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Darker Side of Desire & the Sheikh's Pregnant Prisoner(3)

By:Penny Jordan

She only realised when the baby let out a protesting cry that she was holding him too tightly. Her head felt as though it was full of cotton wool. She seemed to have strayed into another world and she still couldn’t take in what had happened. Now, only the overturned table and the smashed crockery remained to prove that it had been real, that she had actually taken shelter behind it while bullets flew about the room. Suddenly, desperately, she wanted to laugh—or to cry—and the only thought surfacing through the muddle of her brain was that if she had to pay for the broken china it would probably use all her godmother’s parting cheque.

‘Please… forgive me… I am so disturbed that I forget my manners.’ Claire smiled vaguely at the plump bearded man. ‘I am Sheikh Ahmed ibn Hassan,’ he told her, introducing himself, ‘and if you had not…’ He tried to compose himself, shaking his head slowly. ‘Allah must have been smiling upon us this morning, Miss…’

Dutifully Claire supplied her name. ‘But, we cannot talk of this here. Will you come up to my suite so that I can thank you more properly…?’ He saw her hesitation and smiled, warmth and charm lighting his rather heavy features, and in that instant Claire recognised him.

He was the head of a small Middle Eastern state and she had seen his photograph in the papers. He was in Britain on a state visit, although the Press had suggested there might be something more in it than that. His country would offer a strategic point for Europe and its allies in a military sense, and it was strongly hinted that this could be the purpose underlining his visit. Claire also remembered reading that his nephew and heir had recently been killed in an accident together with his wife, and there had been rumblings of a Soviet plot to instate a ruler of their choice with sympathies to them rather than to the West.

‘I can ask the hotel management to vouch for me…’ her companion was saying earnestly and Claire realised that he had misinterpreted her hesitation.

She shook her head and proffered a brief smile. ‘No… no. I recognise you from your photograph in the papers, Sheikh.’

When they left the room they were followed by most of the other occupants, although Claire noticed that one man stayed behind and the mockery in his green eyes seemed to follow her as she walked out of the room, head held high, the baby still clutched in her arms, surrounded by what seemed like a phalanx of silent men.

The lavishness of the Sheikh’s suite made her blink, and as she sat down Claire found herself wondering curiously about the child she was still cuddling. She couldn’t blot out of her mind looking up and seeing that gun pointed lethally in the direction of the highchair.

‘You must be wondering what is going on,’ Sheikh Ahmed announced when she had refused a cup of coffee and his attendants had been dismissed. ‘This child,’ he looked at the baby on her knee, ‘is the only son of my nephew, and will in time succeed me as ruler of our state. Today’s events have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that his life is at risk.’ The baby started to cry and he frowned in concern. ‘There is something wrong?’

Claire shook her head wryly. ‘Not really. He is wet and hungry. His nursemaid… the girl who was with him in the dining-room…’

‘I suspect she was a plant who had been paid to leave him unattended. He is normally guarded at all times, but Raoul tells me that the girl insisted that I had said he was to eat in the dining-room. This is not true, and if it had not been for your quick actions…’

‘I thought we were both going to die,’ Claire admitted, shuddering herself.

‘And yet thinking that, you did not abandon Saud,’ the Sheikh commented watching her. ‘Raoul tells me that but for your quick thinking Saud would be dead.’

‘Were you… were you expecting something to happen?’ Claire asked, remembering the guns which had appeared as though by magic in the hands of the men in the dining-room.

The Sheikh shrugged fatalistically. ‘Not so much expecting as suspecting. There is a faction in our country that does not approve of our ties with the West. It is not always easy to know friend from foe and one must always be on one’s guard. Saud’s nursemaid is an example of how easy it is to be deceived. I myself am widowed and have no female relatives close enough to trust with the child.’ He suddenly looked tired and careworn. ‘But I must not burden you with our problems. I should like to reward you for…’

‘No…’ Claire spoke quickly and automatically, reiterating, ‘no… please, I would rather you did not. I simply acted instinctively.’ She looked down at the child now sleeping on her lap. ‘Is there someone who ‘can change and feed him?’ It seemed incredible to her that this child, who was apparently so important, should have no one to care properly for him.

‘I had hoped to find a nanny for him while we are here, but Raoul is opposed to it. He believes Saud would be better looked after by one of our own race.’ He smiled. ‘Perhaps because of his own dual blood, Raoul is more opposed to Saud having a foreign nanny than might otherwise be the case. He feels very deeply the differences which set him aside from his peers.’

What relationship did Raoul have with the baby on her lap, Claire wondered, but it was a question she could not ask, she had no desire to pry into the personal life of the man who had looked at her so coldly with those too-seeing green eyes. Had they registered her minute, betraying reaction to his proximity? The momentary weakness which had had nothing at all to do with her shock and had instead sprung from an entirely voluntary response to him as an intensely male man? It was humiliating to think that they might, especially when she had on more than one occasion seen the derisive dismissal of her as a woman in his eyes.

‘Er…’ She paused, seeing hesitation and embarrassment on the Sheikh’s face, intrigued because she sensed it wasn’t a habitual expression for him.

‘Saud’s room is through there.’ He indicated a communicating door. ‘Would it be trespassing too much to ask you to…?’

‘You want me to change and feed him?’ Claire supplemented, hiding a small smile.

‘We did not bring a large entourage; the boy’s nursemaid was to have been sufficient. I feared to leave him behind unprotected, but now… I think what happened this morning will prove to Raoul that we cannot entrust his care to anyone lightly. The girl who had charge of him came extremely highly-recommended, and yet it is plain that she was part of the plot to kill him.’

Remembering how the girl had lost her temper with the child, and looked so pointedly at her watch before she left the dining-room, Claire suspected that he was right.

The Sheikh was charming and as she allowed herself to be manoeuvred into taking Saud into his own bedroom to attend to his needs, she repressed a small smile. This was most definitely not what her godmother had had in mind for her stay in London.

The baby was supplied with every luxury imaginable, from toys to silk and satin clothes, but there seemed to be scant love in his young life, Claire thought pityingly as she first fed and then bathed him. He was not a difficult baby really, responding affectionately to her when she cuddled and held him. She was just towelling him dry, laughing as he lay gurgling on her lap, when the door opened. She tensed automatically, unable to blot out the mental image of men carrying guns and the high-pitched whine of bullets.

Cool green eyes surveyed her speculatively. ‘A very domesticated picture. What a shame that it is me and not Ahmed who is witnessing it. What are you hoping for with this touching display of maternalism, Miss Miles? More than a diamond bracelet, obviously.’

Claire winced, recognising that he had overheard her conversation with her godmother the previous night, and then anger replaced embarrassment as she recognised the calculated insult behind his words. He was implying that she was motivated by materialism. Her full pink lips tightened ominously, and for a moment she considered thrusting the still damp baby into his arms and letting him finish the task for himself. That would soon destroy his sardonic dignity. A small giggle bubbled up inside her as she pictured his immaculately suited figure dealing with the squirming baby.

‘Sheikh Ahmed asked if I would help, and I agreed,’ she said calmly, ‘but only because Saud was both wet and hungry, and too small yet to fend for himself. Sheikh Ahmed tells me that you are against his employing a European nanny for Saud.’

‘You have been exchanging confidences, haven’t you? What else did he tell you?’


‘Liar. I’m sure knowing my uncle as I do that he also told you of my mixed blood, and now, no doubt, you are on fire with curiosity to know more.’

His arrogance provoked her into an instinctive anger. ‘On the contrary,’ she told him coldly, ‘I have no desire to know the slightest thing about you. Why should I?’ She finished buttoning Saud into clean rompers and got up, thrusting the baby towards him, a little surprised by how deftly he held the child, then swept out of the room before he could stop her, seething with fury, because he was right—she had been curious about him. Of course, he must be used to women finding him fascinating. That blend of East and West was a potent one, and he knew it, damn him!