Authors: Kris Pearson
“Not as many as we used to. I’ve let things slide a bit if I’m honest. Your granny died a couple of years ago, and that makes a difference to a man.” He smiled crookedly. “It’s time I replaced several of the broodmares. I’m thinking of buying another stallion to bring some new blood into the Trinity line. Tossing up whether I should do that or sell the place, really.”
“But you love it. It’s your home.”
“It’s been my whole life.”
She saw the truth of that in his twinkling blue eyes and the determined jut of his chin.
“Could I have a horse of my own if I lived with you?”
“You can have as many as you like, my dear.”
“Just one,” she said softly. “One living thing that’s really mine. I want to learn to gallop.”
“Then you shall. But you’ll find it fairly quiet living with your old granddad. You’ll need a bit of social life, a boyfriend and so on? You’ll have to go into town for that. There’s no-one young and single at Trinity.”
She shrugged and tried for a smile.
Rafiq slid lower in his chair. Laurel might be acting bright and brave but she had to be feeling as bad as he did. If he stretched just a little further maybe he could capture one of her ankles between his and show her he ached to be holding her.
He pushed forward—just as she swiveled out of reach to allow Yasmina to pour coffee.
Laurel was planning a new life without him. As she had to. But picturing her with someone else hurt more than he’d imagined possible. The prospect of banishing her killed him, but he knew all he could do for her now was spirit her safely out of Al Sounam to the far side of the world.
The meal concluded. He checked his watch. It was barely nine. “Anyone for a game of pool?”
“Are you a betting man?” Barry queried, probably keen to add to his haul in the blue bag.
Rafiq’s smile blazed very white.
Laurel sat watching for half an hour or so. All the light in the billiard room was concentrated low over the immense table. The men moved slowly in the shadows, lit only when they bent over their cues to pot the balls. Ash had taken both younger men to the cleaners, to his obvious delight.
Her eyes roamed over Rafiq’s long back as he stretched to take aim. One thigh lay along the table edge. The tautly bunched muscles of his shoulders and butt were thrown into delicious relief. His attention on the game was absolute.
He does everything with passion
No wonder he’s such a skilled lover. I’m so lucky I ever met him.
Once he’d taken the shot and she was sure she wouldn’t distract him, she stood and excused herself for the night.
A nod to Barry, the smallest-possible nod to Rafiq, a quick hug for Ash and she hurried away.
She’d be sleeping in ‘her own’ room. It would hardly do for her new-found grandfather to discover she’d fallen so rapidly into bed with her kidnapper, and she certainly wasn’t going to risk being seen flitting from one bedroom to another—especially in the sexy nightdresses he’d provided.
But the real kicker was this; Rafiq no longer wanted her. Had no further use for her. Considered her a nuisance and a risk to have around. She’d take herself willingly out of his presence if that was how he felt.
She bathed, and settled into her bed with one of the books he’d bought her. To her huge annoyance her eyelids refused to droop closed and her brain became crystal-clear instead of drowsier. Her hearing sharpened every time she heard a door closing, water running, a footfall.
Was that him? And what would she do if it was? His hateful description of her as ‘a liability’ still churned around in her mind. Could he really not wait to be rid of her?
She had her answer just before midnight when he pushed her door open, stepped silently into the room, and latched the door behind him.
“My Laurel,” he murmured. “I can’t leave it like this between us.” He approached the bed. Her hands lost their grip on the book and it started to slide to the floor. He caught it deftly and placed it on a nearby chest.
“You have to leave my country. You’re in danger here. But however much I insist upon that, I can’t bear the thought of you hating me for turning you away.”
She gave a slight shrug and waited.
“You have your grandfather now. You have a new life ahead of you.”
He sat beside her on the bed. His white toweling robe slid aside to reveal a slice of muscular thigh. Her eyes settled there—anywhere but on his face.
She clenched her fists until her nails scored painful crescents into her palms, barely able to stop her fingers from reaching out to stroke his beloved skin.
“Don’t,” she said, anguished.
“I have to. My life is far removed from yours; there can be no contact between us. But I wish you to know I’ve enjoyed this time together. That I’m not sending you away because I want you to go.”
Something tore inside her chest—as sharp and agonizing as lightning.
Finally she raised her eyes to his. Tears trembled on her lower lashes. He sighed then, and cupped her face in his long hands. His thumbs smoothed the tears over her cheeks as they rolled down.
“I have come to say a private goodbye, my Azizah. Tomorrow night you’ll stay in my city apartment, and plans are under way for you to fly out the next morning.”
Laurel gave a small helpless moan and scrunched her eyes closed as though she could block out such a prospect.
“We won’t have the same privacy there,” he continued relentlessly. “It’s a big apartment, but very open. There are no secret corners or long hallways to hide in. Look at me,” he coaxed.
Her wounded blue eyes opened and meshed with his intense dark gaze. His mouth quirked. “This old lodge was the ideal hiding place for you, and a wonderful retreat from the troubled world. I hope you’ll remember it, and me, with affection?”
She attempted a smile, but it was very small and very sad. She gave a shaky sigh.
“I’ll remember you always, Rafiq. And yes, with affection. I owe you my life, after all.”
Helpless to resist him, she started to draw back the covers.
He stood and sloughed off the robe. The soft golden light from the bedside lamp gleamed on skin and scars and his long hard sex.
“I see you’ve
come to say goodbye,” she said, attempting severity and failing totally as her slight smile blossomed into a tremulous grin.
“We need to be close one last time. Lie in my arms tonight, Laurel. Let me hold you and treasure you while we still have the chance.”
He slipped into bed behind her, and once again she found herself surrounded by his warmth and the scent of his skin as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back against his chest. She wriggled to settle her bottom against his groin, and he gave a husky moan as he smoothed her long hair aside and nipped her shoulder.
“So beautiful,” he whispered. “So small, yet such a woman.”
One hand found a breast and cupped it. “Such a woman,” he repeated. “And some pieces are not so small.” He rubbed her nipple gently. “These memories of you will be so very dear to me. There’s no way you can stay, and my life and duty are here, so what are we to do but enjoy each other while we can?”
“That sounds very Arabic.”
“We can’t escape our fate.”
“My fate was probably death, but I escaped from Fayez and Nazim with your help, so it
possible. I’ll always remember you for saving my life.”
“And hopefully for more than that,” he whispered, tempted beyond reason by her suggestive wriggling against him. He drew back the covers and quickly sheathed himself. Then he pulled her backward until she knelt near the edge of the bed, pushed her thighs apart, and entered her with one long slow deliberate thrust.
“Remember me for this, too,” he insisted. “Remember me for the pleasure we shared.”
He held her helpless beneath him, not moving, to give her body time to accustom itself to his sudden entry. Then he smoothed her hair forward and began to drop kisses along her spine with fierce passion before reaching around to find her clitoris.
Laurel bit the back of her hand to avoid crying out. His desperate invasion had both shocked and thrilled her. The strange unmoving penetration felt so possessive, so right. He was invisible behind her, pressed hard against her thighs but no-where else—except where his lips touched and lifted, again and again, and his fingers stroked and teased between her thighs.
She began to tremble uncontrollably. The unrelenting pressure of him buried deep inside her felt almost painful, but the sense of his occupation was such a turn-on that tiny flutters and quivers arrived as if by magic to caress his length.
“Yes!” he groaned with elation as she began to spasm around him with breathy little cries. Then at last he moved, rapidly and deeply, transporting them both to dark hot paradise.
Laurel woke in his arms near dawn. His lips roamed her face, kissing her eyelids, the sensitive edge of her jaw, the tip of her nose.
As she stirred, he started to nibble and nip at her mouth—drawing her to full consciousness with tender regretful kisses. For long minutes they lay entwined, mouth on mouth, giving and taking pleasure.
Finally he sighed and drew away.
“I must go, Laurel. I have so much to do today, and another long drive to Al-Dubriz and back. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
He rose from the ravaged bed and looked down at her as she sprawled, nude and replete.
“The perfect picture to carry with me always,” he said.
Rafiq left the lodge soon afterward, and returned hours later. Barry was still trying to beat Ash at pool. The click of the heavy balls echoed in the quiet room. Laurel sat reading at a nearby window. She looked up, pale and distracted, as he approached her.
“So now we make arrangements for your escape,” he said, attempting to sound considerably calmer and more businesslike than he felt.
He handed her a designer suitcase and matching cabin bag, then opened his briefcase and produced a folder, from which he drew a counterfeit passport.
“So I’m to be called Amanda Holloway,” she said, inspecting it. “But there’s no photograph, and as you say, I can easily be identified in Al Sounam.”
“My God,” Barry said as he crossed the room, curious to be part of what was happening. “You really are Intelligence—or whatever.”
“As you see,” Rafiq said. “And not one word of this gets written down or recorded in any way. We’ve reached agreement on that—yes?” His eyes bored into the hapless journalist.
Barry nodded and grimaced. “Just my luck to get the scoop of the year and not be able to use it.”
“As long as you remember that.”
“I have a reasonable reminder.”
“So we need to make you look very different from your beautiful self,” Rafiq said, turning to Laurel and lifting a vivid red-gold wig from the cabin-bag.
“Red!” she exclaimed. “Won’t that make me stand out like a beacon?”
“A wealthy first-class rich-bitch beacon,” he agreed. “Not a blonde fugitive beacon. Sometimes the safest disguise is to look as though you’re not trying to hide at all.”
“But what about a photograph?”
“We’ll soon take care of that. Put your wig on, and lots of make-up and jewelry. I’ll photograph you and send the result back to headquarters. They’ll work a little magic by the time we need the real thing.”
“It’s as easy as that?” Barry asked as Laurel departed for her room.
“With the proper resources, it’s possible. Bad fakes are getting easier to spot all the time. I want nothing,
to get in the way of Laurel’s safe departure. Her passport must be perfect.”
He eyed the men.
“You two were flying out together?”
“I’ve got Ash onto a flight tomorrow with Laurel. The sooner she’s gone the better. You’ll be okay with your existing booking? You need clearance for the currency?”
Barry shrugged, relieved the topic had been raised.
“That’d be helpful. Thanks.”
“Ash—you’ll wear local clothing until you’re on the plane. Just in case someone recognizes you. Good thing you’re well-tanned.”
“Anything to keep Laurel safe.”
Rafiq opened the suitcase and shook out a white robe and head-cloth.
“Then we’re agreed.”
Fifteen minutes later Laurel returned, looking nothing like herself. Rafiq positioned her against the wall, took a series of shots, and downloaded the images onto his laptop.
“Done,” he said as he sent them into cyberspace.
They packed. Laurel spent a few minutes with Azizah while Ash was made familiar with his unexpected garments. There were heartfelt farewells to Yasmina and Malik. The bags and passengers were loaded into the SUV and they departed.
“You’re a whole new person,” Rafiq said, reaching across to touch the vivid chin-length wig. In sophisticated clothing and heavier make-up Laurel had been transformed into someone else entirely. A hard young socialite—the very kind of woman he’d often spent time with and never really fallen for. He so much preferred her young and soft in the old jeans and T-shirt, but maybe it was easier saying farewell to this glossy stranger?
He drove fast across the rough desert route, glancing constantly to left and right and checking the rear-view mirror. So far, so good. Not until he reached the outskirts of Al-Dubriz did he cut his speed back.
He deposited Barry and his bag at his hotel, and drove Ash and Laurel further across the city and through security gates into a basement parking garage. He hustled them into an elevator which rose seventeen floors to his penthouse apartment. Only then did he relax his vigilance.
Laurel crossed to the huge glass frontage and peered the dizzying distance down across the city of Al-Dubriz.
“Rafiq, it’s amazing!”
“You like my view?”
“The view, the décor, everything,” she said, turning to survey the expanse of pale marble, sand-toned leather and chrome. “It’s such a contrast to the lodge. Thank-you for bringing us here. Now I have somewhere else to picture you when I’m gone.”
“And where am I to picture you?”
“I don’t know,” she faltered. “What’s my new home like?” she asked, turning to Ash.