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Darker Side of Desire & the Sheikh's Pregnant Prisoner(7)

By:Penny Jordan

‘A farewell present,’ Claire told him tautly, shivering beneath the icy glare of fury he directed towards her.

‘You are giving him presents?’ His mouth tightened ominously, ‘Is the gift of your body not enough?’ Anger gave way to contempt. ‘Abase yourself as you wish, Claire Miles, while you bear your own name, but once you carry mine…’ He broke off to study her contemptuously. ‘Have you no pride that you must needs buy a man’s affection with gifts? What does he give you, Claire, apart from satisfying you with his body? What manner of man is he?’

His mouth twisted with contempt, impelling Claire to retaliate, to wound his pride as he had tried to wound hers. ‘What’s the matter, Raoul?’ she demanded, her voice husky with anger. ‘Has no woman ever loved you enough to buy you gifts; to sacrifice her pride? Are you always the one who has to do the buying? Is that…’

‘You will not speak to me like that.’ He had closed the gap between them before she could move, his fingers biting painfully into the soft flesh of her upper arm, his eyes so dark that they seemed almost black, forcing her to stare helplessly into their mesmerising gaze as he dragged her against his body. She could feel the anger emanating from him, the taut control of his body bending hers like a bow.

She had pushed him too far. She could see it in the controlled fury of his face. In the tight muscles of his body as her own jarred against the hard impact; and now the cruel line of his mouth was approaching hers, hovering, waiting to punish. Something quivered through her, burning her skin, and her lips parted invitingly, her eyes soft and luminous. She caught Raoul’s muttered imprecation and then suddenly she was free, dazed and bewildered to the point of shock.

‘Oh no,’ he was saying tightly. ‘Oh no,’ he reiterated with cruel softness. ‘I’m not falling for that. What did you expect,’ he added tauntingly watching her white face, ‘that I would be deceived by your clumsy ploy? Enough to take you into my arms perhaps and from there into my bed? How much would I have had to pay for that dubious pleasure, I wonder? However cheap the price, it would be too much. You overrate your appeal and my need. Both would have to increase considerably before I would even contemplate such a course.’

‘I…’ Fury tied Claire’s tongue in knots. And besides, how could she explain logically that momentary and totally bewildering impulse which had had her lifting her face to his, ignoring all the warning commands of her brain?

Humiliation scorched through her. Somehow she managed to stagger out of her room and into Saud’s, picking up the little boy with arms that still trembled, hugging him as though somehow the warmth of his body would dispel the frozen bitterness that seemed to have invaded her every bone and muscle.

How could she go on with this charade, knowing how deeply and intensely Raoul despised her? But how could she not do it when she thought of what was at stake? And she wasn’t thinking just of the money which she needed so badly. There was also Saud, of whom she had become very fond, and who she knew was daily becoming more attached to her. If Raoul’s dislike and contempt was the only price she was asked to pay for Saud’s safety and Teddy’s future financial security, surely it was not too great a burden to bear?

* * *

It was just after eleven when she went downstairs to the foyer to find that her car and driver were waiting for her. The fact that the car was an elegant and brand-new Rolls caught her off guard and she stared uncertainly at it for a moment before approaching it cautiously. When the front passenger door was thrust open unceremoniously she eyed it uncertainly, gasping with shock and disbelief when Raoul’s voice commanded her curtly to ‘Get in.’

‘You!’ Sheer disbelief prompted the shocked protest, but to judge from the tightening of his skin over the bones of his face, Raoul had read more than disbelief into her brief exclamation.

‘Did you honestly expect I would allow you to see this man un…’

‘Unguarded?’ Claire supplied bitterly for him as she slid into the plush leather seat and closed the door after her. ‘What’s the matter? Are you afraid he might persuade me to change my mind?’

The look on Raoul’s face as he turned towards her shocked her with its biting contempt. ‘Hardly,’ he drawled, his eyes pitiless as they raked over her pale face and slender body. ‘A man who accepts expensive gifts from a woman, who allows her to do all the running and chasing, isn’t going to be fool enough to place her virtue and his honour above money.’

‘Meaning, of course, that you would never stoop to allow your women to do so,’ Claire threw at him angrily, torn between humiliation and searing fury. How dare he judge her so contemptuously and on so little evidence! A man who could do that must surely hold the whole female sex in contempt.

Her mouth tightened. It was just as well she had discovered this side of him from the start. That way she was hardly likely to be dazzled by his handsome face and masculine body. She checked, tensing, her fingers on her seat-belt as the full import of her train of thought sank home. Of course she hadn’t been in danger of falling for Raoul; he might be the epitome of every girl’s idyllic romantic daydreams, but she wasn’t stupid enough to believe those daydreams could be translated into real life.

‘My “women” as you term them, are content to be what Allah ordained them to be.’ Raoul’s cold, soft voice broke into her thoughts, sending icy shivers rippling over her skin.

‘Meaning that they know their place and are kept in it,’ she taunted back. ‘Bought and paid for, so that they are easy to discard when you are bored with them, is that it? Or is it they who grow tired of pandering to your vulnerable ego, Raoul? It takes a very special sort of man to accept a woman as his equal in life, capable of thinking and functioning for herself; a man who can appreciate what a woman must give up when she…’

‘Gives herself to her lover? In the East we have a saying that man and woman are food and drink, each enhancing the other. In my country a woman is not ashamed to be a woman. She is content in her own role and does not seek to usurp that of the male.’

They had joined the main stream of traffic and Raoul broke off to ask Claire for directions. She told him where they were heading and kept silent as he manoeuvred the large car through the ceaseless flow of traffic. He drove well, neither uncertainly nor aggressively, and his consideration for other drivers and pedestrians was something that surprised her. He had been so arrogant and contemptuous where she was concerned that she had expected him to betray the same traits towards others.

It wasn’t until they had left the London traffic behind them and were heading out in the direction of Teddy’s school that Raoul picked up the threads of their earlier conversation. ‘As my supposed “wife” a certain standard of behaviour will be expected of you,’ he began without preamble, and without taking his eyes off the road, ‘and now is as good a time as any to speak of this. In the East…’

‘A woman is a man’s possession?’ Claire interrupted furiously. ‘But you are forgetting that you have been forced to “marry” me by your uncle. We will lead completely separate lives, or so you told me. Feeling the way you do, I’m surprised you aren’t already married. To some dutiful, biddable Muslim girl brought up to think of her father and then her husband as her master.’

Dead silence filled the car, and a quick glance into Raoul’s face showed Claire a look of such brooding bitterness that her heart quailed a little. It was too late now to regret her lack of tact, and she was surprised when, instead of changing the subject, Raoul said curtly, ‘There was to have been such a marriage, but it, required that I should change my religion.’

‘And you would not? But why? You obviously consider yourself more Eastern than Western. You were brought up there.’

‘Sometimes a man needs to be accepted for himself alone,’ was all Raoul would say, but it gave Claire something to think about as the powerful Rolls gobbled up the miles.

His comment pointed to a far greater sensitivity than she could ever have imagined he would possess; a need to be accepted that gnawed at her thoughts as she tried to fit together the complicated pieces of the puzzle that went to make up the man seated at her side. The Sheikh had warned her that Raoul found his dual inheritance a difficult one and for the first time she began to appreciate what the older man had meant. To the casual onlooker, Raoul was completely of the East, but that was merely the outward covering; what about the man inside the tawny skin, the man whose father had so contemptuously rejected his mother—so much so that she had returned to her own people, taking her child with her?

It was only as they neared Teddy’s school that Claire ceased tussling with the problem, turning her thoughts instead to Teddy and how she was going to stop Raoul and her brother from meeting.

She and Teddy were very close, a result of their parents’ death, and Teddy was intelligent enough to suspect the truth if she did not take great care to hide it from him. She had no wish for her brother to grow up under the burden of knowing she had sacrificed her pride and self-respect so that she could pay his school fees, and so she had already decided to tell Teddy that she loved Raoul. There would be time enough later to worry about explaining to him why she had returned to England, her supposed marriage over, but that was something she wasn’t going to think about right now. Her first problem was to get rid of Raoul.