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The Sheikh’s Spy – Prologue & Chapter 1
“I haven’t got a million dollars handy right now, Sheikh Mahjub.” Rick Green’s mouth twitched. As electrifying as the situation was, he wanted to laugh. It was one of the catchiest phrases he’d ever spoken.
The high stakes private gaming room in the elegant Riviera casino was fraught with tension. Silence hung as heavy as the mega-sized crystal chandeliers overhead.
“A debt is a debt. You play, you pay.” The man’s English was impeccable, though the accent was thick. “Blood, jewels or money. Nothing less. What collateral do you have?” Sheikh Mahjub bin al Burindi’s cold black eyes studied Rick.
A nerve twitched in Rick’s cheek and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed and stared at the bearded figure sitting opposite him.
Rick’s starched white shirt was open at the neck, his silk tie hung loose. His blond-haired, blue-eyed boy-next-door appearance belied the fact he had just gambled hard and lost more money than he could hope to earn in the next thirty years.
“I have no collateral, at least not here. Back home I have a condo and a car. . .”
The sheikh stood abruptly. His long robes brushed the carpet. “I’m not interested in your car or condo. I live in a palace, you fool. I want cold hard cash.”
“I guess you’ll have to contact Uncle Benito and beg him to bail you out,” Rick’s sister Olympia finally spoke. She’d sat and watched their poker game and verbal exchange for the past hour, looking paler with each passing minute. Uncle Benito? They had no uncle.
“Who are you?” Sheikh Mahjub’s gaze shifted to her. “His wife?”
For once, Rick regretted Olympia’s beauty. Alarmed, he swallowed hard as he saw the sheikh’s eyes study her long slender legs before traveling over her black cocktail dress to her fine high cheekbones and long dark hair. Light bounced off her chestnut highlights as she moved her head. She clutched a glittering evening bag with white knuckles.
“She’s a hooker I just picked up for the night,” Rick interjected before the woman could speak. “She’s got nothing to do with me or this situation.” He turned to her, his eyes urgent. “Get lost. Clearly there won’t be any partying tonight.” He flicked his hand in a dismissive gesture.
“Rick, this is no time to crack a bad joke,” she rebuked him, sliding off the barstool and standing on black spiky heels.
She turned to Sheikh Mahjub, intensity blazing in her translucent aquamarine eyes.
“I’m Olympia Green, Rick’s sister. His word is good. He will get the money and pay you.”
“Forgive me if I’m not quite as convinced as you’d like me to be.” The sheikh’s gaze traveled the length of her, and his eyes undressed her as they roamed.
“There’s no other solution,” Olympia replied in a calm tone. She tried to refrain from looking at the man’s four henchmen, standing behind him, ready to spring into action at even a hint of trouble.
“Of course there is,” Sheikh Mahjub declared in a tone that brooked no objection. “Your brother has two weeks to pay his debt. He’s forfeited you as collateral, so you will come and stay in Burindi until he arrives with my money, gold or diamonds.”
“No!” Olympia’s heart thudded. “I can’t, won’t go with you. I’m working on a project with a tight deadline.”
“That’s too bad, because you are now mine. I won you in our high stakes private poker tournament until I’m paid.” The sheikh’s mouth disappeared into a cruel thin line as his eyes lingered on her breasts, then her hips. He snapped his fingers, and the four henchmen standing behind him came forward and encircled Olympia.
“Rick—,” sheer terror blazed in Olympia’s eyes. “Don’t let this happen.” This couldn’t be happening.
Rick watched in horror as the scene played out before his eyes. He knew the sheikh would have his way, and nothing Rick said or did would make a difference.
“Don’t lay a finger on her,” he growled at al Burindi, “or I’ll strip the skin off your back, inch by inch.”
“She’s mine until you buy her back. I can do with her what I please. She’s such a beauty I’m already visualizing what I will do with her.”
The men led Olympia toward a back exit. She was so outnumbered she saw no point in fighting them now. If she was going to escape, it would be later, after she arrived wherever this wicked man was taking her.
“Two weeks,” Rick shouted, clenching his fists. “Olympia, I’ll be there for you in two weeks or less. I promise you on Pappy’s grave.”
The door thudded shut. She was whisked first into a dark limousine and then into a private jet, bound for some strange foreign land as this dark-hearted man’s new foreign toy.
“This marriage will be a political alliance, not a love match,” Sheikh Adnan bin al Ramayad reminded his sister over video phone. “If it brings peace to our countries after centuries of war, it’s worth my personal sacrifice.”
“You’re making a mistake,” Princess Yasmine frowned. “Our ancestors fought for sovereignty, but valued love above all else.”
“They died fighting for sovereignty. Their loved ones struggled and grieved alone. Our orphanages have been full for way too long.” His Royal Highness of Zahrira tried to conceal his raw emotion as he spoke firmly. “My mind is made up, Yasmine.”
They spoke a few more minutes about the wedding before he signed off. Erasing the memory of his sister’s worried expression would not be easy.
Adnan scanned the illustrious wedding guest list. The names blurred before his tired eyes in the golden glow cast by a solitary desk lamp. He leaned forward and massaged his temples.
In a few days his life would change forever. This wedding, borne of duty, would merge the Royal Houses of Zahiria and Burindi. The souls of his ancestors and countrymen could finally rest in peace. A new day would dawn for The Golden Triangle after centuries of failed truces and wars.
It was the right decision, so why did it feel like he was preparing for his own funeral instead of his wedding?
Princess Leila was breathtaking and had no shortage of suitors. She’d captivated many men, but had failed to capture his heart. He knew the coolness in her eyes was an indication of her frigid nature. An ice queen in the heat of the desert.
“I must see him now,” a shrill female voice broke into his reflections. “Let go of me!”
Startled, Adnan looked at the closed doors of his palatial office. An English-speaking female outside his office door at one o’clock in the morning?
“Stand back, Miss, or prepare for the consequences,” he heard his bodyguard Hassan counter in a fierce tone.
“I shall not. It is a matter of national security that I speak with Sheikh Adnan immediately.” Her words escalated in volume as Hassan failed to quell her determined advance.
Muffled sounds followed. Was Hassan wrestling the unknown female? Adnan rose and moved swiftly to the double doors, throwing them wide.
The brazen intruder tried to lunge past Hassan, who blocked her. As Adnan stepped through the doorway, the woman lurched past Hassan’s grip and fell hard against his chest. Hassan cursed and tried to pull her back, but she clung to Adnan.
“I must speak to you.” Everything about her spoke of urgency.
Adnan gripped her wrists in his large hands and removed them from his torso with little effort. Nevertheless, it was a serious security breach. A quick command to Hassan in their native tongue, and handcuffs snapped into place around her wrists.
“Hassan,” his voice was deadly quiet, “what is going on here? Who is she?” He stared at his chief security officer as fury washed over him. “Did you call for backup?”
“She refuses to tell me her name, Your Highness, or how she got inside the palace.” Hassan’s black eyes bulged and sweat clung to his forehead. Barely controlled anger laced his gruff words. “Security is on the way. What shall I do with her?”
“Cancel them immediately,” he ordered. “You and I will deal with this.” Listening to his gut feeling, Adnan decided to keep the event secret at least until he knew what was going on.
Adnan turned his focus on the woman, and felt reluctant admiration for her. She’d succeeded in breaching palace security, where terrorists and assassins had failed. She must work for a mastermind, and was probably more dangerous than she looked. He would treat her as he would any enemy, and try to ignore the fact she was a female with a musical voice.
She was young, of medium height, and wore a black and silver gown. A black burqa-style headscarf covered her hair and most of her face. The scent of amber fluttered toward his nostrils, an exotic Eastern fragrance.
Except for her eyes, the color of aquamarine seas and summer skies, nobody would guess she was a foreigner. Her mesmerizing eyes projected defiance and fear. A raven-colored widow’s peak showed where her headdress had loosened in the scuffle.
“Back off,” she shoved Hassan’s hands away but he remained close and watchful in case she attacked.
“Call off your henchman,” she ordered Adnan. She thrust Hassan back a few steps as the palms of her chained hands engaged his chest. He reached for his dagger.
Adnan unleashed a string of fast commands in his native tongue. His bodyguard stepped back against the wall, anger etched on his round sweaty face.
“You are lucky my men didn’t kill you already.” Adnan tried to ignore the ridiculous urge starting to possess him. He wanted to see the face and hair that belonged to those brilliant gemlike orbs that could easily lure him to shift his focus.
“No, Your Highness, you are lucky your men didn’t kill me before I deliver my message to you.” Her gaze met his and held it in a willful stare. She was not even slightly intimidated.
Adnan cursed under his breath and raked his long fingers through his dark hair.
“Bring her into my office and lock the doors,” he ordered, his words clipped, his voice deep and deadly.
“Are you sure it’s wise to meet with her alone? Maybe she’s an assassin, or a suicide bomber.”
“I doubt it with eyes that color,” he replied, willing to take his chances. “Perhaps you should have thought about that before you let her sneak into the palace.” Adnan fixed his eyes on the young officer, who all but withered beneath the king’s stare. “Strip her.”
“You will not!” the furious female shouted. “How dare you treat me like a common criminal.”
“There’s nothing ‘common’ about you, or your unexpected appearance in my palace in the middle of the night.”
“Unfasten my hands and let me take off my own clothing,” she demanded. Eyes wide, her alarm was evident although she tried to play it down.
“Tell nobody she is here,” Adnan ordered the bewildered guard.
“No witnesses? What are you going to do, kill me?” she didn’t try to conceal the tremor in her words.
“Should I?” Adnan noted her lips quivered and a nerve twitched beneath her left eye. Her eyes had darkened to sapphire blue.
“You’re not that foolish,” she retorted, eyes wide.
Despite her best intentions, he had finally succeeded in unnerving her. His fierce glare held steady as he leaned against the edge of his desk, facing her, legs and arms crossed.
“Don’t try me,” he growled. “In my world, you’ve earned it. Remove the burqa.”
She shook her head. Hands clasped tightly, she lifted them. “How am I to do that with these on?”
“I ask the questions, you answer them.”
He reached out and lifted it off her head. A cascade of rich raven hair highlighted with chestnut fire cascaded half way down her back, framing her heart-shaped face and fine cheekbones. She was fair-skinned, her cheeks ablaze. Generous lips curved slightly upward and hinted at a good-humored disposition, which was not evident at this time.
Adnan inwardly winced, knowing what a prize this beauty would be in any man’s collection. He was fairly certain she must have escaped from such a man, and was probably trying to regain her freedom.
“Allow me to remove the rest of my disguise,” her tone was more subdued as she glared at Hassan. “I don’t want him touching me.”
“Disguise?” His eyebrows arched as his eyes locked with hers. “Many women in this part of the world dress like this every day. I will remove it myself.” His curiosity about the rest of her physique would be sated.
“No-,” Her eyes widened, but he wasn’t known as the Desert Panther for nothing. With a few swift movements he ripped the gown along its seams and tore the sleeves to remove it from her cuffed arms. The shredded garment pooled at her feet.
Before him stood a woman with the curvaceous figure of a goddess, poured into snug black pants and a tight top that left little to his imagination.
It didn’t look like there was room beneath her clothing for any explosive devices, but he couldn’t take any chances.
He spoke a few short abrupt words to Hassan. The guard came forward and held out a key.
“Strip down to your underwear, or I’ll pat down every inch of you… intimately.” His words challenged her to defy him as he unlocked her cuffs. “Your choice.”
“Great choice. Why stop there? Strip me bare.” Bitter sarcasm colored her words.
“I’m tempted to,” he admitted, speaking the truth.
“You’re determined to rob me of the last shreds of my dignity, aren’t you? To think I came here to help you.”
“Why did you come here?” he hesitated only a moment before leaning back against his desk again, arms crossed over his chest.
Adnan detected anxiety beneath her caustic tone as tears flooded her eyes. Despite her fearless nature, she was closer to the edge than she wanted him to know.
That revelation tugged somewhere warm inside him. For a moment he wanted to soften, to console and protect her.
Such thoughts could be deadly for him. He shrugged them off and reminded himself she was skilled and this could be a ploy to weaken him.
“Hassan, turn toward the door,” he ordered, his only concession to her unspoken request for privacy.
She removed a small back pack first. Her clothes came off next, with abrupt movements. She stepped out of her pants, exposing purple panties. As she lifted the snug shirt over her head, Adnan saw ample bosom cupped in a purple bra, but no devices taped to her body.
The sight of her soft, full breasts ignited an aching desire in him to touch her. It would be so easy to take advantage of her, but his inner values would not allow him to do so.
He liked his women compliant and begging for him. He’d never taken a woman against her will, and wouldn’t start now. He wondered if others had violated her.
“Enough. Put your clothes back on.” He looked away, upset he’d shamed her. There’d been no choice. In his world survival was the number one motivator.
She blinked and stared at him.
“Oh, but I’m not finished,” she purred, the chill of ice in her voice. Her demeanor shifted and her lips curved into a mischievous, sensual half-smile. She morphed into a wanton woman, a temptress, flaunting her sexuality.
Hand on hip, knee bent slightly, her hips gyrated as she swirled around in a circle, her breasts thrust forward.
A heavy copper slave bracelet with the al Burindi insignia engraved in red enamel encircled her upper arm, announcing to Adnan and the world that she was an al Burindi chattel, much like a cow that had been branded with a branding iron.
“Take that offensive thing off your arm,” he ordered, a lethal quality in his voice.
Her seductive come-hither expression was meant to intoxicate him, but when she lifted her eyes they shone with fury.
She pulled the bracelet from its clamped position and tossed it carelessly onto a nearby side table, all the while flowing through a series of alluring movements.
She dared to taunt him.
Need and desire stirred in his groin. This mysterious stranger stirred more lust in him than his bride-to-be ice queen. His breath caught as her beauty worked magic on his senses.
This is a dangerous woman. The danger was more to his emotions than his survival. He would take his chances with her.
“You’re playing with fire,” his words were gruff, his voice deeper than before. “Continue, and I guarantee you will get burnt.”
They stared at each other for a moment in silence. Her chin rose slightly and her breath came quick.
She seemed to feel vindicated, aware that her impromptu dance had captivated him. The rebellious act had restored her sense of personal power.
He wasn’t sure if she realized it had backfired to some degree, giving him a glimpse of her attraction to him.
She pulled on her clothes, and her graceful curves were no longer exposed. She stood tall and dignified, with no trace of the vixen from moments earlier.
He gestured for Hassan to bring him the back pack she’d concealed beneath her robe. He opened it, rummaged around inside, and then placed it on his desk.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” He gestured to the back pack. “What’s the camera for?”
“Olympia Green, Your Highness. I’m a professional photographer. I risked my life tonight to alert you that your life is in imminent danger.”
Adnan pushed away from his polished mahogany desk and thrust his hands into the pockets of the black cargo pants he wore, his frown deepening. He paced back and forth between Olympia and his desk, eyes fixed on the Persian carpet beneath his feet.
“My life is always in danger. It comes with the job. I want to know why an uninvited foreign female photographer is prowling around my palace in the middle of the night.”
“This is a more personal danger than the type that comes with your job,” her words flooded forth on a breathless wave, sounding like music.
“Why would I believe anything you say? I know nothing about you, your motives or who you work for, and my only clue is that slave bracelet you wore. Who sent you on this folly that could cost you your life?”
“I work for nobody,” she was indignant. “I was deceived and kidnapped.”
Adnan guided her to a sitting area where two leather sofas faced each other across a coffee table. He sat opposite her. Hassan poured them each a glass of lime water, and placed her back pack on the sofa beside his boss.
“Last night I escaped from the harem of Sheikh Mahjub bin al Burindi. He’s held me against my will for two months.” Her hands were clenched, knuckles white.
Adnan’s chin rose slightly as anger boiled in his gut. His brother-in-law-to-be had no right holding a foreign woman – or any woman for that matter – against her will.
Her story disturbed him. Although Mahjub wore his notorious reputation as a womanizer like a badge of honor, Adnan wasn’t ready to believe Olympia Green yet. She’d have to earn his trust.
“Don’t lie to me. A single phone call will reveal your deception.”
“If you make that call before I disclose what I know,” she replied evenly, legs and arms crossed but head held high, “you’ll endanger me, my brother, but most of all, yourself and your people. Hear me out before you verify my information.”
The degree of certainty she possessed bothered him. He ran his fingers over the bearded stubble on his chin, dark eyes evaluating her.
“There must be more to the story. I doubt he kidnapped you against your will. Especially after that little display you just gave me in your underwear. Like so many Western women, you probably thought you found romance with a rich sheikh and got in over your head.”
“I didn’t go with him voluntarily,” her eyes shifted to elude his penetrating gaze. “You might find it hard to believe, but not all Western women swoon over desert kings. None of that’s important now. Only my warning is.”
Adnan raked long fingers through his wavy black hair. She didn’t want to discuss it. All the more reason he would press her.
“Of course it’s important. It goes to your credibility. Tell me how you came to be in Mahjub’s harem and what your brother’s got to do with it.” A steel edge laced his words. His humor was on the lean side at the best of times, and he was in no mood to play games with this woman.
Olympia gulped down the lime water as though parched, then sighed.
“I was with my brother at a poker competition on the Riviera two months ago. He lost big money to Sheikh Mahjub and couldn’t pay his debt. He told the sheikh he’d pay, but needed time. The sheikh gave him two weeks and took me as collateral. My brother promised to come back for me within two weeks, but I never heard from him again.” Her voice broke, and when she looked at him her eyes were awash with unshed tears. “Something’s wrong. He would never leave me this long in the hands of a lecherous-,”
“Enough,” Adnan held his hand up to stop her, and sat forward. “What is the warning you risked your life to bring me?”
Olympia took a deep breath. “As soon as your fiancée becomes your wife, and gets pregnant with your child, she plans to have you assassinated.”
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