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Грэхем Линн

The Arabian Mistress

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FAYE shot like a bullet back into the crowded concourse again, cannoned off someone with a startled apology and backed away into one of the pillars.

She was in shock. She knew she was. But she was furious to find that her eyes were awash with tears and she couldn’t see where she was going. Gulping back the thickness in her throat, she whirled round to the back of the pillar and struggled to get a grip on herself again. What was she? Some wishy-washy wimp all of a sudden?

‘Allow me to offer you refreshment…’ an anxious male voice proffered.

Frowning in surprise because she recognised that voice, Faye parted her clogged eyelashes and focused on the polished shoes of the little man standing in front of her. Latif, Tariq’s most senior aide, whom she had met in passing on several occasions the year before. Slowly she lifted her bent head. Latif bowed so low that she got a great view of his bald patch. Indeed she honestly thought he was trying to touch his toes and could not immediately grasp what on earth he was doing until it occurred to her that the older man might well be granting her a tactful moment in which to compose herself.


‘Please come this way…’

Latif led her through a door and across a hall into a charming reception room furnished in European style. Grateful for the blessed cool of the air-conditioning there, Faye collapsed down on a silk-upholstered sofa and dug into her bag in search of a tissue.

The reserved older man stayed by the door at a respectful distance and Faye averted her attention from him. Latif was kind. He had seen her distress and brought her here to recover in privacy and, unfortunately for him, good manners forbade leaving her alone.

Jingling with jewellery and barefoot, a procession of maids carrying trays entered the room. One by one they knelt at her feet to serve her with coffee and proffer cakes and sticky confectionery. Beneath her astonished scrutiny, they then backed away across the whole depth of the room with downbent heads before exiting again. Presumably all visitors, many of whom would naturally be VIPs, were treated with such exaggerated attention and servility but it made Faye feel extremely uncomfortable.

‘I believe the heat may have made you feel unwell.’ As Faye finished the bittersweet coffee in the tiny china cup, Latif broke the silence with exquisite tact. ‘I hope you are feeling better now.’

‘Yes, thank you…’ Faye bit at her lower lip and then took the plunge for she had not the slightest doubt that the discreet older man knew all about Adrian’s predicament. ‘Have you any idea how I can help my brother?’

‘I would suggest that a second approach might be made to Prince Tariq tomorrow.’

So much for inspired advice from an inside source! Faye tried not to release a humourless laugh. Surely Latif could not have the foggiest clue of what had passed between her and Tariq? Give yourself to me. Pretty basic, that. No room for misunderstanding there. She was still shattered that Tariq could have made such a suggestion to her. It was barbaric.

Yet no sooner had she made that judgement than an unwelcome little voice spoke up from her conscience. Hadn’t she once offered herself to Tariq in no uncertain terms? Hadn’t she once made it quite clear that she’d been willing to sleep with him? And hadn’t she then got cold feet when she’d seen how that unwise invitation had altered his attitude to her? Without a doubt, Tariq now saw her as the most shameless tease! Tears lashed the back of her eyes again. Wasn’t it awful how one mistake could just lead to another and another? From the instant she had departed from the values she had been raised to respect, she had learnt nothing but hard lessons.

Eager now to leave the Haja, Faye rose to her feet. ‘Thank you for the coffee, Latif.’

‘I will send a car again for you tomorrow, if I may.’

‘I’d be wasting my time coming again.’

‘The car will remain at your disposal for the whole day.’

Latif evidently wanted her brother released from prison, Faye decided. Why else was he getting involved behind the scenes? She returned to the hotel in the same style in which she had departed. As she crossed the foyer, slight shoulders bowed with exhaustion, Percy emerged from the bar to intercept her.

‘Well?’ he demanded abrasively.

‘All I got was…was an improper proposition.’ Faye could not bring herself to look at her stepfather as she admitted that but she hoped that that honesty would satisfy him and save her from an interrogation. Percy was a bully. He had always been a bully. Just then, she did not feel equal to the challenge of standing up to him.

‘So what?’ Percy snapped without hesitation. ‘You’ve got to do whatever it takes to get Adrian home!’

Once again, Faye was shocked. But as she hurried into the lift and left her stepfather fuming, she asked herself why.

Percy had never had much time for her. It had been naïve of her to believe that he might be angry on her behalf. For Percy, the bottom line was Adrian. And shouldn’t that be her bottom line as well?

Knowing it was past time that she ate something, Faye rang room service and ordered the cheapest snack on the menu. Then she made herself face facts. But for her, Adrian would not have got to know Tariq and would never had thought of setting up business in Jumar. It was also her fault that Tariq now regarded her and her brother in the same light as their stepfather. Like it or not, she had put Tariq into a compromising position where Percy was able to threaten him. Her foolish infatuation, her lies and her immaturity had led to that development. Adrian was suffering now because Tariq despised and distrusted all of them. Who could ever have imagined that from one seemingly small lie, so much grief could have flowed?

Faye swallowed hard. When she had first met Tariq, she had pretended to be twenty-three years old, sooner than own up to being a month short of her nineteenth birthday. Tariq’s subsequent outrage at the lies she had told had been extreme and succinct. She might as well have set out to trap him for the end result had been the same. Retreating from recollections that still made her writhe with guilt, Faye returned to the present and the grim prospect of what she ought to try to do next to help her brother…

That evening, her stepfather came to her hotel room again but she opened the door on the chain and said she wasn’t well. It wasn’t a lie: she was so tired, she felt queasy. In her bed she lay listening to the evocative call of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer at the mosque at the end of the street. With her conscience tormenting her, she got little sleep.

At half-past eight the following morning, wearing a loose dress in a pale lilac print, Faye climbed into the limousine which Latif had promised would be waiting. The day before she had made serious errors with Tariq, she now conceded, newly appraised humility weighing her down. She had tried to save face by talking only about Adrian. But, mortifying as it was to acknowledge, Tariq had good reason to think she was a brazen hussy, who had set him up for a sleazy blackmail attempt. Perhaps an open acknowledgement of that reality, a long overdue explanation and a sincere and heartfelt apology would take the edge off Tariq’s animosity. Maybe he would then consider loaning Adrian the money he needed to settle his debts and let bygones be bygones…

This time the limo whisked her round to a side entrance at the Haja fortress where Latif greeted her in person. Quiet approval emanated from the older man.

Ushered straight into a large contemporary office, Faye breathed in deep and straightened her shoulders. Sleek and sophisticated in a pale grey business suit of exquisite cut that moulded his broad shoulders, lean hips and long powerful legs, Tariq was standing by the window talking on a portable phone. He acknowledged her arrival with the merest dip of his handsome dark head.

Taking the seat indicated by Latif, who then withdrew, Faye focused on Tariq. His classic profile stood out in strong relief. She watched the long, elegant fingers of his free hand spread a little and then curl with silent eloquence as he spoke. Memories that hurt assailed her and she dragged her attention from him and folded her hands together on her lap to stop them trembling.

But she remained so aware of his disturbing presence that she was in an agony of discomfiture. She knew that lean bronzed face almost as well as her own. The slight imperious slant of his ebony brows, the spectacular tawny eyes that had such amazing clarity, the narrow bridge of his aristocratic nose dissecting hard high Berber cheekbones, the strong stubborn jawline, the passionate but stern mouth.

Only the day before, she had felt the humiliating pull of his magnetic physical attraction. Her soft full mouth compressed. That had unnerved and embarrassed her. But he had caught her at a weak moment. That was all. She was no longer an infatuated teenager, helpless in the grip of her own emotions and at the mercy of galloping hormones and foolish fantasies. She had got over him fast. She might not have dated anyone since but that was only because he had truly soured her outlook on men.

‘Why are you here?’

Shot from her teeming thoughts without due warning, Faye jerked. Then she lifted her head and tilted it back. ‘I believe I owe you an explanation for the way I behaved last year.’

‘I need no explanation.’ Derision glittered in Tariq’s steady appraisal. ‘Indeed I will listen to no explanation. If you think I’m fool enough to give you a platform for more lies and self-justification, you seriously underestimate me—’

In one sentence thus deprived of her entire script, Faye breathed, ‘But—’

‘It’s very rude to interrupt me when I’m speaking.

Faye flushed but she was already so tense that her temper sparked. ‘Maybe you would just like me to lie down like a carpet for you to walk on!’

‘A carpet is inanimate. I prefer energy and movement in my women.’

Her humble and penitent frame of mind was already taking a hard beating. Cheeks scarlet at that comeback, Faye nonetheless tried afresh. ‘Tariq…I need to explain and apologise. You wouldn’t give me the chance to explain at the time.’

‘If that is your only reason for being here, I suggest you leave. Sly words and crocodile tears won’t move me. The very thought of your shameless deceit rouses my temper.’

Faye swallowed hard. ‘OK…you have the right to be angry—’

‘Grovelling insincerity makes me angry too,’ Tariq incised even more drily. ‘Cut the phony regrets. I made you an offer yesterday and that’s why you’re here now. Only a tramp would accept a proposition of that nature, so stop pretending to be a sweet, misunderstood innocent!’

Faye, who usually had the mildest temper in the world, was appalled to feel a river of wrath surge like hot lava inside her. She rose from her seat in an abrupt movement. ‘I won’t tolerate being called a tramp! What do you call a man who makes such an offer to a woman?’

‘A man with no illusions…a man who disdains hypocrisy.’

Faye trembled. ‘My goodness, you insult me with a proposition no decent woman would even consider and then you turn round and you flatter yourself from your pinnacle of perfection—’

‘You are not a decent woman. You lie and you cheat and there is nothing you would not do for money.’

‘That is not true…it all started because I told a few stupid white lies and I know it was wrong but I was crazy about you—’

‘Crazy about me?’ Tariq flung back his arrogant dark head and laughed out loud, the sound discordant in the thrumming atmosphere. ‘You let me go for a mere half million pounds. You were so blinded by greed, you were content to settle for whatever you could get!’

Almost light-headed with the force of rage powering her, Faye now fell back a step and gaped at him. ‘I let you go…for half a million pounds? What the heck are you trying to accuse me of doing now?’

Tariq centred his brilliant golden eyes on her, his beautiful mouth hard as granite. ‘You were a cheap bride, I’ll give you that. You may have come with no dowry but I was able to shed you again for a pittance.’

Faye was no longer sure her wobbling knees would hold her upright and she dropped down into the chair again, all temper quenched. Evidently, Tariq had handed over money to somebody, money she knew nothing about. She did not have to think very hard to come up with the name of the most likely culprit. ‘You gave money to Percy…?’ She swallowed back a wail of reproach at that appalling revelation.

‘I gave it to you.’

And like a flash in the darkness, Faye finally recalled the envelope which Tariq had flung at her feet after their fake wedding that dreadful day. Did he recall that he had been talking in Arabic at the time? Didn’t he realise that she had naively assumed that their marriage certificate had been in that envelope? And when she had finally stumbled out of the Embassy of Jumar, heartbroken and with her pride in tatters, she had thrust the envelope at Percy in revulsion and condemnation. ‘Are you satisfied now that you’ve wrecked my life? Burn it…I don’t want to ever be reminded of this day again!’

How many weeks had it been before she’d finally forced herself to see her stepfather again and ask for the certificate in the hope that he had not after all destroyed it? She had believed that she might need that certificate to apply for an annulment in case the extraordinary ease of Jumarian divorce was not actually recognised by English law. But Percy had laughed in her face when she’d mentioned that fear.

‘Don’t be more dumb than you can help, Faye,’ her stepfather had sneered. ‘That wasn’t a legal marriage! It wasn’t consummated and he repudiated you straight after the ceremony. Your desert warrior was just saving face and trying to protect himself with some mumbo-jumbo. Why else did he insist it took place in private in the embassy?’

Percy had followed that up with the explanation that embassies fell under the legal jurisdiction of the countries they belonged to, rather than that of the host country. Faye had felt too mortified by her own obvious ignorance to counter his charge of ‘mumbo-jumbo’. An Arab gentleman dressed just like a Christian vicar had presided over the first part of that ceremony but he had spoken only in Arabic and there was no denying that Tariq himself had called their wedding a complete charade.

Repressing that slew of memories, Faye focused her be-mused thoughts back on the cheque which Tariq had said was in that envelope she had blithely surrendered. She closed her eyes in stricken acknowledgement of yet another insane act of foolishness on her part. She had handed a cheque for half a million pounds to Percy Smythe! But if the cheque had been made out to her, how on earth had he cashed it? For she had not the slightest doubt that it must have been cashed!

‘Tariq…I didn’t know that envelope had a cheque in it.’ Her taut temples were pounding out her rising stress level. ‘I don’t know why you would have chosen to give me money either.’

The silence stretched and stretched.

Overwhelmed by guilty self-loathing and the most drowning sense of sheer inadequacy, Faye stared into space. No wonder Tariq ibn Zachir thought she was a trollop. No wonder he believed that she had conspired with her stepfather to set him up for blackmail. No wonder he was so certain that she was greedy for money. What had Percy done with that half million pounds? Percy, who had been outmanoeuvred in his blackmail attempt by Tariq’s announcement that he would marry Faye. Whatever, that huge sum of money was evidently long gone.

‘I can’t believe that you would want a woman with such low moral standards,’ Faye said finally.

‘You’ll be a novelty.’

‘A woman who doesn’t want you?’ Faye was past caring about how she sounded. Here she was guilty as charged it seemed on every count. Guilty of serial stupidity. Guilty of being a teenager madly in love and doing all the wrong things in her efforts to make him love her back. She had done a marvellous job on him, hadn’t she? Thanks to her own lies, he thought she was the most dishonest brazen hussy he had ever met!

‘Is that a challenge?’

Faye gave him a dulled look. Tariq gazed back at her with a sizzling force that penetrated her veil of numb defeat. ‘No!’

‘You will be my mistress for as long as I want you.’ Tariq surveyed her as if he had just stamped a brand of ownership on her, his male satisfaction unconcealed.

Seriously unnerved by that statement of intent, Faye leapt back out of her seat again, her hands clenched into fists. ‘You can’t still want me…you never wanted me that much to begin with! This is just a giant ego-trip. It’s mindless revenge—’

‘Not mindless. I never act without forethought.’ Tariq stretched out an imperious hand. ‘Come here…’

Faye went into retreat rather than advance. Shark-infested water might as well have separated them. ‘I didn’t say I agreed.’

‘Then make your mind up.’

Faye folded her arms in a defensive movement. ‘Adrian?’

‘He goes home to England on the first available flight.’

Faye shook her head, tried to still the nervous tremor in her lower limbs. ‘I’m not what you think I am. I can’t imagine being any man’s mistress. I won’t fit the bill—’

‘You underestimate yourself.’

Tariq extended his hand again, glittering golden eyes fixed to her with intimidating cool and expectancy.

‘If you think I’m going to come running every time you snap your imperious fingers—’

‘Sooner or later, you will. I have immense patience.’

That quiet confidence took Faye wholly aback and froze her to the spot. ‘You’re crazy…’

A slight smile curved his lips. ‘You’re scared.’

‘Like heck I am…I’m just fed up with all this nonsense!’

The smile acquired amusement, veiled eyes resting on her slight, taut frame with an intimate intensity she could feel as surely as if he had touched her. ‘I didn’t sleep last night. I couldn’t sleep, not even after a couple of cold showers. I knew you were mine then.’

‘But you…you hate me!’ Faye slung back at him in vehement protest.

‘Hate? Too strong a word.’ Tariq strolled closer like a hunter set on closing in for the kill but doing so at his own leisure. ‘Is that why you look sick with fright? Is that fertile imagination of yours throwing up images of gothic whips and chains? Do you really think I would inflict a single bruise on that perfect skin of yours? You’ll cry out with pleasure, not pain, in my bed.’

Faye was so mortified by that assurance, she whirled away from him. It was a mistake. He closed his arms round her and turned her back to him. With one hand, he loosened the clasp at the nape of her neck and cast it aside. Gazing down at her with scorching golden eyes, he threaded long fingers through her long pale blonde hair and tugged her head back in a gentle motion.


‘You want me.’ A lean hand pressed to the shallow indentation of her rigid spine and curved her into intimate contact with his long muscular thighs.

Suddenly it was a challenge to talk and breathe at the same time. She stared up at him, trying to hold herself rigid but awesomely conscious of the all-pervasive strength of his powerful physique. ‘No—’

‘You’re trembling—’

‘I’m cold!’ Faye scarcely knew what she was saying any more. That close to Tariq, her mind was a sea of confusion and her own physical reactions took over.

‘Cold?’ Tariq lowered his proud dark head, his breath fanning her cheek, the evocative timbre of his low-pitched drawl sentencing her to stillness. ‘Who are you trying to fool?’

Feeling weak as water, Faye mumbled, ‘Please…’

‘Please what?’ Tariq brought his wide sensual mouth within inches of hers and somehow made her lips part in invitation, her very breath catching in her throat, her slender length instinctively stretching up to his to get still closer. ‘Tell me, please, what?’

The scent of him enveloped her like a sneak invasion by an aphrodisiac. So familiar, so special, so…him. Her nostrils flared, head spinning on a released flood of sensuous recall from the past, heat forming in her pelvis, breasts lifting and swelling within the constriction of her cotton bra. It was as if her whole body were burning and melting from inside out, a blind sense of fevered anticipation enthralling her, pitching her high.

‘What?’ Tariq prompted soft and low, even his dark sexy voice sending a darting quiver of hot response through her.

‘Kiss me…’ The instant she actually yielded and formed the words, Tariq released his hold on her.

She staggered back on cotton-wool legs, ill-prepared for staying upright without his support. She blinked like a woman wakening from a disorientating dream.

‘As a people we prefer to keep intimacy behind closed doors,’ Tariq murmured smooth as silk. ‘This office is too public but there is no greater privacy available than that within the harem quarters at Muraaba.’

Faye pressed an unsteady hand against her tingling lips as if she might quiet the sheer craving which still held her taut. ‘Harem quarters—?’

‘To be a mistress in Jumar is no sinecure and no ticket to freedom or excess. To be my mistress is, above all, to be an invisible woman,’ Tariq said with a regretful sigh. ‘To live behind high walls and locked doors and centre your whole being and your every thought on the man in your life because he truly will be all that is in your life. Say goodbye to the world that you know for the foreseeable future.’

Faye was slower to recover from that near embrace than he had been. She had only just reached the point of dying a thousand deaths over the recollection of how she had swayed against him, reached up to him on tiptoes of yearning, begged for his kiss like a brainless programmed doll. He had made her want him. With effortless ease and within seconds. She was devastated by that discovery.

‘On the other hand, since an aversion to me would not appear to be a sticking point…’ Tariq surveyed her with the predatory gaze of a hawk ‘…you may well be inconsolable when I get tired of you.’

‘Harem…you think you’re going to put me in a harem?’ Faye parroted in a wobbly voice. ‘Are you out of your mind to suggest such a thing?’

Tariq lounged back against his polished desk. ‘Very much in it. Furthermore, since I cannot trust you, your brother will not walk free from his prison cell until you have moved in—’


He made an unapologetic play of studying the slim gold watch on his wrist. ‘I’m afraid your time is up. Unfortunately, I have other people waiting to see me. A car will now convey you to my home—’

‘Now?’ Frowning in absolute disbelief, Faye just gaped at him.

‘Your hotel room was cleared within minutes of your departure from it. Having been informed that your brother may soon be released, your stepfather is already waiting at the prison. You will see neither of your relatives again until our arrangement comes to an end.’

Faye attempted to swallow but the lead weight of incredulity sat like a giant rock at the foot of her throat. ‘You’re not serious…you can’t be serious about any of this stuff—’

Tariq strode past her and opened the door for her departure. He gave her a lethal smile that tied a cold hard knot inside her. ‘How much of a gambler are you?’

Faye turned pale.

‘And how well do you think you ever knew me?’


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