The Sheikh's Lost Lover (paperback)
The Sheikh's Lost Lover (paperback)
- Publisher : Bay Books (August 5, 2015)
- Paperback : 196 pages
- Item Weight : 1 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.45 x 8 inches
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King Razeen ibn Shad looked across the calm waters of the bay, silvered under the light of the bright moon, and watched his old friend climb aboard the yacht. It had been a good night: dinner and conversation with someone who wasn’t his employee or his subject, someone who didn’t want anything from him. The shared laughter and memories made the loneliness afterwards even harder to bear. But he had no choice. His country had to come first.
He was about to turn away when a flash of white on the calm waters drew his attention. He narrowed his eyes and saw a swimmer: arms cutting through the sea in a sleek action designed to move fast through water, designed not to disturb the calm surface, designed not to be seen. And it would have worked if he hadn’t been watching so closely.
He moved to the shadow of the palm trees that fringed the beach and watched the faint movement on the water come closer. The beach was off-limits until the scientific survey of the coral reef his friend was undertaking was complete. Until then, no one had permission to be here. Last time they’d had intruders, they’d lost part of the coral forever. He’d make sure it didn’t happen again.
Lucy stepped out of the sea onto the still-warm sand, squeezed the water out of her long hair and walked up the beach. After a day spent preparing food below decks, she’d needed a swim—and what a swim! The water was as warm as the air that now caressed her body. She breathed deeply of its fragrance and looked around.
The beach was a perfect crescent of white sand under the sheltering sweep of the palm trees. On one side of the small bay a rocky promontory jutted into the water, marking the beginning of the coral reef the scientists on the boat were here to study, and on the other side she could see the uneven outline of mangrove trees.
She’d traveled all over the world but nowhere came close to the perfection of this unspoiled place. The white sand was almost luminous under the starlight and three-quarters moon. The beach was empty: no lights, no people and no sound but the distant hoot of an owl and the seductive splash and drag of the waves. She was quite alone. The only sign of habitation was a low-lying mansion in a neighboring bay and the yacht, bobbing lazily out near the reef.
Perfect. Or it would have been if she didn’t have to set her plan into action the next day.
She sat down and wriggled her legs against the sand: enjoying the sense of freedom, relishing the sensuous friction of the dry sand against her wet body, willing her mind to forget, for one moment, what her real purpose was in accepting the job that had brought her to Sitra.
Suddenly she stilled and a prickle of alarm ran down her back. She twisted round and scanned the shadows, her ears straining to hear whatever it was that had disturbed her. It took a second scan of the beach before she saw him.
He stepped away from the dark trees, his white shirt and pale trousers glowing softly in the dim light. Icy fear washed through her body as she scrambled to her feet and spun round.
“What are you doing here? This beach is off-limits.” The stranger’s deep and powerful voice filled the silence of the night.
She stepped back toward the sea, her body tense, ready to run. She couldn’t see his features: his face was in shadow and his dark hair merged with the trees behind him. She couldn’t outrun him; he was closer to her than she was to the sea. She took a deep breath, willing herself to calm, forcing herself to think.
“I know it’s off limits. So what the hell are you doing here?”
“Answer my question.” It was a command from someone used to obedience.
Lucy swallowed the first angry retort that sprang to mind. She was alone with a man much taller and broader than herself. Somehow she didn’t think her self-defense moves would have any effect on him. “I’m with the boat over there. The King has employed us to do some work on the reef. I fancied a swim.”
“I see.” He paused for a moment. “In that case I assume I can trust you not to disturb the coral.” His voice had lost its angry tone, but was no less commanding.
She exhaled a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. “Yes, of course.”
She waited for him to say something further but he didn’t. She took another step backwards, suddenly conscious that she was wearing nothing but a flimsy bikini, had no phone, nothing to protect herself, except herself.
“You may stay if you wish.”
“No, I was just going.” The moon had risen a little higher above the palm trees, casting light on the stranger. He was striking, with a body as powerful as his voice.
“You should come during daylight, you would appreciate the beauty of the bay better then.”
“I’ll be working.”
“Alex obviously keeps you busy on The Explorer.”
“You know him?”
“He’s an old friend. I was watching him return to the boat when I saw you.” He paused. “It’s a shame you won’t get a chance to see the beauty of the beach by day. But there are some things here which are better by night. The bay holds secrets.”
“I’m here for work, not pleasure.” But, just looking at him, “pleasure” was all she could think about.
A slow smile spread across his face as if he could read her thoughts.
“Shame. If you wish, I can show you one of the bay’s hidden treasures. It’s known only to a few.”
“But I don’t know you.”
“And don’t know if you can trust me? Very wise. I am, after all, a stranger to you. However, I’m not a stranger to your captain. We went to university together.”
He smiled. “You are right to be suspicious. We were at Oxford. He studied Marine Biology but makes his money with the family firm—banking. He was born in New Zealand but moved to the UK when he was a boy. We met at Eton. He was briefly married to Amber. I was best man at his wedding. I hope one day they will re-unite.” He paused. “Is that enough to convince you I speak the truth?”
“That’s more information than I know about him. I only joined the boat a few weeks ago.”
“He’ll vouch for my respectability.” He pulled out his cell phone. “Do you wish to phone him?”
She certainly didn’t. There would be hell to pay from the control freak of a captain who insisted on everybody doing as he said 24/7. Illicit midnight swims were definitely not on the roster.
“Okay. I buy it.”
“Good. My name is Razeen.” He stepped forward and she could see him more clearly.
“Razeen?” She frowned. “I’ve heard that name before. Is it a common one?”
“In Sitra it is.”
“But you went to university in England; you sound English.”
“I was educated in England from a young age but I am also a proud Sitran.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s a beautiful country.”
“Have you seen much of it so far?”
“No, it’s not exactly geared to tourists. But Alex has set something up for me in the capital so I hope to see more of it then.”
He paused briefly. “Good.”
“My name is Lucy. Lucy Gee.”
She stepped forward and extended her hand. His hand slid along her palm and curled around hers, warm and strong, gripping it with a sensuality that sent waves of heat through her body. His touch held a power she couldn’t resist. She swayed imperceptibly closer to him, her fingers curling around his in response. Their hands were like two lit matches, melding together, unable to part. They just fitted together. She wondered if he felt the same as he continued to hold her hand for seconds longer than he should. Then he withdrew his hand, stepped away and looked across the bay. Perhaps she’d been wrong.
“So, would you like to see the bay’s secret?”
She shuffled her feet. “I probably should be getting back.”
“Of course, the decision is yours entirely. I, also, should be returning.”
He waited for her response. She should leave but she didn’t want to. It wasn’t only that there was something compelling about this man that made her want to stay, it was more that she felt at some instinctive level, she could trust him. She’d been traveling non-stop for eight years and had often found herself in situations where she’d had to make instant decisions. Her instincts hadn’t failed her during that time. Besides, she wanted to trust them now. She drew in a deep breath.
“Okay. Would you show me?”
Again the grin. “This way, Miss Gee.” There was something about his formality, about the way the warm breeze tousled his hair and his shirt flapped lightly, which stimulated her more effectively than any overt flirtation. She shivered as a slick wave of attraction filtered through her body before settling in her gut. His grin disappeared into a frown. “You’re cold?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Then come, I’ll show you the hidden treasure of the bay.”
As they walked, side by side along the water’s edge, with the sea easing up and falling away from them with a sigh, and the palm trees softly clattering in the gentle wind, Lucy tried desperately to think of something to say. She drew a breath and turned to him, but the words evaporated when faced with his broad shoulders and dark gaze. She stared straight ahead again, toward the promontory.
“Aren’t you curious about where we’re going?”
‘Curious’ didn’t begin to describe how she felt. She focused on calming her quickened heart. “Of course. Somewhere in front of us, I guess.”
“You guess right.” He pointed ahead of them. “You see where the promontory ends in a pile of rocks? Amongst them is a small sandy cove—it’s in there.”
“What’s in there?”
She caught his gaze and his smile radiated a heat that wrapped around her whole body. “You mustn’t be impatient. All will be revealed shortly. But there are clues already—you’re walking on one.”
“Umm, a mystery. Well, the sand’s definitely warmer here. So…”
He stopped suddenly and Lucy scanned the cliff face that from a distance appeared solid. It was only when she stood immediately before it, she could see that sharply overhanging rocks protruded over a recessed area. As they approached this recess, a twist in the rocks revealed a darkness unlit by the stars or the moon. She glanced at Razeen, suddenly uncertain.
He stopped at the entrance as if sensing her disquiet. “It’s most beautiful at night but you’re welcome to return by day if you prefer.”
A brief argument raged in Lucy’s head. She knew she shouldn’t enter the caves at night with a stranger, of course she shouldn’t. But when had she ever done anything correctly? She could look after herself. “Now is good. I want to see it at its best.”
“Then take my hand and I’ll lead you.”
She peered ahead. “It’s pitch black in there.”
“I’ve been coming here since I was a boy. I know it inside out. Trust me.”
“I guess there’s a first time for everything.” Including trusting someone.
She offered her hand and he clasped it and drew her after him, inside the narrow passage. They walked along a passage that twisted and turned as it penetrated deeper into the rocks. The heat increased, as did a smell that reminded Lucy of her childhood home in New Zealand—sulphur. There was a sharp twist in the path and the space suddenly opened out. They’d arrived.
“Wow…” Lucy exhaled in wonder as she shuffled round in a complete circle, her head lifted to absorb the pulsing light of thousands of glow-worms that clung to the rocks above the large, natural pool. “It’s beautiful.” She went to take a step forward.
“Careful,” he grabbed her arm just as her foot slipped on the flat rocks that surrounded the pool. “It’s deep.”
The slight movement of his fingers on her arm as they lightly caressed her before he drew his hand away, raised the heat like no thermal spring could.
“But I have my bikini on.”
He glanced at her breasts before meeting her gaze once more. “You want to go in?”
“If you do.”
“I would have to go in without any clothes and I’m not sure you’d be comfortable with that.” He smiled. “Am I right?”
Comfortable wasn’t the word that immediately sprang to Lucy’s mind. Interested was, intrigued, compelled. She’d never seen eyes like his. They were dark, melting and warm under the blue light of the cave—like chocolate, she thought. She licked her lips, almost feeling the effect of him on her tongue. She should walk out now. She should leave, swim back to the boat. But her body made no movement and the thoughts drifted away under the compulsion of his gaze. She sucked in a deep, steadying breath.
“Yeah. You are right. Let’s just sit for a while. I’ll need to return to the boat soon.” She sat on the stone and sunk her feet into the warm water. “The glow-worms’ lights are fading.”
He sat beside her and put his legs into the water, ignoring the fact his trousers were getting wet. “Because we’re disturbing them. We must speak quietly.”
For a few moments they both looked around, watching as the blue-green lights sparked back into life again. It was a magical place. Steam escaped in tendrils through the cooler air, up above and out of the cave and into the moonlit sky high above them. She moved her feet through the water, watching the phosphorescence shimmer with each movement.
“Local legend has it that a sea monster lives here.” His voice was a low whisper.
“I’m used to sea monsters,” she whispered back. “We have them back home in New Zealand. The Maori call them taniwha. Seems every culture has some figment of their imagination to scare the heck out of them.”
“Not of the imagination here. They are real enough to the people of my country.”
“Truly. Legend says that whoever sees the djullinar will be forced to confront that which he, or she, most dreads.”
A shiver ran down her spine. She didn’t know if it was a result of his words or his warm breath against her cheek. “What happens if there’s nothing you dread?”
“No one is totally unafraid.”
“I am. Nothing can hurt me.”
“That sounds like you’ve been hurt too much already.”
The silence continued for too long but Lucy didn’t know how to break it. No one had said anything like that to her for a long time. She went out of her way to appear invulnerable and most of the time succeeded. But, for some reason, this man saw through the resilient façade she’d created. She swallowed hard, trying to rid herself of the tension that had sprung to her temples. She forced herself to open her lips to speak but her throat was dry and she dared not trust her voice.
“I’m sorry, Lucy, I’ve no wish to pry. It was just an observation, no doubt an inaccurate one. Why don’t you try out the water? You’re shivering and the water will warm you.”
Despite the warm air, she did suddenly feel cold and, glad of the diversion he’d given her, she slipped into the pool. Easing her legs into the hot water, she leaned back against the black rocks until her feet found a ledge. Then she sat on the submerged rock and relaxed as the warm water lapped around her shoulders.
“Oh my,” she sighed. “This is worth the risk of a taniwha.”
“Perhaps it’s a trick of the taniwha to lure you closer to him. Lull you into a false sense of security before striking.”
Despite the heat she shivered again. “I don’t believe in monsters. Your monster is just something the owner invented to keep people out.”
“So cynical. And so brave. What would warn you off, I wonder?”
“I guess everyone has their own taniwha. Something that makes them run. And mine is not a many-legged monster.”
“No, I should imagine not. A young woman who would dive into a strange sea in the middle of the night and swim to a strange country, would not be frightened of such monsters. We do have sharks here, you know.”
“Small ones. But not inside the reef—Alex told me. I’m not frightened of them anyway. When I was young, before my mother died, I used to go diving. I came across a small shark once, it came too close so I hit it on the nose and it went away.”
He laughed and the sound swam into her body, warming and teasing her at the same time.
“You’re a fearsome woman, Lucy. I hope you don’t decide I’m your enemy and hit me on the nose.”
Without thinking she turned in the water and reached up and touched his nose. His breath stilled at her touch and she didn’t move.
She shook her head. “No, it’s too nice a nose.”
His hand caught hers and brought it to his lips. Then he kissed the palm of her hand and her breath caught in her throat.
“That’s good to hear. I’m very fond of my nose.”
She glanced at his nose and then back to his eyes. Somehow she’d moved closer to him until her body pressed lightly against his legs. It seemed entirely natural when his other hand curled around her cheek.
“Where on earth did you come from, Miss Gee?” His breath was warm on her face, heating her skin and seeping down inside her body.
“From the sea, like your own taniwha.”
“But one should run from one’s monsters, not embrace them.”
“One doesn’t always do what one should.”
“Indeed.” He held her hand tight against his chest and she could feel his heart beat as rapidly as hers. Then his hand slid through her wet hair and brought her face to his. She closed her eyes as her body relaxed against his. When his lips touched hers it came as no surprise, no shock, simply a spreading warmth of familiarity. It was as if her body had been needing, searching for, this man’s touch her whole life.
His lips were more powerful, more possessive upon hers, than she’d imagined. He was so proper and courteous, despite the sensuality she sensed in him, that she hadn’t imagined that he’d so expertly capture her mouth. But he did. His lips held hers, moving against and opening hers until the slow burn low in her body caught and ignited. She gasped against his mouth and felt his breathing quicken.
Slowly he slid into the water and pulled her tight against him, drawing her close until their bodies were molded one against the other. The buttons on his shirt dug into her breasts and stomach, the silky material slid against her bare skin. The heat of his body against hers was hotter than the thermal waters. He was like fire—fire playing with fire.
She put her arms around him, exploring his muscles through his wet shirt, before pushing the material out of the way, so she could feel the texture and heat of his skin directly against her own skin. Her mind drifted into a sensory heaven. There was no longer any thought of who they were, of what they were doing there—there was only feeling. And it was a feeling she wanted to intensify. He groaned and for one instant she pressed her hips close to his and felt his hardness, before he pulled away.
“Lucy.” His voice was husky with desire.
“Umm…” She sought his lips again, not wanting to surrender that sense of completeness. His hands felt like bliss against her starved skin. She held her face close to his, her lips a kiss away from his own, inviting him, enticing him.
“Lucy.” Her name sounded like a caress against her mouth. But slowly, he let his hands fall from her back until they rested loosely around her waist. He shook his head and moved away until he was no longer touching her.
She gazed into his dark eyes, eyes that reflected the myriad lights from around the cave. “What is it?” She hardly recognized the low, husky voice as her own.
“This isn’t right.” He shook his head. “Look at you. I would be taking complete advantage of you here, alone, wearing so little.”
His finger touched her lips briefly. “No. It’s not right.”
Slowly the beat of her heart settled and the truth of his words sunk in. She closed her eyes tight at the thought of how the kiss might have progressed.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.” She hadn’t behaved so rashly since she was a teenager when she’d been full of rage and desperate for affection. Nothing good could come from it. She knew that for a fact.
“Neither of us was thinking straight. I’m a stranger to you now, but I don’t intend to be one. I’ll see you again.”
“You sound so sure.”
“I am. I will see you again and we will take up where we left off tonight. But here, now, we must leave it.”
Razeen was like no man she’d ever met before—so caring, so intent on doing the right thing. Lucy frowned and turned away uncertainly.
“Are you sure you like me?”
That laugh again. “Quite sure. But now isn’t the right time.”
She smiled and her fingers found their way to his chest. “You’re right. Thank you.”
“I don’t want you to have any doubts; I don’t want you to regret this.” Her smile faded. She knew she wouldn’t regret it but she also knew that she wouldn’t be seeing him again. She’d be gone from the bay in the morning. “Come, it’ll soon be dawn.” He lifted her onto the ledge of the pool and pushed himself back out after her. He took her hands and rose, lifting her to her feet at the same time. “You should be getting back to the boat.”
She looked around, forcing herself to re-focus, to pull away from the intensity she’d experienced with this stranger. “Yes, of course.” She glanced down at her bikini-clad body and then back at him. “I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this sort of thing.” She gave an embarrassed laugh. “There must be something in the air here in Sitra.”
“Maybe, or perhaps it’s us. I’ll see you again, Lucy, and then we’ll find out whether it’s the night air, or us.”
She shook her head slightly, so slightly that he wouldn’t know she was declining. It had to have been here and now, or nothing. Lucy Gee didn’t do relationships. She wouldn’t be seeing him again. Once she reached the city of Sitra she’d be leaving the team. She had a mission of her own to accomplish in that city.
He took her hand and they made their way through the dark tunnel, back to the beach once more. The soft, filmy light of dawn filled the sky. She scanned the beach and could now see what she’d failed to see in the darkness of the night—a lone vehicle parked beyond the trees that fringed the beach.
“Yes.” In the pale peachy light he seemed less real to her than he had in the dark, when sight was the least of the senses that had drawn her to him. He was a stranger now. She let her hand slip from his. He must have felt some of what passed through her because the expression in his eyes appeared to harden a little as he stepped away from her.
“Your boat,” he glanced toward the Explorer, now also clearly visible.
She nodded. “They’ll be waking soon and will want their breakfast.” She couldn’t drag her eyes away from him, his damp clothes clinging to every contour of his muscled body. She could see he was still thinking of her, that his body still wanted her. “Thank you for tonight. It was beautiful.”
“Your hair is curling now it’s beginning to dry.”
“It has a mind of its own.”
“Like me.” She stepped away, backwards at first before turning and running into the sea.
He watched as she ran, the flimsy white bikini that he’d spent so much time contemplating, barely covering her slim hips and full breasts. Then she turned and waved as the swell of a wave surged around her, covering her body and shoulders with water, before she turned back and dived into the water and was gone: arms swiftly taking her back to the boat.
He’d said he’d see her again. And he would. She didn’t know it, but they already had an appointment.