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Darker Side of Desire & the Sheikh's Pregnant Prisoner(5)

By:Penny Jordan

‘I acted entirely instinctively,’ Claire told him, a faint warm colour staining her cheekbones. If the Sheikh had brought her here to offer her another reward, she was going to refuse it. But surely a reward would not necessitate Raoul’s presence or be the cause of the uncertainty and agitation she sensed in the older man?

‘Perhaps, but nevertheless, your first instinct was to protect Saud, and I myself have observed your care of the child. You like children, Miss Miles?’

‘Yes, but…’ Her voice trailed off as her muddled thoughts clarified. Could the Sheikh be going to ask her to act as Saud’s nanny? ‘I could not look after him full-time if that is what you are about to suggest. I have a job already, and then…’ Then there was Teddy, but some inner caution made her say haltingly, ‘I have certain commitments…’

‘To your lover?’ Raoul suggested sardonically. ‘His should be the commitment to you, Miss Miles.’

‘There is a man already in your life?’ The Sheikh looked disturbed.


‘But you are not betrothed or married to him. There is no truly firm commitment?’

Her mouth had gone dry. Why hadn’t she simply explained that Teddy was her brother right from the start? How on earth was she going to extricate herself from her own half-truths now? Anger came to her rescue. What business was it of either of these men what her relationship with Teddy was?

‘Miss Miles and her lover are conducting a long-distance affair,’ Raoul supplemented cynically. ‘She was writing to him when I went to collect her.’

‘So… Then it is possible that you would be free to return with us to Omarah?’

‘As Saud’s nanny? I cannot. I am not trained… I…’

‘It is not as Saud’s nanny that my uncle requires your services, Miss Miles,’ Raoul cut in in a hatefully mocking voice, ‘but as his mother.’

‘His mother?’ The room seemed to whirl dizzily in front of her eyes, ‘but… but that is impossible.’

‘Biologically yes, but…’

‘What my nephew is trying to say, Miss Miles, is that in order to protect Saud it might be as well if we allowed those who instigated this morning’s attack to believe it succeeded. No… please hear me out,’ he begged when Claire would have interrupted. ‘No one apart from ourselves and my guards, whose loyalty I know I can depend on, know the truth. Those sent to kill my nephew have themselves been killed, but if we return to Omarah with Saud there will be other attempts on his life, attempts which could easily prove to be successful, and then I fear my country will turn its eyes and heart to Russia. You know already of the divisions in my country.’ He drew a sharp sigh. ‘Had Raoul been the son of my brother rather than the son of my sister, I could have appointed him as my heir…’

‘And that, I believe, is the only thing I can thank my father for,’ Raoul interrupted grimly.

‘I know you have no wish to step into my shoes, Raoul. Raoul is the head of our petrochemical industries,’ the Sheikh told Claire, and something in the look on the former’s face told her that this was no sinecure post, and that Raoul was completely genuine when he said that he had no wish to take his uncle’s place.

‘And thanks to the insistence of my father I am also a Christian,’ Raoul added grittily. He saw Claire’s look of surprise and said cuttingly, ‘Does it surprise you to know that those of my uncle’s faith are so tolerant towards others? The Prophet himself decreed that it must be so.’

Why, when he obviously felt so bitter about his father, and had chosen to ally himself to the Arab blood he carried, had he not changed his religion, Claire wondered, trying to shrug her curiosity aside as the Sheikh shook his head warningly.

‘We digress Raoul. We have not appraised Miss Miles of our… plan. Obviously, if we do allow it to be known that Saud did not survive this morning’s attack, it would be difficult for us to take the child back with us to Omarah. I did think at one time of leaving him in your country where he could be brought up in secret and, I hope, in safety, but…’

‘But if you do that he will grow up a stranger to his own country and its customs. The people would never accept him in your place. He would be more European than Arab.’

‘This is true,’ the Sheikh agreed gravely, ‘which is why, my dear, we are seeking your help. You see, the only way we can take Saud back with us in safety is if we take him as someone else’s child. You can see, I am sure, the dangers attendant on such a course. How could we be sure that the couple we might choose would be trustworthy? And Saud must be brought up as befits his station.’

‘I am honoured that you should have thought of me as a candidate,’ Claire responded truthfully, ‘but surely, even if I agreed, people would think it strange that you should take into your family an unmarried European girl with a child. Surely they would suspect…’

The two men exchanged a look that made her blood turn to ice in her veins, a feeling that she had suddenly strayed on to very unsteady ground sending alarm signals rushing to her brain.

‘I have not entirely explained, Saud would not just be your child, but… but Raoul’s as well. It would be announced that you were married during our visit to your country, and…’

‘Oh, but that couldn’t possibly work,’ Claire expostulated, refusing to dwell for the moment on the multitude of sensations assailing her and clinging only to the bare facts. Later, when she was alone, she would allow herself to think more deeply on the strange sensation stirring in the pit of her stomach at the thought of Raoul as her husband… her lover.

The look he gave her was bitterly sardonic. ‘Well, it won’t,’ she said sharply. ‘Everyone will know that we haven’t been married long enough to have a child, and… and with a European woman… Surely…’

Finding no reassurance in Raoul’s hard, cynical features, she looked wildly at the Sheikh, her heart sinking at what she saw in his calm, dark eyes.

‘We have been into this, and if you are in agreement, our story will be that Saud was the result of an affair between you and Raoul. He spends a considerable amount of time abroad, so that aspect need not cause us any concern. Your child will have been born illegitimately, and I will have coerced Raoul into marriage with you, for the child’s sake.’

The picture he was painting wasn’t a very attractive one and Claire found herself grimacing in distaste. ‘I suspect Miss Miles is thinking the proposition would sound more attractive had I been the one to do the coercing, Uncle,’ Raoul interceded mockingly, ‘but you are not thinking clearly, Miss Miles. No one knowing me would believe that I had willingly married a European woman…’

‘But they will believe that one bore your child?’ Their argument had personal undertones that bewildered Claire. Calm and even-tempered, she had never allowed herself to be so provoked and disturbed by any man. In fact, she had come to think of herself as someone who could not be affected physically by men, and yet this man with merely a look—a word—had inflamed her temper to the point where she could feel her self-control slipping dangerously away.

‘I am a man who spends a considerable amount of time away from my own people,’ Raoul acknowledged, shrugging as though dismissing her accusation as juvenile gaucheness. ‘Naturally, it would not be expected that I should live as a monk. It is also well-known in our country that European women take lovers.’

‘I cannot do it,’ she said positively. ‘I’m sorry, but I…’ She broke off as the door opened and a young girl walked in carrying Saud. She was dressed in the uniform of the hotel staff, the little boy was still flushed and fretful. But he seemed to recognise Claire, perhaps because of her fair hair, which was probably unusual to him, Claire thought, unable to check her own response and he wriggled impatiently in the girl’s hold, stretching out his arms to her.

The girl came over and handed Saud to her, saying something in Arabic that Claire couldn’t understand, before leaving the room.

‘She thinks you are Saud’s mother,’ the Sheikh pointed out quietly. ‘I know it is a great deal to ask of you, but I beg you to reconsider. Saud’s life is at stake… We cannot protect him for every second of it. Another year and we shall have overcome our problems. Then you will be free to go. A year, that is all we ask.’

‘And, of course, you will be well paid,’ Raoul interjected swiftly, mentioning a sum of money that made Claire gasp. It was a fortune, more than enough to put Teddy through school and university and still leave enough for her to buy herself a small house instead of the poky flat she presently rented.

‘But… marriage…’

‘Our marriage will be a mere fiction,’ Raoul assured her contemptuously. ‘Why else do you think my uncle is at such pains to state that it will have been forced upon me? That way neither of us will be expected to play too false a part. We can live our separate lives… I told you you should have offered the money first,’ he said over her head to his uncle.