Hello, my darlings,
There’s a rumour going around that next Monday we’ll see the hottest early May day holiday since records began. We can only hope!
Grab a coffee or a glass of wine…
In his office suite situated on the third floor, Prince Sarif El Haribe frowned at the sound of the clamour of sirens and blue lights flashing outside the Embassy window.
Since it was summer, he couldn’t see the scene through the heavy canopy of oak trees.
Plus, his thoughts were focused on other things.
More important things.
Things like Arabella Faulkner, a woman he hadn’t been able to forget for many long months.
Of course, he’d tried to forget how she’d felt as her body had held his like a too tight fist in a velvet glove. He’d tried to forget how she’d writhed beneath him, her eyes glazed with lust. He’d tried to forget the way she’d chanted his name over and over as he’d taken her so hard and so fast his vision had clouded. More, he’d tried to forget her smell, jasmine and sunshine and womanly arousal.
He closed his eyes because he could actually taste her on his tongue.
He’d been like this for months.
He’d lost weight.
A disciplined and controlled man in all things, he’d lost that discipline, that control, when she’d run from him, from them, from their future, he’d planned.
How many times had he replayed in his head the last time she’d spoken to him?
Why hadn’t he shared his feelings with her?
Instead of telling her what their future held, why hadn’t he discussed her needs, her anxieties?
His brother Khalid and sister-in-law Charisse had told him to give Bella time and space.
He’d followed their advice. After all they understood how a marriage of convenience worked. They’d fallen madly in love and were now cosily ensconced in marital bliss, true partners who supported each other through thick and thin.
Khalid was a lucky man.
The trouble was, Sarif was a King, a ruler of people who needed him, a King with heavy responsibilities and duties and commitments.
By walking away, by leaving him, Arabella had shown by her actions rather than words that she wanted no part of him or the people of Quarram. The last thing his country needed in these dangerous times was a reluctant Queen, a Queen from a diametrically opposing culture.
And yet, like a smacked puppy, he’d followed her to London to make sure she was safe.
More importantly, to make sure the child she carried—his secret child—was safe.
Even now he could hardly believe it.
When he’d received her message that she was finally prepared to meet with him, he’d been almost relieved.
But then he’d again read the detailed report of her comings and goings over the past few months. He’d first seen it six long weeks ago, a report compiled by his new private secretary, Hafar, areport that even now sat on his desk, almost mocking him, and a report that had broken something deep within him.
Betrayal was a bitter taste on his tongue.
Although to be fair, she’d walked right up to the shaky edge of betrayal and hadn’t actually taken that final step.
No matter, the picture, the report painted of a woman he’d been prepared to trust, was not a pretty one.
However, he’d plotted and planned and now everything was coming together.
Sarif checked the time on the wall clock.
She was late.
Annoyance stirred in his belly.
He’d dressed carefully for the meeting.
His dark grey suit tailored in Savile Row, a shirt of crisp white cotton and a silk tie.
The English liked their silk ties.
Never a patient man at the best of times, he checked the time on his slim watch of white-gold and frowned.
She was late.
But the thing that seriously annoyed him was the way his nerves jangled.
He refused to acknowledge such a thing as nerves.
Nerves were a sign of weakness.
No man from the house of El Haribe was weak.
He was a King, for God’s sake.
Then he wondered, why now?
Why had Arabella called him this morning out of the blue and accepted his invitation to meet him here at the Embassy. He’d immediately cancelled his appointments for the day, much to Hafar’s clear disapproval.
So what had made Arabella change her mind after months of radio silence and agree to see him? Recently one of his security personnel had been on her tail at all times.
Perhaps it had been her recent neonatal appointment for an ultrasound scan. Perhaps seeing the living, beating heart of their child had, belatedly, made her grow a conscience? This was an appointment she’d kept alone, with no one to support her. He wondered why the fact she’d been alone bothered him?
He glanced again at the thick file of the report on his desk, months of detailed information on her movements, where she’d gone and who she’d met.
One part he’d read again and again as the dog-eared paper proved.
He couldn’t seem to help himself but shift to open the file and read the page one more time. The part where, six weeks after she’d arrived in the capital, she’d gone to a private clinic for an appointment.
His hand fisted.
An abortion clinic.
Of course, she hadn’t gone through with killing his child, which was just as well for her.
But as he read again, in black and white, that she’d even considered destroying an innocent, he finally faced the fact that her betrayal had killed something deep inside him.
She deserved every single thing that was about to befall her.
And so, Sarif accepted, he was about to cast aside all ethics and values of a life dedicated to duty and service.
He had plotted and planned and was almost ready to make his move to protect his son.
She carried a boy, as the ultrasound scan proved beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Gritting his teeth, Sarif El Haribe swore to Allah, he would break every single law of faith and country to protect his unborn child and take him home where he belonged.
And as for the woman who carried his son?
Well, Arabella Faulkner would do exactly as she was told, or, in the spirit of an eye for an eye, Sarif would put her brother to death in an instant.
The man-boy was nineteen and a student.
His name, Rupert Faulkner, youngest son of Brigadier Hamish Faulkner and his wife, Primrose.
A keen student of cultural anthropology, it had been all too easy to dupe Rupert into joining a fake archaeological dig to Quarram.
It had been even easier to plant a priceless artefact in his hand luggage as he tried to leave the country with the rest of his party. Now Rupert sat rotting in a Quarram jail. Sarif, since the King’s word overruled all democratic laws of man, had decreed the prisoner had no rights. No right to a lawyer. No right to consular assistance.
Now as he thought about him, Sarif had to admit the boy’s courage had impressed him.
He’d shown plenty of the famous British stiff upper lip.
As soon as Arabella Faulkner married Sarif, her brother would be set free.
Marry him, save her brother.
That was the deal.
Sarif was well aware his father and brother would look askance upon his appalling conduct, and see it as—extreme, which was why he’d told them nothing of his plans.
He lusted for revenge.
He lusted for justice.
Arabella had runaway like a coward.
She’d kept his unborn child from him and had thought, even briefly, to destroy it.
And for that he would never forgive her.
Revenge—Sarif decided with a righteous fury burning in his very soul—was a dish best served cold.
Again he moved to the window to calm his thoughts, to clear his mind.
He’d need to play it smart.
Arabella was no fool.
The woman was highly intelligent, and a trained fighter.
All he had to do was keep his head, and his temper, and persuade her to marry him.
Once she’d safely delivered his son, he’d divorce her and kick her out of his country.
And she would never see their child, or Sarif, again.
A knock at the door had him give permission to enter.
His private secretary, Hafar, entered, bringing with him the scent of Jeera Goli, a candy laced with cumin.
For a young man with a sweet tooth, Hafar was strikingly skinny.
And since Hafar refused to wear western dress, he wore his thwab and besht to denote his status as a servant of the King. He’d replaced his father, Ekram, in the position after the latter’s sudden retirement due to family issues. To tell the truth, Hafar’s obsequious ways got on Sarif’s nerves.
Looking on the bright side, Hafar might be considered a godsend.
His information technology skills were particularly impressive.
“My Lord,” Hafar’s nasally voice was smooth as silk, and annoying as hell. “There has been a most unfortunate occurrence outside the Embassy gates.”
Sarif frowned. “An accident?”
“A young woman has been hit by a car. The driver did not stop.”
Safir made a face of distaste.
“A hit and run.”
Hafar bowed again.
Sarif lifted his brows.
Looking back at the conversation later—the way Hafar’s tongue had licked his thin lips, like a snake, and pressed his fleshy palms together, as if in prayer, and all the while his dark eyes had stayed on him—it should have been a warning.
But what followed erased the conversation from his mind, until it was too late.
Far too late.
“The woman is Arabella Faulkner.”
Ooooooh, tune in next week…