Authors: Kris Pearson
“And this is the worst bit,” she shouted. “Rafiq—unlock the door—I can’t stand it. Years ago I used to be locked in my room, night after night. You’re terrifying me.” Tears ran from her eyes in a blinding rush. Her voice had become high and panicked.
Her long wavering scream sliced through the night.
She bent over double, sobbing hopelessly, fearing she’d vomit with fright. Everything from 165 Washington Street rushed back; the always-fraught atmosphere, the thrift-shop clothes, the endless meals of stew and over-boiled vegetables Liz Gorridge cooked to eke out the money allotted by the authorities to feed her ever-changing foster-children.
And worse than anything, disgusting Gary Gorridge.
he heard her scream with ear-splitting intensity. Her anguished sobbing was all too audible. Laurel was no longer his feisty little captive, prepared to spit invective at the camera. Now she sounded like a scared child, bullied, sent to her room, locked in as punishment.
Rafiq compressed his lips. His whole face tightened as he concentrated on the sounds she made. Low moans and sniffling sobs. His own name—repeated and repeated in a desperate breathless chant. If she was an actress she’d be entirely convincing.
Cursing, he wrenched the key around and pushed the door part-way open. Laurel yelped as it hit her on the ankles. She lay curled in a ball on the floor, arms up over her face and around her head, mewing like a terrified kitten.
He eased the door further ajar until he could slip inside the room. Then he knelt and gathered her into his arms, pulling her against his chest, surrounding her with his warmth.
“Be calm Laurel, be calm,” he soothed, rocking her like a baby, burying his face in her hair as though physical closeness would comfort her. He had no idea what else to do—none of his anti-terrorist skills were useful for this.
It took several minutes before she became anywhere near calm again. Rafiq’s compressed knees burned with knife-stabs of pain. He slid into a sitting position, braced his back against the wall, and settled Laurel onto his lap instead. She smelled of the French soap from her bathroom. Her sobbing breaths were fragrant with coffee, and the dark lashes on her tightly-closed eyes shone with tears. He rested his face against her scented hair, rubbing his cheek to and fro as much for his own pleasure as her comfort.
“Better?” he whispered.
She let out a huge pent-up sigh. “You’re not the only one with bad times to remember,” she muttered. “Please don’t lock me in again. I couldn’t stand it.”
It didn’t seem the right time to dig for details in case he fractured her fragile composure, but he itched to know more.
He closed his eyes with resignation before he spoke again—no way was this going to please her. “Laurel—I can offer you this choice: I lock you in here on your own or you sleep in my room, tied to me.”
He felt her jerk with surprise.
“No funny business, I promise,” he added hastily.
Not yet, anyway.
“Right now I’m responsible for your safety. I’m not letting you out of my care. You have no idea how important you are, or what danger you’re in. So—this room or mine?”
Laurel began to tremble again. He drew her more tightly into his arms, surprised when she didn’t attempt a break for freedom. What had scared her so badly?
“Yours.” The word was only just audible.
His? He hadn’t bargained on that...
She clamped her teeth down hard on her bottom lip, trying to stifle her crying. Anything would be preferable to staying locked up helpless and alone. It had been bad enough in the bunker earlier that afternoon, but then she’d been so much in shock only part of her brain was working. Now she was fully aware. And being imprisoned again would destroy her.
She turned her head and buried her face against his chest for a few seconds...closed her eyes, used the solid thumping of his heart to centre herself. His skin burned hot and smooth against her cheek, cinnamon-brown, gently spicy.
Then she pushed herself abruptly away. He was the enemy. The jailer. The one who had handcuffed her and now threatened to tie her up again. With a determined grimace she struggled free of his lap and allowed Rafiq to set her on her feet.
They walked a few paces further along the dimly-lit side-passage. He opened another planked door—larger and more imposing than hers.
She gazed around in awe as she entered his huge and overwhelmingly masculine room. A vast bed dominated the space. Black iron framing suspended thick hangings above it. There were weapons displayed on the walls—vicious knives and guns and mean-looking clubs.
“My mother exercised her taste in the other rooms; my father dominated their bedroom—as a man should in an Arab home.”
Laurel didn’t want to think about that. She definitely didn’t want any dominating going on tonight.
“Virtually nothing has changed since they last slept here,” he added. “A new mattress, a bigger TV, but little else.” He waved a hand across to the en suite. “The bathroom, Miss Kiwi?”
She dashed across to it and slammed the door behind her. Could she do this? Share a room with him? Worse—share a
with him—even with his guarantee of ‘no funny business’? She didn’t seem to have any option now.
She leaned her elbows on a marble-tiled bench and buried her face in her hands in a futile attempt to block out the real world. Things seemed far from real. She was locked in a bedroom—voluntarily—with a man she’d never seen before today. A Sheikh who claimed to be the rightful King of Al Sounam.
She had no clothes, no way of getting in touch with the rest of the world, and probably no job when she got free. Oh, she just
to escape from him. But how?
She raised her eyes to her reflection in the mirror. What a ridiculous sight she made in his shirt and the swaddling bath-towel. No wonder he felt no attraction for her and could treat her with indifference in his bed.
Why was there nothing else to wear? Surely someone lived in this huge house other than little Yasmina?
For now she’d play along with his peculiar game and keep focused on ways to escape. Whatever he said, there was no way she was the least bit important.
But unbeknown to Laurel, the first of the ransom-demand tapes had been played earlier that evening on the prime-time TV news bulletin. Rafiq had watched her in his apartment in the capital as he toweled the moisture off his long lean body after his shower.
‘What a little spitfire,’
he’d thought as she faced him down through the camera. Memorable for her exotic fair hair and bright blue eyes—and her feisty reaction to being held captive. It was imperative he kept her hidden, and out of harm’s way; she’d be recognizable to many of the viewers, and all-too-familiar to Fayez and Nazim.
No way would he let her fall into their hands again.
“Right,” he muttered to himself, wondering how he was going to arrange his strangest-ever assignment. Between them they had one shirt, one flimsy robe, his silk boxers and a pair of trousers.
Well, the robe was less than useless; he could see right through it, and it had no buttons to keep it fastened around her. Far too tempting a prospect for any red-blooded male. Anyway, he’d decided he’d use its sash to bind her to him for the night.
But his shirt left her exposed right where she needed to be covered. He knew the chances of keeping his hands off her were slim if he nudged against her naked body as he slept. With stimulus like that, some things just came naturally to a man! So she’d better have his silk boxers as well.
He’d sleep commando in his trousers. He’d slept in worse while they’d been put through hell in the elite training camp at Wadi Bakbar a couple of years ago.
Decision made, he fingered the pretty sash.
Laurel found toothpaste and a toothbrush beside the big marble basin, but no other signs of occupation. She ran the brush under very hot water for a while, decided no bugs could have withstood the heat, and brushed her teeth. She combed her fingers through her hair, used the toilet, and crept out to join him—trying for an air of casual insouciance she was far from feeling.
He stood on a carved wooden stool removing weapons from the walls.
“You mistrust me that much?” she gasped.
“In my line of business, you take every precaution.”
“That would be the King business or the terrorist business?” she asked in a snide little voice.
“Both.” He kept his expression hard, and continued to prize the lowest knives and guns off their hooks. He stepped down only once he was satisfied she couldn’t reach anything higher up. He opened the door, placed the stool and the weapons in the passageway, closed the door, locked it, and pushed the key into his trouser pocket.
“Please don’t lock it,” she begged.
She clutched at her pounding head with one hand, and covered her belly with the other as her stomach churned with nausea.
“You’re not alone in here, Laurel. If the lodge catches fire during the night, I’ll get you out safely.” He reached across and ran his fingers down her cheek, and she jerked her face aside from him.
“Although I doubt it will be a problem,” he added. “The lodge is stone, and we’ve not had the least whiff of fire in all these years. Take that silly towel off and slip into bed while I use the bathroom.
“Take the damned towel off. You’ll fry in it. I’ll give you my boxers to wear so you’re decent.”
She raised her chin and shot blue sparks across the space between them. “That doesn’t leave
“I’ll sleep in my trousers. I’ve done it before.”
He grinned at her reaction. “Disappointed, Laurel?”
“In your dreams.”
But she had to admit she was. Somehow. A bit.
She turned back the sheet and sat. Bounced a couple of times.
Yes, it was a very nice bed indeed. But now she felt so alert, so wide-awake. Two strong coffees and her nap in the other bedroom had her curiously energized.
Unless it was the prospect of spending the whole night sharing the bed of a man who had a body to rival anything in Hollywood? A man who’d promised to behave with honor, but who still teased her as though he mightn’t.
As soon as he left her alone, she unwound the towel and tossed it onto the floor, pulled her shirt down, held it closed for dear life, twitched up the bedcover and tried to relax.
Rafiq was not long returning. He reached for the sash of the robe.
“Give me your wrist, Laurel, if you please.”
She drew her hand most unwillingly from under the sheet and thrust it out at him. He passed one end of the sash around it, pulled it firm and double-tied it.
“Not too tight?”
He laughed, switched on a shaded lamp beside the bed, then turned off the main light. The ambiance of the room became much softer, warmer, and sexier, making all sorts of trembles and tremors run over her skin. Hot one moment. Shivery-cold the next.
“I can’t do this,” she said in a small defeated voice.
He sent her a sharp affronted glare. “You’re in my care. I promise you’ll be safe.”
He sat. The mattress dipped beneath his weight, and she drew a sharp breath. Rafiq pulled the covers up and settled his shoulders back into the pillows stacked against the carved and leather-paneled headboard.
Laurel glanced sideways. The sight of all that smooth dark skin against the pale bed-linen shocked her. He looked entirely naked.
“So,” he said, lowering his hands to his trousers.
She flinched as she heard the zipper scraping down, and turned horrified eyes up to his. “Didn’t you do the swap-over in the bathroom?”
“Never thought of it,” he said. “Oh well...”
He eased the trousers down his legs, wriggling to get them past his butt. The covers slid southwards, and she glimpsed his flat coffee-colored belly with its stripe of fine hair. And then much more hair. She wrenched her eyes away again, having no wish to see more.
He continued to heave and toss around until he was able to draw his trousers from under the sheet and throw them out onto the bedcover.
“Stage one complete,” he said. “Now for stage two.”
Beside him Laurel knew she must look petrified.
“No need to panic. I’m sure you’ve seen a naked man before,” he added.
Yes, she had—but only one, and those experiences had been shocking and degrading. She had no wish to see another naked man ever again.
She managed to shrug as though such a thing meant nothing to her, but deep inside all the old dread boiled up.
Rafiq resumed his wriggling routine. The covers dropped lower. She grabbed them back. His legs slid against hers as he worked the boxers down towards his feet. His knee was warm and hard, his calf silky with hair.
And then he pushed the thin shorts right off and swept them up across her unseen thighs.
Laurel almost died, knowing she was now in bed with a man wearing nothing but a sexy grin.
“Not quite the way I expected today to end,” he said, looking far too amused as she grabbed for the shorts and tried to decide where her legs were supposed to fit. She wasn’t going to lift the bedcover up so she could see. Or
She felt around his warm soft shorts, distracted again by the scent of his skin. He smelled delicious across the tiny distance now separating them. Freshly showered, freshly dressed. If he’d been anyone else she might have wanted to bury her nose right against him and just enjoy.
Her overloaded brain insisted on wondering if he’d like her scent in return. Real rose-petals and exotic soap had to be better than nervous perspiration and the bone-deep fear that must have pumped off her in the van as he held her beneath him.
Not that it mattered in the least, of course. She was certainly not trying to attract him. The absolute opposite in fact. She wanted nothing to do with a man who behaved as brutally as he did.