Authors: Kris Pearson
“Yeah, right! Why would I believe a lie like that, you horrible pig?”
Rafiq compressed his lips in irritation. At least her anger seemed to be caused by the grandfather shock and was not aimed at him personally. He could work on changing her ‘horrible pig’ image of him. He was willing to bet she’d thought worse than that after being thrown into the van two days ago, handcuffed, insulted and threatened.
He drew a very deep careful breath and planned how best to explain the situation.
“He came into the country as a private citizen, Laurel, not as part of a TV crew. No-one had any idea it was him. We didn’t even know his name.”
“So what is it?”
“Ash Winthrop. Ashley Randal Winthrop, according to his passport. He’s seventy-four. That’s all we currently know.”
She considered for a few seconds.
“Winthrop,” she repeated, trying the name for size. “Have you brought him back? Where is he?”
“In Al-Dubriz, in his hotel. This has complicated everything.”
“What?” Her scathing tone almost flayed the skin off him. “Is that all you can think of—your bloody intelligence work?”
“And your safety.” He started to sit on the bed beside her and she reared up in fury.
“I don’t give a stuff about my safety right now. I had no family, no background, no history forever—and now suddenly, maybe I have. I want to meet him.”
“And you shall—as soon as I work out how it can be done.”
“It can be done by driving me to his hotel first thing in the morning,” she snapped.
“It can be done once I have put some sensible thought into it,” he said wearily. “Everything is different now. Yes—I’ll find a way for you to meet him. Of course I will. But he has a journalist with him who’s sniffing for a story. That’s another factor to consider.”
She left a small thrumming silence.
“What’s my grandfather like?” she asked in a much less aggressive voice.
“I’ve no idea, Laurel. I haven’t met him. I managed to get a recording of the interview so you can see him again. I’ll play it early tomorrow for you. Will you come to bed?”
“To my bed—
Her reply was a furious snort before she flounced over, turned her back on him and dragged the cover up over her head.
he thought, gathering her up complete with the top layer of bedclothes and carrying her, protesting furiously, to his room.
“I suppose you’re going to tie me up again?” she challenged, sitting on the bed and glaring at him.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t need to this time.” His tone was mild but his grip had been steely.
“You can’t just make off with me like this!”
“And who will stop me, Laurel? Not Yasmina. Not Malik. They will never hear us, even if you scream loudly. And I was hoping you’d you scream softly. Just for me.”
“Dream on, Your Lordship. Not everything happens just because you want it to. Take me to my grandfather and then I’ll think about it.”
“I may not take you there at all—
“Rafiq!” she protested.
“—because it might be better to bring him here instead. We could be private here.”
“That would be okay,” she allowed.
“And I need to keep you hidden. Perhaps it
better you stay here. Your grandfather’s broadcast will have half of Al Sounam on the lookout for long-haired blondes.”
“I want to meet him as soon as possible. If he’s seventy-four, anything could happen to him. A stroke or a heart attack. It’s too hot here for elderly men.”
He gave her an amused smile. “Nonsense Laurel, there are thousands of elderly men all leading perfectly healthy lives in my country.”
“He looked nice...I got such a quick look at him because I was so shocked. I’d like...” She took a deep breath and knelt up towards him.
“Please, Rafiq,” she begged. “I want to see him again right now and not wait until morning.”
“It’s already morning, Laurel. It’s a quarter to one. Have pity on me—you kept me up all last night and now you seem determined to do the same again.”
But even as he said it, he was moving towards the electronic gear in the corner of the bedroom and preparing to play the interview for her.
“I suppose you wish me to translate as well?” A black eyebrow lifted in mock exasperation.
Laurel smiled reluctantly at his teasing. “I didn’t understand a word, and that was so frustrating. I saw my mother’s photograph and just lost it. Yasmina tried to explain things but... It wasn’t until she got Malik I understood anything at all, and even then, not much.”
“You’re the image of your mother. I can see why Ash presumed you must be his granddaughter. He’s not mistaken?”
She shook her head, and her hair rippled in the lamplight.
“I have this little old locket with exactly the photo they showed...” She fingered the gold trinket at her throat, and then caught her breath as the big flat screen sprang to life and the newsreader appeared.
“A further development,” Rafiq translated “in the unfolding hostage story. Footage of New Zealander Laurel de Courcey was shown in her homeland and has brought a surprising response. Seventy-four-year-old Ash Winthrop’s daughter Deborah disappeared twenty-four years ago when she was eighteen. Mr. Winthrop—”
Rafiq froze the image on the screen as it changed to Laurel, handcuffed and yelling at the camera.
“Look how fierce you were,” he said. “You took my breath away with your anger.”
Laurel couldn’t believe what she was seeing. That was her on TV—on both sides of the world—utterly furious, disheveled and terrified. What a way to impress her grandfather.
He restarted the machine. “—recognized that twenty-three-year-old Laurel must be his daughter Deborah’s child. The physical resemblance is quite startling. He has come to Al Sounam in the hope of meeting her when—if—she is released.”
Rafiq paused the image again.
Laurel gazed raptly at the screen. Any second now she would see her grandfather being interviewed.
“So my mother ran away from home at eighteen, ashamed because she was pregnant?” Her eyes brimmed suddenly with unshed tears. “I wrecked her life.”
Rafiq, who’d moved to stand beside her, placed both hands on her arms and rubbed gently to and fro.
“You’ve made a huge assumption there Laurel. The truth may be very far from that.”
“No,” she insisted, shuddering beneath his hands. “I wrecked her life. I must have.” She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Can I see more please?”
He continued to caress her with one hand as he allowed the recording to run on. Ash appeared. Rafiq immediately froze the shot again and watched with compassion as Laurel rose from where she knelt on the bed and approached the TV. She crouched in front of it, as though it might be possible to climb through and meet the man on the other side of the screen. The yearning hunger radiating from her shocked him.
After giving her her a few seconds to gaze, he let the interview portion run through without translating anything further. Her eyes followed every move Ash made—each wave of his hands, each shake of his head. Unconsciously she mirrored his movements; tipping her head on one side as he did, wagging a finger as he wagged his. Rafiq, who had extensive training in body language, watched in awe as Laurel tuned in to her grandfather.
He rewound and ran the interview again, this time translating Ash’s wording in its entirety.
“He really wants to meet me,” she said, turning back to him with tears in her eyes. Her lips had softly parted in astonishment and anticipation.
“Of course he wants to meet you. You’re his flesh and blood. All he has left, by the sound of it. You’re quite sure your mother’s not still alive?”
He hunkered down beside her and searched her face as she shook her head slightly.
He ran his thumb along her drooping bottom lip.
Lowered his head to ravage her sweet hot mouth yet again. And was rewarded by her turning, leaning into his embrace, and kissing him back with much more passion than he’d expected.
“Thank you!” she gasped between kisses. “Thank you so much, Rafiq. Thank-you for bringing me my grandfather.” She pressed closer to him, causing him to lose his balance and collapse backwards onto the rug so they landed together in a breathless heap.
She wriggled so she was sitting astride him, laughing at her superior position. There was such life in her eyes now. Even though there were tears on her lashes, there was genuine joy in their sparkling blue depths. At least he’d been able to give her that.
“I want to watch him again and again,” she insisted. “He looks lovely. Such a kind face, and with crinkles beside his eyes, and not with awful big ears the way some old men have.” he bent and stroked Rafiq’s small neat ears and inspected them closely. “You won’t have big awful ears either. Or a horrible bulgy nose.” he cupped a hand carefully over the dressing on his brow. “And hopefully no scar from this.”
“It won’t show among all the others.”
Suddenly the hectic gaiety deserted her and she stared down at his face with tender concern.
“But this one would be caused by me. And I’d never want to hurt you after the wonderful thing you’ve done.”
It seemed as though the beating of his heart skidded to a halt somewhere deep inside his chest. If he could have said then ‘stay with me, never leave me, let’s make a whole new secret life,’ he would have.
But dreams were dreams, and there wasn’t a hope in hell of that being possible. She had to leave. There was no freedom here for her. No safety for him if she stayed.
She had the chance now of a future and a family. Knowing he’d made that possible for her would be all he could take from the situation.
“Poor Ash will never see his daughter again,” she murmured, remembering what they’d been discussing before they’d landed on the rug in such a tangle. “My mother died in Wellington hospital nearly twenty years ago. I suppose she can be traced through the system. He’ll finally have closure on that, anyway.”
“How could she just disappear? Surely she was searched for? New Zealand’s not large.”
Laurel shrugged. “I’ve been wondering about that too. I suppose they looked for Deborah Marie Winthrop but I thought she was called Marie de Courcey.” She sighed and closed her eyes as though trying to picture her mother more clearly. “She must have dyed her hair as a disguise because I don’t remember her being anywhere near as blonde as the old photo. And there were lots of sheep and no other houses when I was little—we might have been way out on a farm somewhere. Until she got so sick.”
Rafiq reached up and buried his hands in her hair. He pulled her down slowly for another deep kiss.
“Let me up, Miss Kiwi,” he sighed when he released her. “I need a bath before I make love to you again.” He handed her the remote. “Replay your grandfather to your heart’s content, and then I’ll join you, hmmm?”
“You have such a lovely body,” Laurel said as she knelt behind him, soaping and sponging and rinsing his long back. “I can see all your muscles working when you move.”
“I’m a patchwork quilt,” he protested.
“Yes,” she agreed happily, running her tongue along the scar that snaked down towards his shoulder blade. “I like your patchwork. No-one else has anything like it. It makes you unique.”
“One of a kind,” he agreed dryly. “Who would ever want a second?”
“If I had a sister?” she suggested, giving him an affectionate nip on the neck.
“Another woman as cheeky as you? Who has no respect for my title or my money? Who dares to share the future King’s bath without asking permission?” He caught his breath as her hands went wandering under the water. “Who touches his private parts as though they are just any man’s.”
“Do I need written consent for this?” she teased, closing her hand around his long erection and massaging him firmly. “Your Royal Hardness?” she giggled. “I may not respect your title or money but I have enormous respect for this friend of yours. He makes me feel very special.”
Rafiq smiled, enjoying her taunting. When he’d returned to the lodge half an hour earlier, he’d been tense and tired. Now he was relaxed and very alive again.
“Your King commands you to stand up, Laurel. In front of him, to beg his forgiveness.” He waited while she complied, squeezing around to face him in the huge tub. “He intends to give you a good tongue-lashing for molesting him.”
She stood there, far from contrite, rosy and wet and curvaceous. Rafiq gave a throaty chuckle as he grasped her hips and buried his face between her thighs, seeking the slippery little peak he loved to suckle and tease.
Laurel drew a sharp breath and pushed her fingers into his hair to anchor herself.
Much later, drowsy and very well-loved, she lay sprawled across his chest in bed.
“So have you thought yet how you’ll get him here?” she asked, idly licking one of his nipples and blowing on it.
“If you keep doing that, I won’t be able to think of getting him here at all,” he growled. “I don’t want to share you with another man yet. I think we’ll let him go home and I’ll keep you here to play with.”
She gave the nipple a carefully-considered little bite.
of joking. Why don’t you just kidnap him—you’re very good at that.”
Rafiq’s inventive brain went into overdrive, even as he stroked her hair and ran his fingertips lightly across her sensational skin. Would it be possible to kidnap them? And how?
And that was why the vehicle collecting Ash Winthrop and Barry Marsh from the TV studios late next morning was not the one they’d arrived in. Neither man thought to question this until it became clear they weren’t being taken back to their central-city hotel. As the business district gave way to suburbs, and the suburbs gave way to desert, Barry’s complaints became louder and more obscene.
Rafiq smiled to himself. He’d had the measure of them after a few minutes. The journalist was young and brash, easily impressed, and with no real substance. He could be bought.