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Authors: Kris Pearson

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BOOK: Taken by the Sheikh
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She turned and glared at her captor.

He was so close it was difficult to focus, and she wrenched her face away again—but not before she’d registered a pair of very dark eyes under determined straight black brows, and tobacco-brown skin stretched over high cheekbones.

A cruel imperious face—ancient, proud, and unyielding. It could have been carved from stone for all the softness it showed.

Laurel’s heart shrank. It truly seemed to shrivel inside her ribs. There was no compassion evident on his harsh features...no hint she was in anything but the most dire danger.

And then his hand started stroking her hair, and she shuddered.

“So pale,” he growled. “Not like the women of my country.” He tugged gently at the long blonde tail she’d threaded through the gap at the back of the cap to keep the heat off her neck.

“Leave it!” she snapped, pushed to her limit by his unwelcome attention. Sudden tears spilled down her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes closed and burrowed her face down into the mattress to hide her fear.

The mattress, she noticed in her few seconds of proper vision, appeared to be perfectly clean—probably brand new and bought for the job. At least that was better than being held helpless on something filthy and vermin-ridden. She felt almost willing to be grateful for such a small mercy. But oh, she didn’t want to cry and let him know how terrified she was.

His hand continued to move over her hair as if it might soothe her, and Laurel had no fight left to repel him.

Would she ever see Mrs Daniels and the children again? Ever walk once more on New Zealand’s green grass under tall trees? Or would this be the end of her life—in a strange dry foreign land, far away from everything she’d grown up with?

She trembled and shivered as the three men began a rapid conversation in a language she couldn’t hope to comprehend. The faint spicy fragrance continued to waft past her nose, just discernible over the oily smell of the vehicle. At least her captor was civilized enough to use soap or cologne.

After what seemed like forever the vehicle changed to a lower gear, ground up a slope, slowed and braked. The engine coughed and died.

“We’re here. It’s time to get out.”

Laurel’s heart increased its frantic hammering. Where was ‘here’? And what were they planning to do to her? She raised her head and gazed around, knowing her eyes must be wide with fear.

The van looked hard-used, the backs of the seats scuffed and pocked. The mattress only partly covered a bare metal floor. And the windows were heavily tinted, giving the sky an odd greenish tinge.

She heard a rattle and a clunk. Behind her, the van’s doors swung open on squealing hinges.

“Out,” her jailer repeated, rearing above her and clamping his hands around her waist. He lifted her without apparent effort, and twisted to set her down with her feet dangling only inches above the sand.

And the blinding desert stretched for miles. She saw nothing but pale rocks and golden sand under harsh sunlight, all the way to the hazy horizon. Undulating dunes and higher hillocks rose up occasionally, but no signs of civilization at all.

Laurel scrunched up her eyes and stared aghast at the short thick-set man who’d opened the doors. Roughly-dressed, he cradled a huge black automatic weapon in his arms. Fabric swathed his face to hide his features. Only his keen cruel eyes were visible. Presumably he was the street-grabber? She hoped his shin ached like fury.

He jabbed the black monstrosity viciously higher as a signal she needed to stand.

Laurel shrank back against the man who had, until now, been so terrifying. His whipcord body and husky voice were infinitely preferable to the alternative outside.

He grasped her elbows and pushed her up and out.

“Careful,” he snapped, releasing her. She stepped unsteadily away, and turned to survey the rest of her surroundings. Nothing apart from the white van and the animal with the gun. What in the world were they planning? They could do anything to her in this unobserved place.

The driver’s door swung open and the other occupant slid out, also dressed as roughly as the gunman—coarse-spun trousers tucked into heavy boots, the long shirt/coat garment all the local men wore, and a head-dress arranged to hide most of his features. This third man threw a few amused words in her direction and earned what sounded like a sharp rebuke from the one who’d pinned her down for the terrifying ride.

A hand grasped her long tail of hair to prevent her moving further away and yanked her head back so she almost lost her balance. Another hand fastened about her upper arm and she was turned, very much against her will, to stand nearer to mattress-man.

“Stay close,” he insisted, fixing her with intense black eyes.

She managed a hopeless grim half-smile. “To you?”

“Yes, if you value your life.”

“You’ve made me feel really safe so far.” Tough if she offended him. How much worse could her situation possibly be?

“I’m a better bet than the others.” His voice sank softly into her ear, and his warm breath stirred the tiny hairs on her neck. “Watch,” he added.

And Laurel did watch—amazed—as the other two started to drag a sand-colored cover aside to reveal steps down to a buried building.

“How on earth do you find it?” she gasped.

“I know it well,” came the enigmatic reply.

Then she looked properly at his face for the first time. If she’d seen him in a foreign movie—or at a diplomatic reception, or perhaps a less-formal social gathering—she’d have thought him a wildly exotic and handsome man.

He was several inches taller than the other two. Laurel stood a bare five-four; he must be six-two, six-three? He moved with a flexible grace that put her in mind of a gymnast or professional dancer.

Unlike the others he wore nothing over his face, unless you counted the short well-kept black beard which lay close to his lean jaw. The other men appeared to have much bushier efforts just visible beneath the folds of their head-dresses.

His hooded dark eyes bored into hers, inspecting with clinical coldness.

Still a cruel face,
she thought.
Still primitive and proud and unyielding. The face of a hard disciplined soldier who’ll deal unswervingly with the task at hand.

A soldier? Maybe not, but he was wearing khaki trousers with lots of pockets and zips, and well-worn boots. He seemed somehow military, and right now she knew with bitter certainty she was his task at hand.

“Fayez!” he called.

One of his henchmen jumped to attention. A rapid stream of instructions followed. The man unloaded a box of supplies from the van and carried it down the steps and into the underground lair.

“And now we go,” her captor insisted, steering her firmly by wrists and pony-tail towards the hidden prison.

Laurel had no option but to obey. She stumbled down the rough steps to a low doorway, ducked her head when he tugged on her hair, and entered. A smelly lantern burned fitfully. Its light dispelled the gloom a little, but hardly made the bunker an attractive prison. She stared around, appalled. Spooky caverns in Indiana Jones movies came to mind.

“Nazim!” More curt instructions were issued. The third man dragged the mattress down the stairs, forced it through the doorway, and stood there leering.

Fayez and Nazim
, she thought, trying to lodge the names in her memory in case she ever got free of this hell and had the chance to tell anyone. So who was he?

“Rafiq,” he said, as though reading her mind. “I’ll see that as little harm as possible befalls you while you are here.”

He pulled a hard wooden chair from under a rough table, set it close to the wall, and eased her down onto it. Apart from the mattress and a couple of crates, this seemed to be the bunker’s only furniture.

Rafiq,
she thought.
Handsome vicious Rafiq. I won’t forget your face if I ever get out of here.

He lifted a handy-cam from one of the boxes and set it on the table. It was the last thing she’d been expecting.

Pornographic movies flashed through her brain, and then, more menacingly, snuff movies. Dear God, surely not 

She sat there bewildered and terrified, held helpless by the hand-cuffs, and desperate for a pee after the long bouncing trip on the van floor.

“And now,” Rafiq said, “we will video our little American and see what she is worth.”

“America!”
echoed Nazim, spitting on the floor beside her feet.

Laurel tensed at his vicious tone, and then her whirling brain registered what they were saying.


Not
American,” she insisted. “Kiwi. New Zealand.”

Rafiq took no notice. Simply pushed the red cap further back so her face was in view and kept recording. She glared first at the evil dark eye of the lens and then up at him.

“I am
not
,” she repeated. “Who the hell do you think I am? Someone you can use to bargain with?”

Rafiq stopped her by reaching out, tightening his hand around her jaw, and tipping her face back toward the camera.

“Quiet!” he roared.

She would have continued arguing, but the man with the automatic weapon took up station beside her, pressed the muzzle against her head and began a hoarse taunt of “America, America,” for the benefit of the camera. She prickled all over as certain death looked her in the face, and time ground to a halt.

“Good,” Rafiq said a few second later. He rewound, checked the picture, ejected the Mini DV and slotted another into the handy-cam.

Laurel stayed speechless and frozen until the gun was removed.

“I am
not
American,” she quavered. “I’m from New Zealand. I’m a nanny. I’m working for an American diplomatic family but
I am not American
.”

“You are Madison Daniels.”

“I’m Laurel de Courcey.”

Rafiq shook his head, eyes icy. “Don’t lie.”

“I’m Laurel de Courcey,” she insisted. Born in Wellington, New Zealand. I’m twenty-three. This is my first time overseas. I’m the nanny for the younger Daniels children.”

“You are Madsion Daniels. Blue jeans, white shirt, long blonde hair, red baseball cap. You have been watched.”

“I’m Laurel de Courcey!”

There was no-one around to hear, but letting loose with more volume felt wonderful. “Blue jeans, white shirt, long blonde hair and
Maddie’s
baseball cap. She
loaned
it to me—my sunhat wouldn’t stay on in the wind.”

They glared at each other. Rafiq reached over and twitched the Cincinnati Reds cap from her head. Her pony-tail slid easily through the hole in the cap’s back.

“You are a western woman,” he snarled. “You will do.” He followed this pronouncement with a long and incomprehensible rant in the direction of one of the other men. Laurel wondered if he was being reprimanded for kidnapping the wrong woman.

Whatever, Rafiq was not deterred. He pulled a rattling handful of chain from one of the crates and began to wind it around her wrists until the handcuffs were obscured. She flinched as the links pressed against bones. Then he reached behind her.

She twisted, and saw he was unhooking a large clock from the wall, altering the time by several hours, and replacing it.

“Take two,” he said with no apparent irony. He resumed his place behind the camera.

“You have to believe me,” she insisted. “I am Laurel de Courcey.”

“So you’re intent on talking? Tell us more.”

“Pig!” she spat back. “I’ll tell you nothing if you’re too stupid to even kidnap the right woman.”

Rafiq’s big hand clamped around her face again. “Be careful who you insult, little one,” he said with silky menace. “It’s unwise to speak like that in your current position.”

She sat there glaring at the camera, willing herself not to dissolve into tears.

Again he checked his picture, ejected the little cassette and inserted another. He barked an instruction and one of the other men took the clock down and altered the time.

But it was Rafiq who busied himself with her hair, gently removing the elastic tie that held the long glistening strands together, and combing them through with his fingers to arrange it over her shoulders in a pale tousled waterfall. Laurel shivered as he touched her. Even here in the burning desert he sent cold tremors right down her spine.

He unwound the heavy chain from her wrists and then unlocked the handcuffs. She chafed at her skin to bring some feeling back after the constriction of the chains. But her relief was short-lived. He crouched in front of her, unwound a length of bright orange polyester rope, and tied it around each of her wrists, leaving perhaps two feet of it between her hands.

“Hold very still,” he instructed, producing a cigarette lighter from one of his trouser pockets, and proceeding to weld the knots together by melting the rope into hard unyielding lumps. Her relief at being freed ebbed away. The flame licked against her flesh, although he was careful not to burn her. He tied a much longer length to the first one and handed it to Fayez or Nazim—she still couldn’t tell them apart.

“Forgive me this,” Rafiq said, brushing his fingers along the dusty floor and spreading grimy smears onto Laurel’s face and the front of her high-necked long-sleeved white shirt. His fingers felt hot through the thin cotton fabric, and she shrank away from his touch on her breasts.

“We need to make it look as though several days have gone by. As though you are now dirty and desperate. Fayez?”

Fayez grasped the rope in one brown hand as though she was a poor sad mongrel on a lead and stood impassively beside her.

Rafiq began recording again and then muttered something. Suddenly Laurel’s head was dragged backwards and a huge curved knife pressed against her throat. She screamed in total terror.

“No, please! Please don’t! I’m not who you think I am!” At last she burst into the tears that had never been far away.

“America...” Fayez sneered as he allowed her to slump forward in a sobbing heap.

“Good, it’s all done,” Rafiq confirmed in a businesslike tone, checking his work and ejecting the final little cassette. He let her cry for several more minutes and then asked, “Are you thirsty? We have Coca Cola or orange juice, both quite cold.”

BOOK: Taken by the Sheikh
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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