresh paint and turpentine.

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

His smile wasn’t friendly.

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

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

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

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

Her chin lifted.

“Crystal.”

He smiled again, and it wasn’t nice.

His fingers stroked her cheek, her chin.

Those eyes lasered into hers.

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

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

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

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

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

Off to the right were the bathrooms and bedroom wing.

He’d taken up residence directly below her apartments.

She turned to find him watching her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stung, she lifted her chin.

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

Black brows winged into his hairline.

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

The truth of his argument struck her with incredible force.

Her hand flew to her cheek.

He was right.

She had pre-judged him.

And she’d found him wanting.

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

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

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

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

Long fingers squeezed hers.

And her breath hitched.

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

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

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

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

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

Khalid simply stood and watched her.

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

He leaned his shoulder against the wall.

The glint in his eyes was more pronounced now.

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

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

 

She frowned.

No way.

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

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

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

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

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

Dream on.

Not a chance.

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

Her voice was firm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charisse was an interesting character, he decided.

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

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

Her flush of guilt almost made him laugh out loud.

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

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

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

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

Excellent.

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

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

Best not to go there, he decided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We need to honour Asim,” she whispered.

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

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

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

She was an incredibly beautiful woman.

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

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

Her eyes flew to his.

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

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

He frowned.

And just what did that mean?

Of course she had a choice.

She had a fortune in Swiss banks.

“Everyone has a choice, Charisse.”

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

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

He understood perfectly well that she was evading.

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

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

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

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

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

Would he?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It will be my pleasure, Highness.”

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014

 

Chapter Six tomorrow.

Christine X

Desert Orchid, Chapter Three….

 

DESERTORCHID

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Chapter Three

 

Prince Khalid El Haribe leaped out of the helicopter, closely followed by his bodyguard, Omar, and four close protection officers belonging to his father’s guard.

He glanced at the tribes gathered around their tents.

Men, lean and mean, with guns and ammunition strapped across their chests and dressed in loose black robes, watched him through dark eyes filled to the brim with suspicion. While dusty haired toddlers clung to their older brothers and sisters.

No sign of the women.

No sign of a welcome either.

And again Khalid asked himself what the hell he was doing.

The dry heat was brutal.

Add in the stirring scent of camel dung, unwashed flesh, and his delicate stomach lurched.

The crisp collar of his white cotton shirt felt too tight, like a noose, around his neck. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn a monkey suit. This one was black silk with a black tie, all by Armani.

Eyes narrowed behind dark glasses, he surveyed his new home, The White Palace.

He’d read up about it. Built fifty years ago from granite blasted from a quarry near Aberdeen in Scotland, the palace was an unforgiving structure designed by an architect who’d rigorously followed minimalist principles. Behind walls three feet thick, the imposing structure glistened and gleamed under a merciless sun. It should have looked incongruous, perched on the edge of a mountain in the middle of the desert, but it blended seamlessly into the harsh and unforgiving landscape.

As they approached, monumental entrance gates, which appeared to be constructed of a heavy metal painted silver, swung open with a smooth movement that told him they were electronically operated. Then he spotted what appeared to be a huge field of solar panels following the path of the sun.

Interesting.

But he had no time to dwell on modern technology as a welcoming committee descended upon him consisting of a dozen men wearing a thwab and a ceremonial besht denoting their high status.

Omar moved to Khalid’s left side while his brother stood to his right.

Sarif was here for moral support and to help him settle into his kingly duties, which was just as well because he didn’t have a clue how to run a meeting never mind an entire country.

Once the bowing and scraping of the ceremonial duties were over, the senior ministers of his small government led the way into a wide and open courtyard constructed of sandstone.

The hair on the back of Khalid’s neck prickled.

Looking up he spotted a woman standing on a top floor balcony watching him. She wore a white prayer burka.

Probably his soon-to-be-wife.

Khalid’s stomach lurched.

Two days without alcohol and although he wasn’t exactly suffering, the heat made him thirsty for a beer.

They entered a stunning entrance hall the size of a cathedral. Wide double staircases flowed away to the right and to the left, up to the higher levels for at least four floors.

Good God, it climbed right up the middle of the mountain and was open to the elements, which made it amazingly cool and airy. The wind made an unusual whispering sound. It wasn’t quite a moan and it gave the place an otherworldly, almost ethereal feel.

A wave of dizziness washed over Khalid, probably the altitude.

His pulse kicked as perspiration beaded on his top lip.

Invited to sit, he thankfully accepted refreshments as Sarif addressed the Sheiks in the local dialect. He spoke on behalf of his father, King Abdullah, who was recovering from minor heart surgery, an event with which his youngest son had not been acquainted. Khalid was not fluent in khaliji Arabic and had difficulty following what was being said.

Yet another obstacle to overcome.

Again he wondered what the hell he was doing?

Why had he agreed to this fiasco?

Because, the little voice in his head told him, he needed to atone, to make amends to his family, and this was the first chance he’d had in over six years to do so.

He needed to do his duty, and get on with it, so he forced himself to pay attention.

 

Two hours later Khalid’s head was pounding.

He was taken to what, he assumed, was his late uncle’s extensive library. It smelled of old books, incense and had a strangely spiritual feel.

It was a room that had belonged to a scholar.

He didn’t belong here. He was way out of his element and he knew it. And looking at the men who were watching him like black crows sitting on a tree branch, they knew it, too.

Witnessed by his brother and the Sheiks of eight tribes, Prince Khalid El Haribe signed away his freedom and life as he knew it.

In return he was King of a tiny state peopled by nomads whose way of life hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. Listening to the sonorous tones of his Prime Minister, Khalid realised these men were looking to him to bring Onuur into the twenty-first century and prosperity.

Well, God help them.

And God help him.

Six hours later, the inside of Khalid’s skull threatened to split wide open.

His hand shook as he poured himself yet another glass of water.

What a time to go on the wagon.

The lecture from his father still rang in his ears. Family honour, his duty to the people of Onuur and his duty to its Queen, which apparently including producing an heir ASAP, made him wonder if he’d lost his fucking mind.

He had no idea what the Queen looked like, or even how old she was.

Considering his uncle had died at the relatively young age of sixty-five, he imagined she must be in her late thirties or early forties. The information he’d managed to glean was the couple had been married for six blissfully happy years. Apparently, his future wife was a modest and devout woman who’d been devoted to his uncle. She never travelled outside the country and was, ‘A little eccentric.’ And, ‘Fond of animals and children.’

He could only hope to hell she had all her own teeth.

Now he frowned.

She might sound like a saint, but today he’d learned something very interesting about his future wife. And now he wondered how she was going to explain to him why she had millions of dollars deposited in her name in Swiss banks. It looked like the queen that everyone was so fond of had feet of clay. And that was a complication he could do without.

Hell, he needed a drink.

 

***

Two endless days later, Khalid was beginning to get his bearings.

The palace was a vast building that would take weeks to fully explore.

However, it seemed the queen’s domain was strictly off limits to everyone, including him.

She’d asked for time to grieve, to be left alone.

Since Khalid was still drying out and not exactly feeling his best, he’d been more than happy to comply with her wishes.

On the queen’s instructions, he’d been allocated sleeping chambers and a studio for his art at the opposite end of the palace from her quarters. For some reason it stung his pride that it appeared she wanted him as far away from her as physically possible. Okay, he was the first to admit that he might not exactly be cut out to rule a tiny rock in the middle of a desert. But at least he was willing to give the role his best shot. All she had to do was to meet him halfway. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask?

Since his art came first with him before any other consideration, including ruling a stinking dust bowl hotter than hell itself, and marrying its elusive queen, Khalid had absolutely no qualms in overruling her orders. He’d discovered the space with the best light was directly below her apartments and he wasted no time in organising his environment to suit his own needs.

The one family member he had met, and already grown fond of, was his elderly aunt Yasmin who joined Sarif and himself at dinner each evening. She made sure they were comfortable and had everything they required. From her he’d learned that Charisse, apparently the name meant Beloved, yeah right, was hands-on when it came to educating the populace particularly the women and children. As his aunt droned on, Khalid hid a yawn behind his hand and decided benevolently that he didn’t have an issue with his future wife’s interests. He was quite happy to leave her to it. Sarif, however, was vastly intrigued about the educational programmes and was, he said, looking forward to meeting Charisse to discuss how Onuur’s syllabuses compared to the systems he’d implemented for his people in Quaram.

Each evening, Sarif went through the day’s endless events with Khalid, to instruct his brother on the personalities and politics involved. Sarif would spend three days a week in Onuur as a special advisor to Khalid until the wedding was organised and the couple had returned from their honeymoon.

One thing that continued to elude Khalid was sleep, which was why he was awake and aware enough to hear horses riding out in the early hours every night under a moonlit sky teaming with constellations glittering like diamonds.

During his single visit to the impressively organised and immaculate stables it had been made crystal clear, very politely of course, that the queen’s horse Diablo was strictly off limits. The black stallion was colossal, at least nineteen hands high. And Khalid couldn’t imagine any woman managing to control the great beast never mind the slight woman he’d spotted on his arrival.

But maybe his eyes had been deceiving him. Maybe Charisse was a woman strong enough, big enough, to handle the stallion. Khalid was six foot three. But the thought of bedding an Amazon with heavy muscled thighs made his mouth go bone dry.

By day five, Khalid had a distinct picture of his wife-to-be in his head.

She was a big-boned woman. Her biological clock was ticking. She was a conservative believer in tradition and seriously devoted to her people. She enjoyed reading and listening to music. And, he thought bitterly, sounded a right barrel of laughs.

Luckily for him he had Omar in his corner.

One of his bodyguard’s many skills was that he kept his ear very close to the ground. Therefore he made sure Khalid was kept up to date with the comings and goings in the palace. It was Omar who’d informed him, with great reluctance, that the gossip in the palace was that his future wife was somewhat less than impressed with the selection of her husband-to-be. Apparently, she thought Sarif would have been a more acceptable choice.

The blow was brutal to his ego, but Khalid was honest enough with himself to admit that he understood where the woman was coming from.

He was also honest enough to admit that Charisse’s rumoured low opinion of him, before she’d even met him, stung.

Which was a pity for the future success of their marriage, because Khalid was prone to dark moods.

Always had been.

And not a man who was good with a lot of time on his hands. As the old saying goes, The Devil finds work for idle hands. And now he found himself brooding all day over a deepening sense of injustice. As time passed, the sting of that injustice burned too brightly in his belly.

Feeling very hard done by, he was sitting behind an antique desk in the dark cave of the library. His tired brain pondering on how much his life had changed in a matter of days.

He’d lost his freedom.

He’d cleaned up his act.

He even shaved every day.

Although he’d drawn a line at cutting his hair.

Much to Sarif’s disgust, Khalid merely tied his hair back at the neck.

What more did his brother want from him?

Glowering at the endless piles of papers on his desk, the brisk knock at the door was a welcome distraction.

Omar entered.

“Miss Arabella Faulkner requests a moment of your time, Highness.”

Khalid’s dark brows rose into his hairline.

Did this mean a sign of life from Charisse?

At last.

“Show her in.”

Khalid knew Arabella was the queen’s bodyguard, companion and friend, and that she was British ex-special forces. He’d expected a woman built like a tank. So the tall, slim woman who entered caught him by surprise.

She bowed her head as Omar closed the door behind her.

Dressed in black military cargo pants, soft boots, black short sleeved T-shirt with a web belt and automatic pistol harness, Ms. Faulkner was an impressive sight. He gauged she was five foot nine, about one hundred and twenty pounds.

Expression carefully neutral, she stood with her feet shoulder-width apart, hands behind her back.

Tough, was Khalid’s first thought.

Closely followed by committed, professional, and—not impressed.

Not that she showed it.

Most men might not have picked up on the finer nuances of her attitude but Khalid was an artist and an expert on women, their body language, and he could almost taste her disdain.

Annoyance now joined the injustice burning in his belly.

He narrowed his eyes.

“What can I do for you, Ms. Faulkner?”

Dark brown eyes stayed level on his.

“Her Royal Highness invites you to join her for afternoon tea.”

So, the waiting was over.

Khalid couldn’t say he was looking forward to meeting his future ball and chain. But he had a duty to his family and he’d promised his father faithfully that he wouldn’t let him down.

Again.

The sense of relief that the wait was over lifted his spirits, not that he showed it to the woman watching him as if he was a smear on a Petri dish.

Khalid stood.

“Please, lead the way.”

Omar’s eyes never left Arabella as he opened the door. His bodyguard was hot on their heels. His towering presence followed them as they entered the reception hall and the main staircase and began to climb to the next level.

Arabella stopped on the wide first floor landing.

“We’ll take the elevator. It’s six floors to Her Highness’s apartments. We’ll exit on the fifth floor. No one is permitted entry to the apartments without permission,” she said as she indicated he precede her into the elevator.

“Especially me? Hmm, Ms. Faulkner?” Khalid spoke softly and Omar stiffened by his side as Arabella placed herself between Khalid and his protection officer.

“I’m sorry. Your bodyguard is not permitted beyond this point.”

Seriously?

The woman was prepared to stand there and tell him where he could and could not go in his own palace?

Omar spread his legs and went for his weapon.

His bodyguard was not used to women issuing orders and the act was a deliberate act of aggression, to show her who was boss.

The woman didn’t flinch.

Khalid, in spite of himself, was impressed by how she didn’t flicker as much as an eyelid.

“Put the gun away, Omar. Ms. Faulkner will keep you company.”

He met the cold fury in his bodyguard’s eyes and stared at him until Omar tucked away his weapon and took a reluctant step back.

Khalid gave a tight little smile as he entered the elevator. He pressed the button, and the elevator doors closed on Arabella Faulkner and Omar. He decided his soon-to-be-wife needed a salutary lesson in manners. After all, he’d been more than fair since he’d arrived. Plus, since Charisse was grieving, he’d been prepared to give the woman a certain amount of leeway.

However, he was not prepared to be treated like a guest in what was now his own home.

The elevator rose smooth and swift. And he couldn’t help but wonder what his future wife was like. Was she sturdy? Big hipped? Or was she a bag of bones with no meat on her? Khalid liked his women womanly with breasts and ass. Something for a man to grip, to hold onto.

The elevator doors opened.

An elderly maid bowed deep before him.

For some reason his nerves boogied in his belly, and he didn’t like it, not one little bit.

He was a king for God’s sake. And it was time he started acting like one.

The maid led him up a wide stone stairway to arched doors painted a glossy black.

She knocked once, opened the doors and bowed for him to precede her.

 

Khalid entered an airy and light space with huge doors on all sides open to the elements and stopped dead.

Well, well, this was a pleasant surprise.

While the rest of the palace was luxurious and furnished with heavy teak. It was decorated in a traditional Arabic style that tended to make it dark and claustrophobic. In this space walls had been painted chalk white and hung with huge paintings, slashes of modern art, arranged strategically around the room. A log burner in brushed stainless steel rose majestically through the cavernous ceiling. The space throbbed with energy and life.

It smelled of candle wax, flowers, and warm woman.

The maid indicated a couple of seven foot sofas, covered in ivory linen, set at right angles and groaning under the weight of silk cushions in bright jewelled colours edged with gold tassels. “Please sit, Highness.”

She closed the double doors behind her.

Khalid picked a seat which gave him the best view of the room.

He made himself comfortable.

Nice place.

Tasteful.

Feminine.

Intrigued, he leaned back and crossed his legs and made himself right at home.

Glass bowls teaming with fresh flowers scented the air.

Beeswax candles, thick as a man’s fist, marched down a wide coffee table made of tempered glass holding a variety of books on antiquity along with the latest glossy western magazines for women.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

He blinked.

Two wolfhounds with rough shaggy coats of dirty grey sat like statues guarding the entrance to another space. Dark hazel eyes studied him with interest.

“Would you like tea or coffee?” A young woman’s voice called out.

His brows rose.

Must be another maid, and one who didn’t know her place.

Domestic staff did not shout at an El Haribe prince.

Imagining his brother’s outrage at the break of strict protocol, Khalid grinned.

“Coffee, please.”

The dogs rose, moving as one and padded before a metal and glass tea trolley pushed by one of the most beautiful young women Khalid had ever seen.

And he’d seen more than his fair share.

He thought she looked vaguely familiar.

His mind flicked through a mental file of women, but he couldn’t place her.

A silver waterfall of hair fell to a narrow waist.

She was dressed in pale blue designer jeans that fitted her in all the right places and a pale grey Rolling Stones short sleeved T-shirt. She was tall. Five feet eight inches and about one hundred and ten pounds. A bit on the skinny side. Her small breasts were high and firm. The long limbs and fine bones were all in proportion. Combined with a lightly tanned skin, she was simply stunning.

But it was the large eyes that caught Khalid’s breath and seemed to stop his heart.

They were a sparkling blue, the colour of a Mediterranean sky in summer, and edged with thick dark lashes.

He read a fierce intelligence, curiosity and a deep sadness in their beautiful depths.

Those marvellous eyes blinked into his.

“Would you like milk?”

Her soft voice was well-educated with a hint of France, and that voice slid over his senses like warm honey.

She smiled and Khalid’s mind went blank.

 

“Ah, black… thank you.”

He accepted a bone china cup and saucer and frowned at her, almost certain that he’d seen her before. “Have we met before?” he asked now.

Those amazing eyes stared deep into his.

And he was sincerely shocked to read something like contempt.

“Oh, I know who you are, Prince El Haribe. My late husband followed your… exploits very carefully.”

Using small tongs of solid silver, she placed a couple of tiny pastries on a plate and offered it to him. Another too polite smile had him narrow his eyes.

He took the plate as she poured herself a coffee, popped a pastry in her sensual mouth and sat next to him.

Then she leaned back to study him.

“Your late husband?” Khalid murmured unable to tear his eyes away from hers.

Cocking her blonde head in a way that made him decide she looked utterly adorable, her smile curled his toes as more mischief entered those fabulous eyes.

She placed her cup and saucer on the table and held out her hand.

Khalid placed his hand in hers.

It wasn’t electricity that jolted up his arm but a buzzing attraction that made his heart beat too fast. He went rock hard. He couldn’t help but savour the moment, it had been a very long time since a woman had affected him like this.

Her hand was delicately boned.

The skin was soft, silky smooth to his touch as the scent of vanilla, honeysuckle and shampoo along with warm woman spun around his heightened senses.

Her blue eyes glittered into his and her voice sounded so husky it tingled the base of his spine and shot liquid fire into his groin.

“Charisse El Haribe. Your future wife. How do you do?”

 

***

Chapter Four coming tomorrow.

Christine X