Read Heart of the Desert Online

Authors: Carol Marinelli

Heart of the Desert (2 page)

They shared one dance and even if it was for duty, it felt like something else. To be held by someone so strong, so commanding, was confusing, and to be aware of his observation was dizzying by the end of the evening.

‘Are you okay?’ He must have followed her outside once they had bade farewell to the happy couple and she stood in the hallway, accepting a glass of water from a waitress.

‘It was so …’ She shook her head to clear it, the music still reaching them in the hall. ‘I’m fine. I’m exhausted and not just from the wedding—it’s been a busy few days. I never knew there would be so many things to get through before the wedding.’ She gave a wry smile. ‘I thought Felicity and I would be spending some time together, I was hoping to see the desert …’

‘There are too many duties,’ Ibrahim said. ‘Come on. I’ll show you the desert now.’ He had nodded to the stairs and Georgie climbed them. They walked along the corridor, past her bedroom till they came to a balcony door, which Ibrahim opened—and there was the desert, spread out before them. ‘There,’ he drawled. ‘Now you’ve seen it.’

Georgie laughed. She had heard about the rebel prince who loathed the endless desert plains, who would, Karim had said with an edge to his voice, rather sit in crowded bars than find the peace only isolation could bring.

‘You prefer cities, then?’ She had made light of it, but his dark eyes were black as they roamed the shadows and when he didn’t answer, Georgie looked out again. ‘It looks like the ocean,’ she said, because it did in the moonlight.

‘It once was the ocean,’ Ibrahim said. ‘And it will be again.’ He glanced over at her. ‘Or so they say.’

‘They?’

‘The tales we are told.’ He gave a shrug. ‘I prefer science. The desert is not for me.’

‘But it’s fascinating.’ Georgie said, and they stood silent as she looked out some more. ‘Daunting,’ she said to the silence, and even if she shouldn’t have said any more, after a while Georgie admitted a truth. ‘I worry about Felicity.’

‘Your sister is happy.’

Georgie said nothing. Felicity certainly seemed happy—she had fallen in love with a dashing surgeon, not knowing at the time he was a prince. They were clearly deeply in love and thrilled there was a baby soon on the way, but Felicity did still miss home and struggled sometimes to adjust to all her new family’s ways.

‘She wants me to come and live here—to help with the baby and things.’

‘She can afford a nanny!’ Ibrahim said, and Georgie
gave a tight smile, because she had privately thought the same. Still, in fairness to Felicity it wasn’t the only reason that she wanted her sister close. ‘She wants to …’ Georgie swallowed. Even though conversation came easily there were certain things she did not want to admit—and that her sister wanted to take care of her was one of them.

‘She wants to be able to look out for you,’ Ibrahim said, because he had heard about the troubled sister. One who had often run away, her teen years spent in and out of rehab for an eating disorder. Georgie was trouble, Karim had sagely warned.

Ibrahim chose to decide things for himself.

And, anyway, he liked trouble.

‘Felicity worries about you.’

‘Well, she has no need to.’ Georgie’s cheeks burnt, wondering how much he knew.

‘She had reason for a while, though. You were very sick. It’s only natural she should be concerned.’ He was direct and for a moment she was defensive, embarrassed, but there was no judgement in his voice, which was rare.

‘I’m better now.’ Georgie said. ‘I can’t get it through to her that she doesn’t have to worry any more. You know, the problem with having once had a problem is everyone holding their breath, waiting for it resurface. Like that soup …’ He laughed because he had seen her face when it had been served. ‘It was cold.’


Jalik
,’ Ibrahim said, ‘cucumber. It is supposed to be served like that.’

‘I’m sure it’s lovely if you’re used to it. And I tried,’ Georgie said. ‘I tried but I couldn’t manage all of it, but even on her wedding day Felicity was watching every mouthful I took and so was Mum. It doesn’t all go back to having an eating disorder—I just don’t like cold cucumber soup.’

‘Fair enough.’ Ibrahim nodded.

‘And as much as I can’t wait for my sister to have the baby, as much as I’m looking forward to being an aunt, I do not want to be a nanny!’ Georgie admitted. ‘Which is what they would want me to be if I stayed on,’ she added, feeling guilty for voicing her concerns but relieved all the same.

‘You would,’ he agreed. ‘Which is fine if being a nanny is your career of choice. Is it, though?’

‘No.’

‘Can I ask what is?’

‘I’ve been studying therapeutic massage and aromatherapy. I’ve got a couple more units to do and then I’m hoping to start my own business.

‘As well as more study,’ she went on. Told him so easily, told him in far more detail than she had ever told another, about the healing she wanted to do for other women, how massage and oils had helped her when nothing else had. Unlike many people he did not mock her because, even if he did not like its mysterious ways, he was from the desert and he understood something of such remedies.

And he told her things too, things he had never
thought he would tell another, as to the reason he didn’t like the desert.

‘It took my brother,’ Ibrahim said, because when Hassan and Jamal had not produced an heir and a fragile Ahmed had been considered as king, rather than face it, Ahmed had gone deep into the desert and perished.

‘Felicity told me.’ Georgie swallowed. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’

Such a loss. He could not begin to explore it and Ibrahim closed his eyes, but the wind blew the sand and the desert was still there and he hated it.

‘It took my mother too.’

‘Your mother left.’

Ibrahim shook his head. ‘By the desert’s rules.’ He looked out to the land he loathed and he could scarcely believe his own words, the conversation he was having. These should be thoughts only, and he turned to Georgie to correct himself, to retract, to bid farewell, yet blue eyes were waiting and that smiling mouth was serious now and Ibrahim found himself able to go on.

‘One day she was here, we were a family; the next she was gone and never allowed to return. Today is her son’s wedding and she is in London.’

‘That must be awful for her.’

‘It pales in comparison to missing Ahmed’s funeral, or so she told me when I rang this afternoon.’ It had been a hell of a phone call but he had not backed down from it, had sat and listened and listened some more.

‘I’m sorry.’

He wanted her to say she understood, so he could mock her.

He wanted her to say she knew how he felt, so he could scathingly refute it.

He did not want a hand that was surprisingly tender to reach out and brush his cheek. But on contact Ibrahim wanted to hold her hand and capture it, to rest his face in it, to accept the simple gesture.

And he could never know, only her therapist could know, how momentous that was, that her hand had, for the first time with a man, been instinctive. She felt the breeze carry the warm heat of the desert and it seemed to circle them and all she wanted to do was stay.

‘You should go,’ Ibrahim said, because Karim had warned him about this woman, warned him sternly to remember Zaraq’s ways while he was here.

And she did that. She turned and left him staring out at the desert, and as she walked she was reeling, her fingers burning from the brief touch, her mind whirring at to the contact she had initiated.

‘I thought you said they were stuffy.’ Abby interrupted Georgie’s memories, ones she had tried to quash. ‘He doesn’t look anything like I imagined.’

‘It’s different there,’ Georgie said. ‘There are different ways, different rules …’ She didn’t want champagne, she didn’t want to dance with the man who was offering, but it was Abby’s night and, yes, it was rather more fun being inside than in the queue outside. Not for a second did Georgie let on to her friend that her mind
was elsewhere, but even Abby seemed more interested in Ibrahim than in the club itself, because in the early hours of the morning the conversation turned back to him again.

‘You’re going over there next week,’ Abby reminded Georgie, and gave her a little nudge. ‘Will he be there?’

Georgie shook her head. ‘He goes as little as possible—he went for the wedding and again when Azizah was born, and he’s just been recently. He’ll be back in a few weeks when the future king is born, that’s more than enough for him. I’ll be long gone by then so I won’t be seeing him for ages.’ She took a gulp of champagne. ‘Let’s dance.’

And they did.

They danced, partied and Georgie was a good friend and stayed till 4 a.m., laughed and had fun.

Even though she’d rather be home.

Even though she’d rather be alone.

To think of his kiss.

To think of him.

It had never dawned on her that he too might be sorry.

CHAPTER TWO

S
HE
did leave the balcony, as he had told her to.

Georgie had left him staring out at the desert.

And he shouldn’t have turned and neither should she.

He shouldn’t have turned, for his mind was angry, damaged by the desert, because when he turned, when he saw her looking back over her shoulder, he saw a familiar escape.

And he should not walk to her, but instead go up to his suite, pick up the phone and summon safe pleasure—for there were women chosen to please a prince or king. They, his father had long ago warned, were his only option when here in Zaraq.

And they were beautiful women and had more than sufficed, he reminded himself, except there was grit in his eyes from the desert wind and there was darkness in his soul tonight. He could still feel the cool trace of her fingers on his cheek and he had never cared for rules and he chose not to now.

He walked to her.

She waited.

She had every opportunity to leave and yet she did not. Her room was behind her, but she chose not flee. She faced the terror and the beauty of the man who was striding to her and fought not to run to him. There was no logic. Only madness could explain it, a charge in the air, a line that connected, an inevitability she desired, because as he pulled her into him, as he lowered his head, she was waiting and willing, and wanted that surly, delicious mouth on hers.

And now it was.

A mouth that tasted not of smoke or whisky but the clean taste of man.

Until now she’d never enjoyed kissing just as she’d never really enjoyed sex. But held in the arms and caressed by the lips of a master, Georgie changed her mind. His mouth pressed into hers, his jaw harsh against her skin, but there was moist relief in the centre and his tongue was cool against hers and made her burn. His hands were as skilled as his lips, because her hair was freed from the braid, and she knew only by the weight of it tumbling. He caressed her long blonde hair as if he was confirming it was how he had pictured it. He smelt as he had on the dance floor, as if he had stepped out of the shower and splashed on cologne, and she wanted to kiss him for ever.

Her fingers felt the hair she had admired as his hands now roamed her waist and just when she thought nothing could be better, he pulled her hips into his, so purposefully, so specifically that for a second she thought she would topple, except he was holding her and the wall
was behind her and her shoulders met it as he pulled her in.

She felt it then.

As his mouth savaged hers, as his erection pressed in, she felt all the promise in that lithe, toned body, glimpsed the delicious place to which they were leading. Always she had shied from that path, but she felt tonight as if she wanted to run down it. They could have been in Peru or at a bus stop, they could have been anywhere, and it didn’t matter because she was absolutely lost in the moment he made.

It was Ibrahim who had control, because he stopped then, pulled that noble head back just a fraction and looked as no man, no person, no soul had ever looked. He looked so deeply into her eyes that she wanted to climb into him, to dive into the beauty they mirrored.

‘Come …’ He had her hot hand in his and he would take her to his bed, right now. He would lead her, and soon he would have her, but Georgie was greedy, she was hungry and she could not wait, could not climb a single stair if it kept her from the moment that was waiting to be made. She was out of control and for the first time she liked it, because somehow with him it felt safe.

‘Here.’ Her room was here behind her, her bed was here, and she wanted them both safe and unsafe behind closed doors, but Ibrahim was a prince and his seed so precious, the orders so ingrained, that he hesitated.

‘We need …’ His own room would be better. There were discreet drawers, regularly replenished for the
women sent to entertain the young prince, but in the guest rooms there would be nothing,

And, yes, they did need. Her scrambled brain, her rushing thoughts were grateful for his care yet she raced to a speedier solution and her voice leapt in delight as she recalled.

‘I’ve got some.’ She thanked the gods watching over Heathrow Airport who’d taken the two pounds she’d put into a machine and delivered not the mouthwash she had selected but a little parcel she hadn’t wanted, but she was very grateful for it now.

And worlds collided for Ibrahim.

That she came prepared was perhaps to be admired. In London he would not give it a thought, but here …

He did not belong here, he reminded himself.

The rules did not apply.

So why the pause?

Why did it matter?

It did not, he told himself as they moved into her suite, and then when he kissed her again, he didn’t have to tell himself any more because it simply did not … matter.

It did.

For Georgie something else mattered.

She closed her eyes to his kiss and tried not to think about
it
, tried to forget and just be warmed by his tongue, which was hot now.

Hot and probing and done with her spent mouth. Now that he had kissed her onto the bed, he pulled the straps on her dress and licked down her chest, his
hand pushing up the hem of that hateful dress, but not all the way, because her hips rose so high into him he was blocked. It was urgent, urgent and desperate and completely delicious, her body responding as if it had been waiting for ever to join him. She tore at his jacket, his shirt, her mouth in his hair, on his ear, her hands on his back, her stilettos tearing the silk of his trousers as their legs entwined, wishing the heat from their bodies would melt their clothes so they could connect with skin.

It
mattered.

She could not ignore it—could not forgo her strange principle. As she knelt on the bed and lifted her hem as Ibrahim lowered his head, not knowing whether or not it would matter to him, Georgie said, ‘We can’t …’

He liked her game.

‘We can.’

He liked her feigned reluctance.

Liked the sudden shyness as his mouth met her stomach.

‘I can’t.’

‘You can,’ he breathed as his hands pulled at her panties and brushed off the hands that sought to keep them on.

‘Ibrahim, please …’ And he realised then that it wasn’t a game. Or rather that she’d been playing a very dangerous one, because he could not have been closer, could
not
have been closer. He was still hard and he was back to angry and for a moment there he did not like his own thoughts, but he hauled himself from her, looked down
at his torn clothing, could feel the scratches from her nails in his back and shot daggers at her with his eyes.

‘I’m sorry …’ Georgie gulped, and wondered how could she explain
it
suddenly mattered.

‘I’m not like that.’

‘You pretending to be demure was lost in the hallway.’

‘I haven’t—’

‘Don’t try to tell me you’re a virgin.’ He gave a nasty smirk. ‘A condom-carrying virgin.’

‘I’m not.’ She wasn’t and she certainly wasn’t about to explain to him in this mood about the Heathrow gods. ‘I didn’t mean to lead you on.’

‘You meant it,’ he said. ‘You meant every second of it.’ He wasn’t hard any more, he was just pure angry. He’d been told she was trouble and he should have listened. ‘What are you holding out for, Georgie?’ It dawned on him then. ‘Jealous of your big sister, are you? Want a rich husband of your own?’ He mocked her with a black smile. ‘Here’s a tip for the future—men like a little or the lot.’

She was angry too. Angry at herself and now at him for not letting her explain. And she was embarrassed, which wasn’t a great combination because she bit back with harsh words of her own.

‘Oh, so you’d have loved me in the morning?’ She answered her own question. ‘As if.’ He was a bastard, a playboy and she’d been playing with fire from the beginning, she just hadn’t known it at the time.

But there was a beat, a tiny beat where their eyes met.

A glimpse of a tomorrow that might have been, which they’d lost now.

That made him even angrier, ‘I wouldn’t touch you again if you were on your knees, begging. I’ll tell you what you are …’ Ibrahim said, and he added an insult that needed no translation and it hurtled from his mouth as he walked from her room.

She pulled up her knees as he slammed closed her door and then pulled a shaking hand across her mouth because how could she tell him
what
had suddenly mattered?

Georgie wasn’t looking for a husband.

She already had one.

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