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«The Arabian Mistress» - Линн Грэхем

Begging for Prince Tariq Shazad ibn Zachir's mercy was the last thing Faye wanted to do. She hadn't seen Tariq for a year…since their wedding. But Faye's brother was imprisoned in Tariq's homeland, and only Tariq could grant his freedom. Faye expected her meeting with the man she'd married to be tough, but Tariq's ultimatum took her breath away: become his mistress and her brother would be released!
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The Arabian Mistress Lynne Graham

is one of Mills & Boon’s most popular and

bestselling novelists. Her writing was an instant

success with readers worldwide. Since her first

book, Bittersweet Passion, was published in 1987, she has gone from strength to strength and now has over ninety titles, which have sold more than thirty-five million copies, to her name.

In this special collection, we offer readers a

chance to revisit favourite books or enjoy that rare

treasure—a book by a favourite writer—they may

have missed. In every case, seduction and passion

with a gorgeous, irresistible man are guaranteed!

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

The Arabian Mistress

Lynne Graham














IN HIS villa in the South of France, Prince Tariq Shazad ibn Zachir, paramount sheikh and ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state of Jumar, tossed aside the cellular phone and turned his attention to his most trusted aide, Latif.

Shrewd at reading others, Tariq noted the strain etched on the older man’s face. ‘Something wrong?’

‘I regret that I should have to disturb you with this matter…’ Latif settled a folder down on the desk with an air of profound apology ‘…but I felt it should be drawn to your attention.’

Surprised by the other man’s discomfiture, Tariq swept up the folder. The opening document was a detailed report from Jumar’s chief of police. Tariq scanned the name of the foreign national, who had been imprisoned for bad debts. He froze, his superb bone structure clenching, narrowed dark eyes hardening with angry incredulity. It was Adrian Lawson, Faye’s elder brother!

Yet another Lawson guilty of dishonesty and deception! As he read the explanation of the events which had led to Adrian’s arrest his lean, strong face hardened in disgust. How could Faye’s brother have dared to set up a construction firm in Jumar and rob the very citizens that he, Tariq ibn Zachir was sworn to protect?

Powerful memories were stirring, disturbing memories which Tariq had spent twelve months endeavouring to forget. What male wished to recall his own worst mistake? Faye with her fake innocence, who had laid a snare to entrap him as surely as any seasoned gold-digger. The bait? Her beautiful self. The threat after the trap had snapped shut? Scandal! The paramount sheikh of Jumar might exercise feudal power over his subjects. But, even in the twenty-first century, Tariq ibn Zachir accepted that it was his duty to maintain a conservative lifestyle. And a year ago his choices had been few for his father, Hamza, had been dying…

Snapping back to the present, pale with bitter anger beneath his tawny skin, Tariq slowly breathed in deep. Unlike many other scions of Middle Eastern royal families, he had not been educated in the West. Tariq had been raised much like his ancestral forefathers. Military school, tutors, desert survival exercises with the British special forces. At the age of twenty-two, a pilot and an expert in every possible form of combat, Tariq had finally convinced his father that, while the ability to lead his future people into battle was naturally important, one hundred years of peace within their borders and with their neighbours might suggest that a business degree could be of rather more imminent use to his son.

Tariq had duly discovered a natural talent for the business world and had enriched the swollen coffers of a state already so fabulously wealthy that he and his people made the highest per capita charitable contributions of any country in the world. And with his entrance into the more liberal culture of Europe, Tariq had also received an unparalleled education on the ways of Western women. Yet even in the grip of his subsequent cynicism, he had still been slaughtered like a sitting duck when he’d met Faye Lawson…

‘How do you wish me to act in this matter?’ Latif enquired.

Tariq flashed him a questioning glance. ‘There is no action to be taken. Let the process of law take its course.’

Latif studied his feet. ‘It seems unlikely that Adrian Lawson will be able to produce the money necessary to obtain his own release.’

‘He may rot.’

After a very long and tense silence, Latif cleared his throat with deprecatory hesitance.

Tariq sent him a look of grim amusement. ‘Yes, I know what I do…’

Uneasy though he was with that response, the older man bowed and departed again. Well aware of the source of Latif’s anxiety, Tariq considered his own position with grim disfavour. Realities he had sidestepped now confronted him. His fierce pride, his fury at being set up and trapped, had come between him and common sense. But it was time to sever his connection with Faye Lawson and move on.

It should have been done a year ago. It was not a situation which could be left unresolved. Particularly not when he now had the responsibility of bringing up three young children, orphaned by the plane crash which had decimated his own family circle. He needed a wife, a warm, maternal woman. It was his duty to marry such a woman, he reminded himself. However, it could not be said that he was eager to embrace that duty.

Thrusting aside the folder on Adrian Lawson, unread beyond that first enlightening page, Tariq lounged back in his chair like a restive tiger, brooding dark golden eyes hard as iron. The Lawson siblings and their boorish stepfather, Percy, were a sly and greedy trio, who allowed no moral scruple to come between themselves and financial profit. How many other men had Faye played for a sucker? How many lives had Percy ruined with blackmail and dishonest business practices? And now it was evident that even Adrian, the only one of the trio whom Tariq had believed to be decent, was equally corrupt. Such people should be punished.

Tariq pictured the hawk that was the emblem of his family soaring high above the desert in search of tender prey. A chilling smile formed on his well-shaped mouth. There was no reason why he should not strike a blow for natural justice. Indeed there was no reason why he should not take advantage of the situation and have a little fun at the same time…

Faye sat beside her stepfather in the back of the taxi in total silence. Small and slight of build, she was dwarfed by the bulk of the man beside her.

It was only mid-morning but it was hot and, after the long night flight from London, she was exhausted. The cab speeding them through the wide pristine streets of Jumar city was taking them to the prison where her brother, Adrian, was being held. Had she not been so worried about Adrian and had money not been so tight, she would have refused to share even a cab with Percy Smythe.

It still shook Faye that she could feel such intense dislike for any living person. Family loyalty had always been very important to her but she knew she would never forgive Percy for dragging her down into the dirt with him and utterly destroying any faith that Prince Tariq ibn Zachir had ever had in her. Nor could she forgive herself for being so infatuated that she had refused to allow herself to question Tariq’s sudden unexpected proposal of marriage twelve months earlier.

‘This is a waste of time.’ Percy’s plump, perspiring face was full of exasperated impatience. ‘You’ve got to go and see Prince Tariq and ask him to have Adrian released!’

Beneath the pale blonde hair which merely served to accentuate her present lack of colour, Faye’s delicate profile froze. ‘I couldn’t—’

‘Well, how are you going to feel if Adrian picks up some ghastly Middle Eastern infection and pops his clogs?’ Percy demanded with brutal bluntness. ‘You know he’s never been strong!’

Her sensitive stomach churned for there was more truth in that melodramatic warning than she liked to credit. As a child, Adrian had had leukaemia and, although he had recovered, he still tended to catch every passing bug. His uncertain health had finally destroyed the army career he’d loved, forcing him to rethink his future and plunge into the business venture which had led to his current plight.

‘The Foreign Office assured us that he was being well treated,’ Faye reminded the older man tautly.

‘Insofar as he’s been locked up indefinitely! If I was a superstitious man, I would believe that your desert warrior put a hex on us all last year,’ Percy complained bitterly. ‘I was riding high then, making money hand over fist and look at me now—I’m practically broke!’

Just as he deserved to be, Faye reflected heavily. Her stepfather would walk over anyone and do anything to feather his own nest. But there was one surprising exception to that rule: Adrian had somehow become as dear to Percy as any flesh-and-blood son. It was ironic that Percy should have sacrificed his own security in trying and failing to keep her brother’s business afloat.

The prison lay well outside the city limits, housed in a grim fortress surrounded by high walls and lookout towers. They had to wait for some time before they were shown into a room where a line of seats sat in front of a sturdy glass partition. Faye only then appreciated that neither privacy nor physical contact were allowed between inmates and visitors.

But a bigger shock was in store for her when Adrian appeared. He had lost a lot of weight and his prison clothes hung loose on his thin frame. The drawn pallor of his features alarmed her: her brother looked far from well. His bloodshot eyes were strained and reluctant to meet hers.

‘You shouldn’t have come, sis,’ Adrian groaned on the phone provided for communication. ‘This is my mess. I got too cocky and over-extended myself. I let Lizzie spend like there was no tomorrow. It’s the way people live here…you go a bit mad trying to keep up—’

Percy snatched the receiver from Faye and growled, ‘I’ll go to the press back home and kick up such a stink they’ll let you out of this hell hole!’

Adrian studied his stepfather in open horror. ‘Are you crazy?’ he mouthed silently through the glass barrier.

Faye retrieved the phone, her violet-blue eyes full of anxiety. ‘We can’t raise the kind of money you need to get out of here. Your lawyer met us off our flight but he said that he could no longer act for you and that the case was closed.

You have to tell us what else we can do to fight this.’

Adrian gave her a bleak defeated look. ‘There is nothing. Didn’t my lawyer tell you that there is no right of appeal in a case like mine? How are Lizzie and the kids holding up?’

At that reference to his wife, Faye tensed for she had no good news to offer. After the experience of having her luxurious home in Jumar repossessed and being deported with her twin toddlers because she no longer had any means of support, her sister-in-law, Lizzie, was feeling very sorry for herself.

‘Like that, is it?’ Adrian read his sister’s evasive gaze. ‘Lizzie didn’t even send me a letter?’

‘She’s pretty down…’ Faye hated adding to his misery with that admission. ‘She asked me to tell you that she loves you but that right now she’s having a problem just coping with being back home without you.’

Adrian’s eyes filled with moisture and he twisted his head away, swallowing hard to get himself back under control.

Faye blinked back tears at her brother’s distress and hurried to change the subject. ‘How are you managing?’

‘Fine…’ her brother mumbled curtly.

‘Are you being treated all right?’ Faye was intimidated by the suspicious appraisal of the two armed officers watching their every move.

‘I have no cause for complaint…just that it’s hell because I hate the food, speak rotten Arabic and keep on getting sick.’ Her brother’s jerky voice faltered. ‘But whatever you do, don’t let Percy go screaming to the media because that will make me a marked man in here. The locals see any criticism of Jumar as criticism of their lousy womanising ruler, Prince Tariq—’

In an abrupt movement, one of the armed officers strode forward looking outraged and wrenched the phone from Adrian’s grasp.

‘What’s wrong…what’s happening?’ Faye surged upright in a panic.

But on their side of the restrictive glass, she and her stepfather might as well have been invisible. Adrian was escorted back to the doorway through which he had earlier entered and vanished from view.

‘I bet those thugs are taking him away to beat him up!’ Percy was as aghast as Faye at what had happened.

‘But neither of those men put a hand on Adrian—’

‘Not in front of us…but how do you know what they’re doing to him now?’

They waited ten minutes to see if Adrian would reappear but he did not. Instead a severe-looking older man in uniform came in to speak to them.

‘I want to know what’s going on here,’ Percy demanded aggressively.

‘Visits are a privilege we extend to relatives, not a right in law. Your visit was terminated because we will not allow our most honoured ruler to be referred to in offensive terms.’ As Percy swelled like a ripe red fruit ready to burst in messy rage, the senior prison officer added loftily, ‘Let me also assure you that we do not abuse our prisoners. Jumar is a civilised and humane country. You may request another visit later this week.’

Registering then that every word spoken during such visits appeared to be monitored and that Adrian must have been equally unaware of that reality, Faye hurried her stepfather out of the room before he could add to her brother’s offence.

Percy raved in frustrated fury all the way back to their small hotel in the suburbs. Faye was grateful that the taxi driver did not seem to understand a word of Percy’s vitriolic diatribe against Jumar and all things Jumarian. Taking Tariq’s name in vain in a public place might well be tantamount to inviting a physical assault. As her stepfather headed straight for the residents’ bar on the ground floor, Faye got into the lift and went back up to her hotel room.

In her mind’s eye, all she could see was the look of naked despair on her brother’s haggard face. Just six short months ago, Adrian had believed he would make his fortune in a city reputed to be a building boomtown. Faye sat at the foot of the bed staring at the challenging reflection of the telephone in the dressing mirror facing her.

‘The number is easy to remember,’ Tariq had told her once. ‘We owned the first telephone in Jumar. You just dial one for the palace switchboard!’

Momentarily Faye shut her swimming eyes, pain and regret and bitterness tearing at her. However, like it or not, Prince Tariq ibn Zachir seemed to be the only option they had left. In most other countries, Adrian would have been declared bankrupt, not imprisoned for debt as if he were a criminal. She had no choice but to approach Tariq and plead her brother’s case. Tariq was all powerful here within his own country. Tariq could surely do anything he wanted to do…

So what if the prospect of crawling to Tariq made her cringe? How could she value her pride more than her brother’s welfare? Tense as a cat on hot bricks, Faye paced the room. Would Tariq even agree to see her? How did she beg such a massive favour from a male who despised both her and her stepfather? She was out of her depth here in Jumar where the very air seemed to smell of high-powered money and privilege, she thought bitterly. A year ago, she had been even more out of her depth with a male as exotic and sophisticated as Tariq ibn Zachir. And bone-deep foolish to imagine that anything lasting might come of such an inequal relationship. But, no matter what Tariq had chosen to believe, she had played no part in Percy’s sordid attempt to blackmail him!

Reminding herself of that essential truth, Faye reached for the phone. Dialling that single digit to be connected to the palace was easy. However, in the minutes that followed, she discovered that the palace switchboard was tended by personnel who spoke only Arabic. Breaking off the call in frustration, Faye reached for the purse in her bag. From the central compartment, she withdrew a slender gold ring etched with worn hieroglyphic symbols.

Her hand shook. For a split second, memory took her back to the instant when Tariq had slid that ring onto her finger in the Embassy of Jumar in London. She shivered, assailed by a tide of choking humiliation. How stupid she had been to believe that that was a real wedding ceremony! It had been a farce staged solely to combat Percy’s threat to plunge Tariq into a sleazy media scandal. But only when that cruel farce was over had Faye realised what a complete clown Tariq had made of her.

Making use of the hotel stationery, Faye dropped the ring into an envelope and dashed off a note requesting a meeting with Tariq. She went down to Reception and asked how to have an urgent letter delivered. The receptionist studied the name on the envelope with widened eyes and extended her interest to the additional words, ‘PERSONAL, PRIVATE, CONFIDENTIAL’ taking up half of the space. ‘This…it is for Prince Tariq?’

Faye reddened and nodded.

“One of our drivers will deliver it, Miss Lawson.’

Back in her room, Faye went for a shower and changed. Then she lay down on the bed. A loud knock, recognisable as Percy’s calling card, sounded on the door. She ignored it. He thumped again so loudly she was afraid that the hotel staff would come to investigate. She opened the door.

‘Right…’ Her stepfather pushed his way in, his heavy face aggressive and flushed by alcohol. ‘You get on that phone now and contact Tariq. Hopefully he’ll get a kick out of you grovelling at his feet. And if that’s not enough to please His Royal Highness, warn him that you can still go to the newspapers and give them a story about what it’s like getting married and divorced all in the space of the same day!’

Faye was horrified. ‘Do you really think that wild nasty threats are likely to persuade Tariq to help Adrian?’

‘Look, I may have miscalculated with Tariq last year but I know how that bloke ticks now. He’s a real tough nut to crack—all that SAS training—but he’s also an officer and a gentleman and he prides himself on the fact. So first you try licking boots and looking pathetic…’ Percy subjected her navy blouse, cotton trousers and her clipped-back long hair to a withering appraisal. ‘Look pathetic and beautiful!’

The light rap that sounded on her door at that point provided a merciful interruption. It was the hotel manager, who had greeted them on their arrival. He bowed as if she had suddenly become a most important guest.

‘A limousine has arrived to take you to the Haja place, Miss Lawson.’

Faye swallowed hard. She had not expected so speedy a response to her request for a meeting.

‘Don’t you worry…she’ll be down in two minutes.’ Percy turned back to his stepdaughter to say appreciatively, ‘Why didn’t you just tell me you’d already started the ball rolling?’

Keen to escape her stepfather’s loathsome company, Faye went straight down in the lift. She settled into the luxurious limousine, feeling like a fish out of water in her plain, inexpensive clothes. And she was, wasn’t she?

She had lived in a quiet country house all her life, rarely meeting anyone outside her late mother’s restricted social circle. Percy had married Sarah Lawson when Faye was five. Disabled by the same car accident in which her first husband had died, Faye’s mother had been confined to a wheelchair and desperately lonely. She had also been a well-to-do widow. After their marriage, Percy had continued to use a city apartment as his base and, pleading pressure of work, had spent only occasional weekends with his new family.

Faye had never gone to school like other children. Both she and her brother had initially been taught at home by their mother, but once Adrian had overcome leukaemia Percy had persuaded his wife that her son should complete his education with other boys. At eleven years old, hungry for friends her own age, Faye had finally worked up the courage to tell her stepfather that she too wanted to attend school.

‘And what’s your mother going to do with herself all day?’ Percy’s accusing fury had shaken her rigid. ‘How can you be so selfish? Your mother needs you for company…she’s got nothing else in her life!’

Faye had been devastated at eighteen when her gentle mother had died. But only then had she appreciated that some people believed she had led an unnaturally sheltered life for a teenager. Indeed, at the interview for the nursing course she was hoping to begin in the autumn, several critical comments had been made about her lack of experience of the real world. Had she felt like baring her soul, she might have told them that, with Percy Smythe in the starring role of stepfather, she had had ample experience of life’s nastier realities…

Having traversed the wide, busy streets of the city to a gracious tree-lined square, the limo pulled up in front of a vast old sandstone building with an imposing entrance. Spick and span soldiers stood on guard outside. Faye clambered out, flustered and unsure of herself.

Climbing the steps, she entered a vast and imposing hall crowded with people coming and going. Frowning, she hesitated. A young man in a suit approached her and with a low bow said, ‘Miss Lawson? I will take you to Prince Tariq.’

‘Thank you. Is this the royal palace?’

‘No, indeed, Miss Lawson. Although the Haja fortress still belongs to the royal family, His Royal Highness allows it to be used as a public building,’ her companion informed her. ‘The Haja houses the law courts and the audience rooms, also conference and banqueting facilities for visiting dignitaries and businessmen. While retaining offices here, Prince Tariq lives in the Muraaba palace.’

So this was not Tariq’s home and he had chosen a more impersonal setting for their meeting. Her eyes skimmed over the fluted stone pillars that punctuated the echoing hall and the wonderful mosaic tiled floor which gleamed beneath the passage of so many feet. The Haja was a hive of activity. An elderly tribesman was sitting on a stone bench with, of all things, a goat on a string. She saw women veiled in black from head to toe, other women in elegant western clothing, their lovely faces serene, clusters of older men wearing the traditional male headdress, the kaffiyeh, sharply suited younger ones bare-headed and carrying files and attaché cases.

‘Miss Lawson…?’

Forced to quicken her steps, she followed her escort under an archway. Tribal guards armed with both guns and ornate swords stood outside the door which was being spread wide for her entrance. She forced her feet onward, heart thundering, throat tightening. Perhaps what she least expected was to find herself standing alone in a beautiful inner courtyard, lush with islands of exotic greenery and embellished with a tranquil central pool. She blinked. Hearing the sound of footsteps, she turned and saw Tariq coming down a flight of steps about twenty feet away.

To disconcert her yet further, Tariq was clad in riding gear, a white polo shirt open at his throat, skintight beige breeches outlining his narrow hips and long powerful length of leg, polished brown boots on his feet.

Her tummy muscles clenched. She had forgotten quite how tall Tariq ibn Zachir was and how dynamic his presence. He stilled like a lion on the prowl. Magnificent, hugely confident, his silent grace of movement one of his most noticeable physical attributes. In the sunlight he was a golden feast of vibrant masculinity. His luxuriant black hair shone. His tawny skin glowed with health and his stunning bronze eyes gleamed like precious metal, both brilliant and unreadable. Indeed, he was quite staggeringly beautiful and it was an appalling challenge for Faye not to stare at him. Her mouth ran dry, a slow, painful tide of pink creeping up to dispense her pallor. Her heart hammered against her breastbone so hard she could barely catch her breath.

‘I appreciate your agreeing to see me so quickly,’ Faye muttered dry-mouthed.

‘Unfortunately, I haven’t much time to spare. I have a charity polo match to play in an hour’s time.’

Tariq came to a halt at the stone table by the pool and leant back against it. He angled his arrogant head back and studied her with a bold, all-male intensity that made her feel horribly self-conscious. His expressive mouth quirked. ‘Surely Percy did not advise you to wear trousers to this meeting? Or is that sad outfit supposed to be a plea for the sympathy vote?’

At that all too accurate crack about her stepfather, Faye turned as red as a beetroot and stammered. ‘I c-can’t imagine why you should think that.’

‘Don’t play innocent.’ Tariq gave her that advice in a tone as smooth as glass. ‘I had a surfeit of the blushing virgin act last year. I should have smelt a rat the instant you ditched it and appeared in a plunging neckline but, like most men, I was too busy looking to be cautious.’

Writhing with chagrin under such fire, some of which she knew to be justified, Faye snatched in a stark breath of the hot, still air. ‘Tariq…I very much regret what happened between us.’

Tariq dealt her a slow smile which chilled her to the marrow for it was not at all the charismatic smile she recalled. ‘I’m sure you do. It could not have occurred to you then that your precious brother would soon be locked up in a prison cell in Jumar.’

‘Of course, it didn’t.’ Faye took that comment at face value, striving to be grateful that he had rushed them straight to the crux of the matter. She curled her hands together. ‘But you like Adrian. You know that he’s been gaoled through no fault of his own—’

‘Do I?’ Tariq broke in softly. ‘Is our legal system so unjust? I had not thought so.’

Recognising her error in appearing to criticise that system, Faye said hastily, ‘I didn’t mean that. I was only pointing out that Adrian hasn’t done anything criminal—’

‘Has he not? Here in Jumar it is a crime to leave employees and tradesmen unpaid and clients with buildings that have not been completed according to contract. However, we are wonderfully practical in such cases.’ His shimmering smile was no warmer than its predecessor. ‘To regain his freedom, Adrian has only to satisfy his creditors.’

‘But he’s not able to do that…’ As she was forced to make that admission, Faye’s discomfiture leapt higher still. ‘Adrian sold his home to start up the construction firm. He plunged everything he had into the venture—’

‘And then lived like a king while he was here in my country. Yes, I am familiar with the circumstances in which your brother’s business failed. Adrian himself was foolish and extravagant.’

As Tariq completed that brief but damning indictment, Faye lost colour. ‘He made mistakes…yes, but not with any bad or deliberate intent—’

‘Surely you have heard of the principle of criminal irresponsibility?’ Indolent as a sleek jungle cat sunning himself in the sweltering heat that she was finding unbearable, Tariq surveyed her. ‘Tell me, why did you send me this?’

That switch of subject disconcerted Faye almost as much as his complete lack of emotion. The last time she had seen Tariq he had been hot with dark fury and outrage. Now she focused on the ring in the extended palm of his lean brown hand and her tummy twisted. He tossed the ring into the air where it caught the sun and glittered, exercising the strangest fascination over her. Catching it again with deft fingers, he then tossed the ring with speaking carelessness down onto the stone table where it finally rattled into stillness.

‘Were you hoping that I might have some sentimental memory of the day I put that ring on your finger?’ Tariq asked with cold derision.

Faye studied his superb riding boots until they blurred beneath the fierceness of her gaze. A wave of deep shame enveloped her and roused a terrifying lump in her throat. How very hard it was to accept that he had caused her such immense pain yet deprived her of any real right of complaint. True, he had misjudged her, but he could hardly be blamed for that when her own stepfather had tried to blackmail him. Nonetheless, unjust as it might be, Faye hated Tariq for believing that she was as calculating and mercenary as Percy Smythe.

‘Tell me…’ Tariq continued with awesome casualness, ‘…do you think of yourself as my wife or as my ex-wife?’

Reacting to that light and, to her, inappropriate question as if it was the cruellest of taunts, Faye’s pale head flew up and mortified pink warmed her cheeks afresh. ‘Hardly. At the time you made it very clear that that wedding ceremony was a charade! I know all too well that I was never your wife.’

His dense black spiky lashes lowered over dark deep-set eyes for once unlit by any lighter hue. ‘I was curious to find out how you regarded yourself.’

‘I’m only here to discuss Adrian’s position—’

‘Adrian doesn’t have a position,’ Tariq interposed without hesitation. ‘The law has already dealt with him and only repayment of his debts can free him.’

He was like a stranger. Neither courteous nor sympathetic, neither interested nor perturbed. This was Tariq as she had never known him. Hard, distant, forbidding. Terrifyingly impersonal. A male whose cool authority of command was so engrained that it blazed from him even in casual clothing. Faye’s slim hands closed in tight on themselves. ‘But surely you could do something…if you wanted to…’

‘I am not above the law,’ Tariq stated, ice entering his rich dark drawl.

Her desperation grew. ‘But, even so, you can do exactly as you wish…isn’t that what being a feudal ruler is all about?’

‘I would not interfere with the laws of my country. It is a grave insult for you to even suggest that I would abuse the trust of my people in such a way!’ Hard golden eyes struck hers in a look of strong censure.

Faye tore her shaken gaze from his and tried not to cringe. She fully understood that message but did not want to accept it. Even though she was standing in partial shade, she was perspiring and wilting in the suffocating heat that he seemed to flourish in. But knowing that she undoubtedly only had this one chance to speak up on her brother’s behalf, she persisted. ‘Adrian can’t work to pay off his creditors from inside a prison cell—’

‘No, indeed, but how is it that you and your stepfather find yourself so poor that you cannot rescue him?’

‘Percy used up all his surplus cash trying to save Adrian’s business. And don’t tell me that you weren’t aware of that.’ Faye could not conceal her bitterness at the brick-wall reception she was receiving. It was now clear that, even before she’d approached him, Tariq had known all the facts of her brother’s case but had already decided not to interfere. ‘I’m only here begging you to find some way to help my brother because I have nowhere else to turn.’

‘You have yet to explain why I should wish to help Adrian.’

‘Common decency…humanity…’ Faye muttered shakily. ‘Officer and a gentleman?’

Tariq elevated an aristocratic dark brow. ‘Not where your self-seeking, dishonourable family is concerned.’

‘What can I say to convince you that—?’

‘Nothing. You can say nothing that will convince me. Tell me, were you always this obtuse? Or was I so busy looking at your angelic face and divine body that I failed to notice a pronounced absence of brain cells?’

His ruthless mockery lashed red into her tense, confused face. ‘I don’t know what you’re getting at—’

‘Why don’t you just ask me under what terms you might persuade me to settle Adrian’s debts?’

‘You settle them?’ Faye studied Tariq in bewilderment. ‘That idea never even occurred to me—’

That disclaimer fired an even more sardonic light in his level gaze. ‘We’re running out of time. So I shall use plain words. Give yourself to me and I will buy your brother out of trouble. There…it is very simple, is it not?’

Her lips parted. Give yourself to me. Her dark blue eyes huge, she stared back at him in disbelief.

Tariq absorbed her reaction with a cynical cool that sent her shock level into overdrive. ‘Sex in return for money. What you once used as a bait to set a trap for me but failed to deliver.’

Hot, sticky and stunned by that blunt condemnation, Faye raised her hand to tug at the constricting collar of her blouse. A trickle of perspiration ran down between her breasts. His keen gaze rested there and then whipped up to connect with her shaken eyes. The charged sexuality of that knowing look scorched her sensitive skin like a taunting flame. A helpless flare of response gripped her taut body without warning. Thought had nothing to do with the sudden ache in her breasts, the throbbing tautness of her nipples or the curl of dark secret heat darting up between her thighs.

Appalled self-loathing trammelling through her, Faye dropped her head, fighting and denying the physical sensations which threatened to tear her inside out. She needed to think, she had to concentrate for Tariq could not possibly mean what he was saying. This could only be a cruel power play at her expense. At the same time as he let her know that he would not lift a finger to help Adrian, he was trying to punish her for the past. Punish her with humiliation.

At that energising thought, Faye lifted her head high again. Her fine-boned features were pink but stiff with angry, injured pride. ‘Obviously it was a mistake to ask you for this meeting.’ Struggling to keep her voice level, she thrust up her chin. ‘Whatever you may think of me, I don’t deserve what you just said to me.’

A caustic smile slashed Tariq’s lean, powerful face. ‘What a loss you have been to the film world! That look of mortally offended reproach is quite superb.’

‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’ Undaunted by the incredulous blaze that flamed in his spectacular eyes, Faye gave him a scornful glance. Spinning on her heel, she stalked back out of the courtyard without lowering herself to say another word.


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