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Грэхем Линн

Seduced By The Sheikh: Jewel in His Crown / The Call of the Desert

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WHEN RUBY WAKENED she was immediately conscious of the heat and the crumpled state of her clothing. What she wanted more than anything at that moment was access to a long, refreshing shower and opening her eyes on the interior of the roughly made and claustrophobic tent was not a heartening experience. She checked her watch and was taken aback to realise how long she had slept for it was already almost one in the afternoon.

Raja was nowhere to be seen and she sat up in a rush, pushing off the quilt and registering the presence of her suitcase in one corner. Mentally she leafed through what she recalled packing for what she had assumed would be short-term requirements while the majority of her wardrobe was shipped out in advance of her arrival. Just as Hermione had been shipped out, she recalled, her eyes suddenly stinging, for she missed her dog and knew her quirky little pet would be sadly missing her. She scrambled up and looked in vain for her shoes before peering out of the tent in search of Raja. It was not that she needed him, it was just she wanted to know where he was, she told herself staunchly.

That angle forgotten, however, Ruby remained standing stock still to stare out of the tent with a dropped jaw at the view of an alien world that shook her to the core. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but sand and the occasional small bush on a wide flat plain overarched by a bright blue sky and baked by a sun so bright and hot she couldn’t look directly at it.

‘Coffee? You slept soundly,’ Raja commented from the side of the small fire he had lit below the ample tent canopy.

‘Like the proverbial log.’ One glance in his direction and Ruby’s teeth grated together in exasperation. As if it weren’t hot as hell already he had to build a fire to sit beside! And there he sat, infuriatingly immaculate in the same long off-white robe he had donned the day before and seemingly as comfortable living in the desert as he might have been in a five-star hotel. Only the reality that he was unshaven marked his departure from his usual standards of perfect grooming.

‘Where did you get more water to make coffee?’ Ruby was struggling not to care that her hair was probably standing on end and mascara had to be smeared all round her eyes.

‘This is an oasis. I established that last night. An underground stream feeds a pool below the cliff and our water supply is secure.’ He gestured to the other side of the tent. ‘Do you want a drink?’

Ruby flipped round to belatedly note the towering cliff of rock on the far side of the tent. A large grove of flourishing date palms and other vegetation made it clear that a water source had to exist somewhere near by. ‘I’d sooner not take the risk. After what happened on the plane, I’m only drinking water that comes out of a bottle,’ she told him thinly.

The prince compressed his sensual mouth on the laugh he almost let escape. She looked very small, young and unsure of herself, standing there with tousled hair and bare feet, clearly unsettled by her surroundings but struggling not to reveal the fact. She hated to betray weakness and it was a trait he implicitly understood. Dishevelled though she was, however, her hair still glinted like polished silk and her flawless skin had the subdued glow of a pearl. Her beauty was not dependent on cosmetics or the flattering cut and gloss of designer clothing, he recognised, very much impressed by how good she looked without those trimmings. ‘There is no bottled water to be had here.’

‘Yes, I know that… I’m not stupid!’ Ruby snapped back at him in furious self-defence. ‘I just don’t do the camping thing… OK? Never did do it, never saw the appeal of it and don’t want to be roughing it out here now!’

‘That is very understandable,’ the prince responded with the utmost cool.

Far from impervious to the likely impression she had to be making on a guy who had probably majored in advanced desert survival skills during the war, Ruby dealt him a dirty look. ‘I don’t care if you laugh at me!’

Retreating crossly back into the tent because she cared very much indeed, Ruby hauled her case to the ground and opened it. She was grateful she hadn’t bothered to lock it because, like her shoes, her handbag in which she would have stowed a key was missing. Only when she saw the state of the tumbled contents did she realise how naive she was being: their kidnappers had clearly rummaged through the contents before unloading it from the plane, doubtless keen to ensure that she hadn’t packed a phone. She dug out her wash bag and a towel as well as a change of clothing and a pair of sneakers, suddenly very grateful indeed to be in possession of such necessities. A quick inspection of the tent interior warned her that Raja had not been so fortunate.

Donning fresh underwear and tee, she wrapped a sarong round her waist and tried to move more slowly because the heat was making her perspire. She came to a reluctant halt on the edge of the sparse shade offered by the canopy. ‘I have a new toothbrush and a razor you can have and you can share my towel.’

In the mood his wife was in, Raja considered that a surprisingly generous offer. A wolfish grin of appreciation slashed his bold, bronzed features and he looked so ravishingly handsome at that instant that Ruby stared fixedly at him, her tummy flipping like an acrobat on a high wire, the warmth of awareness sending hot colour surging into her oval face.

She climbed up the slope and saw the pool that had formed in a gully densely shaded by the massive bulk of the rock formation behind it. Raja strode up from the tent to join her and fell into step beside her, his hand first at her elbow and then at her spine to help her ascend the rougher ground and to steady her when she wavered. He had incredibly good manners and, unused as she was to that consideration from a man, she could only be pleased that he was willing to make the effort. She was uneasily aware that so far she had not been the most heartening companion. Even worse in so challenging and harsh an environment she could only be at a loss.

They hovered by the side of the palm-fringed, crystal-clear pool formed by the water seeping out from a crack low in the rock face. Ruby moved first, taking off her sneakers to dip her toes in the water. The temperature was deliciously cool on her skin in the intense heat.

Lifting her chin and refusing to be self-conscious, she wasted no time in pulling her T-shirt off and untying the sarong. In bra and knickers she reckoned that she was as well covered as she would have been in a bikini. Raja followed suit, stripping off his long tunic and draping it over a rock beside her clothing. Wideeyed, Ruby watched the sleek muscles working in his strong back and shoulders and then hurriedly averted her gaze, reminding herself how much she had always hated her stepfather leering at her body. It was a clumsy comparison though, she reflected, for she suspected that Raja might well enjoy her admiration.

Standing thigh deep in the pool, Raja watched Ruby wash, his masculine body quickening with hungrily appreciative male interest. Wet through, her underwear was very revealing. He could see the prominent pink nipples poking through the sheer cups of her bra and he wondered how sensitive she would be if he put his mouth to those delicate peaks. As she waded out of the pool again, the clinging fabric of her panties clearly outlined the cleft between her thighs and the forbidden aspect of what he was seeing was a much more stimulating sight than complete nudity. Hard as steel in response, he studied the rippling surface of the water instead. On a very basic level his thoughts were reminding him that she was his wife, that at the very least he was entitled to look while at the same time his brain was recalling their agreement. No sex, no touching. Why the hell had he ever agreed to that? He reckoned that if he touched her the way he was feeling the force of his desire would frighten her.

Ruby walked out of the water and reached for the towel to dab herself dry, moving out of the shade in the expectation that the sun would dry her off more quickly.

‘This is the hottest hour of the day. Cover up or you’ll burn,’ Raja warned her, knowing that he was burning already in an altogether more primitive way.

Reckoning that he was bone-deep bossy in the same unalterable way that holly leaves were prickly, Ruby ignored the stricture and left off her tee. She knotted the sarong just above her bra and began to comb out her damp hair, her attention quite naturally straying to his sleek powerful physique as he stood in the water that had covered her to the waist. His torso was a streamlined wall of muscle, his bulging upper arms, narrow hips and long thighs whipcord taut with lean tensile strength. As he splashed water up over his magnificent body, droplets glistening like diamonds in the bright light, she noticed the revealing fit of his boxer shorts which clearly defined his manhood. Feeling like a voyeur invading his privacy, she quickly looked away but she was shocked.

Was the presence of her only minimally clad body responsible for putting him in that condition? Her face stung with mortified red at the suspicion. What else was she supposed to think? She might not be irresistible as he had quipped the night before but she evidently did have what it took to awaken the most basic chemistry of all. It also occurred to her that she really had not realised until now that an aroused male would be quite so…large in that department.

A heavy ache stirred low within her own body and she was taken aback by the recognition that seeing Raja aroused, and knowing that her body was responsible for that development, excited her. And it was the first time ever that a man had had that astounding effect on Ruby. Indeed as a rule she felt uneasy and apprehensive when boyfriends became too enthusiastic in her arms. But then Ruby had never been comfortable with either her body or her own sexuality. How could she have been? During the years that had seen her steadily transform from child to young woman she had been forced to live with her stepfather’s obscene comments and the lecherous looks he had constantly aimed at her developing body. While being careful to ensure that her mother neither heard nor saw anything amiss, Curtis Sommerton had taught his stepdaughter to be ashamed of her femininity. His barely concealed lust had made Ruby feel soiled. Although he had never managed to unleash that lust on her, he had taught her an aversion to the male body and the kind of crude sexist comments that some men found amusing.

The prince draped the damp towel carefully round Ruby’s bare shoulders. ‘Your skin is very fair. Sit in the shadows while I finish here.’

And because Ruby was getting too hot under the sun and her confusing thoughts preoccupied her she did as she was told in most un-Ruby-like silence. She watched him peer into the tiny compact mirror she had produced for his use and shave and then clean those perfect, even white teeth. Her curiosity about him on a personal level was leapfrogging up the scale at an embarrassing rate. Had she had access to the Internet she would have been searching out information about his social life. He had to have one. As much of a pinup as a movie star, rich as sin and obviously possessed of a healthy male libido, Raja al-Somari had to have women in his life. Did he enjoy discreet affairs? He would have to be discreet because Najar was a conservative country just like Ashur. Did he seek out lovers only when he was abroad? Or did he have a lover stashed away somewhere more convenient? The intimate aspect of her thoughts mortified her. What was it to her, for goodness’ sake? Even if he had a constant procession of women eager to provide him with an outlet for his sexual needs, it was none of her business!

Having replaced the long tunic, his black hair curling back damply from his brow, Raja approached her. ‘We should eat now.’

He showed her the ancient refrigerator operating off a car battery in the back of the tent.

‘You understand this way of life,’ Ruby remarked.

‘When I was a child my father often sent me to stay with my uncle in the desert. He is the ruling sheikh of a nomadic tribe,’ he explained. ‘But in Najar there are few true nomads left now.

The bedu have settled so that their children can attend school and they have easier access to jobs and medical facilities. But the nomadic way of life is still quite popular in Ashur.’

There was only fruit, some vegetables, meat and bread in the refrigerator and several tins of indistinguishable supplies. ‘I assume we’re not expected to be here for very long,’ Raja commented, handing her a cup of coffee.

Ruby frowned up at what looked like a red flag rippling on top of the cliff. ‘What’s that up there?’

‘A blanket I tied to a stick. It will be easily visible from the air and unusual enough to attract attention—’

‘You climbed up there?’ Ruby exclaimed, aghast, for the cliff rose to a pinnacle of almost vertical rock.

‘It was not so difficult.’ Raja shrugged a broad shoulder that dismissed the risk involved in so dangerous a climb. ‘I went up to take advantage of the view and see if there was any sign of human habitation but there is nothing within sight.’

‘Obviously this particular place was chosen because it was isolated,’ Ruby said wryly. ‘At least I don’t have any family to worry about me—what about you?’

‘A father, a younger brother and two sisters and a whole host of other relatives. But I’m most worried about my father. He is not strong. The stress my disappearance will cause will endanger his health,’ he proffered, his wide sensual mouth compressing, his handsome features taut with concern. ‘But there is nothing I can do about it.’

Her generous heart was troubled by his apprehension. ‘I have no relatives in Ashur, have I?’

‘None close that I’m aware of. Distant cousins, certainly.’

His ability to efficiently feed them both set Ruby’s teeth on edge. He could cook on an open fire with very limited ingredients and produce an edible meal while she would have been challenged to do so even in a modern kitchen. Her mother had been a poor cook and Ruby’s own repertoire was limited to the making or heating of simple snacks. While she lived with Stella, a very competent cook, her lack in that field had not seemed important but somehow in Raja’s presence it annoyed the hell out of her.

Feeling helpless stung Ruby’s strong pride. She hated feeling reliant on Raja and was painfully conscious that to date she had proved more of a burden than a help. That sense of inadequacy drove her into ceaseless activity that afternoon. She tidied up her clothes, ashamed of the fact she had left the garments lying in a tumbled heap beside her suitcase. She folded the quilts, shook the sand off the mats and took care of the few dishes and then she wandered round the grove of date palms busily gathering twigs and dried foliage to keep the fire going. The heat sapped her energy fast and she was filled with dismay at the prospect of what the much higher summer temperatures had to be like to live with. Her hair sticking to the back of her neck, she headed up to the pool to cool off again. The cold water felt glorious. Wrapped in the sarong, she sat down wearily on a rock in the deep shade to knot her hair and hold it off her perspiring face, wishing she had something to tie it back with. She looked across the pool to see her desert prince approaching, all six feet plus of his leanly muscled commanding figure pure poetry in motion, and she pursed her lips.

There he was drop-dead gorgeous and rich and he could cook, as well. She marvelled that he had stayed single so long. Of course that authoritarian streak might be a problem for some. He knew best…always. Her shoulders were pink and slightly burned as he had warned before lunch and she wasn’t one bit grateful that his forecast had come true but she knew that she ought to be grateful that he was so well able to cope when she was not. He was also equally keen to protect her from her own mistakes.

‘Watch out for—’

Ruby lifted her hands in a sudden silencing motion, brown eyes lightening with temper. ‘Just let it go, Raja. I’ll take my chances against whatever it is! You’re just about perfect and you know everything and you could probably live out here all year but I’m afraid I’m not cut from the same cloth.’

‘The desert is home to my people and yours,’ the prince contradicted in a tone of reproof. ‘We design and maintain beautiful gardens and parks in Najar but when our people want to get back to basics they come out into the desert.’

Ruby snatched in a sustaining breath and she kicked a rock with a sneaker-clad foot to expel her extreme irritation.


As the rock rolled over and something moved and darted from beneath it Raja almost leapt forward in his haste to haul her out of harm’s way. From several feet away, plastered back against the solid support of his hard muscular frame, Ruby stared in horror at the greenish yellow insects rushing out.

‘Scorpions. They shelter in dark places during the day. Their sting is very painful,’ Raja informed her as she went limp against him, sick with repulsion at how close she had come to injury. He removed her to a safe distance.

‘I don’t like insects either,’ Ruby confided in a shaken rush. ‘Especially ones that size and anything that stings—’

‘There are also poisonous snakes—’

‘Shut up…shut up!’ she launched at him fiercely. ‘I’m not on an educational trip. I don’t want to know!’

Raja turned her round and stared down at her, eyes shimmering with reluctant amusement.

‘I don’t care what you say either,’ Ruby added truculently. ‘Give it a rest—stop trying to train me into being a stuffy royal who never puts a foot wrong!’

This time Raja al-Somari laughed out loud, his ready sense of humour finally breaking free of his innate reserve, for Ruby was very much an original and not at all like the women he was accustomed to meeting. She didn’t flirt—at least if she did, she didn’t bother to do it with him. Indeed she used no feminine wiles that he could identify. She staged no enticing poses to draw attention to her body. She made no attempt to appeal to his ego with compliments or to pay him any especially gratifying attention and she had not told him a single story calculated to present her in a flattering light. He had never in his entire life met a woman as uncomplicated as she was and the more he was exposed to her frank, fearless style, the more he liked it.

‘So, you do have a sense of humour after all. My goodness, is that a relief!’ Ruby exclaimed, shaking her head in emphasis, a wealth of damp strands escaping her loose knot and spilling across her shoulders.

Raja stared down at her stunning face and the teasing smile on her ripe rosy lips. He lowered his handsome, dark head almost jerkily as if he were being yanked down to her level by some mysterious but very powerful outside force. He found her soft, sultry mouth with his and although that kiss started out gentle and searching it heated up at supersonic speed. Desire rose to gush through Ruby in a floodtide. Nothing had ever felt so necessary as the hard pressure of that sensual mouth on hers and the taste of him drowned her senses like a shot of alcohol on a weak head.

Without a word, Raja released her with startling abruptness and pressed a hand to her spine to urge her back down the slope towards the tent.

Ruby had never experienced such a charge of hunger before and, suddenly deprived of that connection with him, she was in a daze. The tip of her tongue snaked out to explore the reddened and swollen contours of her lips and all she could think about was how much she wanted his hot, hungry mouth back on hers again. The strength of that craving shook her. Her nipples were tight and tingling and her legs felt shaky. Putting one foot in front of another was a challenge. And at the same time, gallingly she was desperate to know what he was thinking.

Outside the tent Ruby shot Raja a sidewise glance brimming with curiosity. His hard profile was taut and he skimmed a look back at her, eyes brilliant with a wealth of stormy emotion. That shook her and in response her heart started beating very, very fast. ‘Don’t play games with me, Ruby,’ he spelled out in a roughened undertone.

Games? Ruby was offended by the suggestion and she lifted her chin in denial. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about—you kissed me—’

‘But you made no objection. When you have said that you don’t want me to touch you what else is that but a game?’

‘I don’t calculate things to that extent. You are so suspicious,’ Ruby condemned, flushed and flustered by the reminder and by the embarrassment of her own uncharacteristic behaviour. ‘It’s being in this situation… I simply forgot and got carried away for a moment.’

‘Every action has consequences,’ Raja pronounced, rigid with the pent-up force of arousal he was restraining, his lean hands clenching into fists, for his body was not one half as disciplined as his quick and clever brain.

Ruby sank down on a mat inside the tent. It was hot but nothing was as hot and disturbing as the hum of unnatural warmth at the centre of her body, which was shockingly new and demanding. She could not relax. She lifted a hand, watched it tremble and tried and failed to laugh at the state she was in. One kiss and it had been earth-shattering, even more so than the last. Now she felt cheated. She wanted more, she wanted to know what it felt like to make love with a man who attracted her to that extent. The hurricane-force potency of that attraction was certainly a first. She had not experienced anything comparable with other men when intimacy had often felt like more of a threat and a nuisance than a potential source of pleasure. More than once her unenthusiastic response had led to her being asked if she was frigid or gay. She had often had to fight her way out of over-keen encounters. She had had to shout, she had had to defend and justify her boundaries because the easy availability of sex was often taken for granted in relationships. But not once, not once in the five years since she began dating had she actually wanted to make love.

And now what was she doing about it? Here she was taking refuge in the tent and avoiding Raja as if she were ashamed of herself or afraid when she was neither, she conceded uncertainly. It was not as though she could fall pregnant either, she reminded herself squarely. Some months earlier her doctor had advised her to agree to a course of contraceptive pills in the hope of correcting an irregular menstrual cycle. Although she had no supply with her in the desert she assumed she would still be protected for some time against conception. She lifted her head high. She had not been playing some sexual game with Raja, she was not a tease and didn’t want him thinking that she was. In an impatient movement she scrambled upright again.

Raja was staring into the dying embers of the fire, black lashes lowered and as spectacular even in profile as glossy black fringes, his high cheekbones prominent, sculptured mouth clenched.

‘I wasn’t playing games,’ Ruby declared defiantly.

He flung his proud dark head back and looked straight at her. ‘I want you so much I ache…’

And his admission sizzled through Ruby like a hot knife gliding through butter. His confidence shocked her, for she had believed that she was being bold but his words made hers meaningless and little more than a sulky expression of innocence. Indeed almost a lie, she adjusted uncomfortably, jolted by her sudden unexpected collision with the scorching challenge of his gaze. Just at that moment she knew that she had sought him out again quite deliberately and that he was experienced enough to know it.

‘A woman hasn’t made me ache since I was younger than you are now,’ Raja told her huskily, vaulting upright with an easy grace of movement that tensed every muscle in her slim body. ‘You’re very beautiful…’

So was he, but she was too wary and proud to tell him that that lean dark-angel beauty of his had taken up residence in her brain and dug talon claws of need and desire into her very soul. When he kissed her she felt as dizzy and uncoordinated as though she had drunk too much alcohol. He made her feel out of control and she didn’t like that but, regardless of that fact, every time she looked at him it was a tougher challenge to look away again. She moved closer and somehow he met her in the middle, a possessive hand closing on her slight shoulder to hold her in place, his mouth or was it her mouth eagerly melding with the temptation of his again. And that crushing kiss was good, so good, her bare toes curled and her nerve endings sang. Her arms went round him, her fingers spearing into his hair, and with her eager encouragement his mouth got rougher and harder, his lean, powerful length sealing more forcefully to her softer curves.

It was too much: she couldn’t breathe, broke her mouth free to pant for breath and yet immediately sought him out again with renewed hunger and blindly impatient hands. In the midst of it he eased back from her to haul off his robe but just as quickly he pulled her back into his arms. The sarong fell at her feet but she didn’t notice because Raja was already lowering her down on the quilts while pressing taut openmouthed kisses along the slender expanse of her neck. She squirmed helplessly as the tip of his tongue scored the pulse there and then he nipped at her responsive flesh with his strong white teeth. Need was driving her now, all the while the heat in her pelvis was building and building into a furnace.

Her bra fell away. His palm closed over a small, pert breast and she gasped, back arching as he plunged his mouth down to the swollen pink tip and let his teeth graze the straining nipple. She dragged him up to kiss him again and ran an appreciative palm down over the hair-roughened expanse of his superb torso. He caught her hand in his and brought her fingers down to the rampant length of the shaft straining against his hard flat stomach. A shudder ran through his big frame as she took that invitation and stroked him, moulding the smooth hard heat and promise of him with reverent fingers.


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