Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest - Out in the UK June 2015 Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest - Out in the US June 2015 A Bride Worth Millions - Out September 2015 A Bride Worth Millions - Out September 2015

Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest

Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest

Mills & Boon Modern Romance

June 2015

ISBN: 0263248763

 

Harlequin Presents

May 2015

ISBN: 0373133472

 

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About the Book

Forbidden desire - Sultan Kadir Al Sulaimar must ignore his desire for helicopter pilot Lexi Howard and marry the bride who has been chosen for him, but when he and Lexi are stranded on a desert island Kadir’s resolve is tested to its limits...

 


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THE SULTAN WAS dressed in his robes of state, although he was not carrying a sword or a ceremonial knife in his belt, Lexi noted. The embroidered jacket he wore over his white robe was encrusted with dark red rubies which reminded her of droplets of blood.

She gave herself a mental shake, impatient with her fanciful imagination. But she could not tear her gaze from Kadir as he walked across the palace courtyard to the helipad, and she was conscious of his gaze skimming over her desert boots, khaki combats and vest top. She had tied her hair into a ponytail and the peak of her baseball cap cast a shadow over her face which she hoped disguised the dark circles beneath her eyes, evidence of her sleepless night.

"You said I didn’t need to wear my pilot’s uniform," she reminded him, taking his silence as censure.

"You should bring a jacket. The temperature in the mountains can drop twenty degrees once the sun sets in the evening."

Silence stretched between them, tightening Lexi’s nerves. She could still taste him on her lips from when he had kissed her the previous night. "Is it safe for you to go to the mountains?" she burst out. "Mabel said that the northern tribes are your enemies and there has already been one attempt made on your life."

His brows rose "Why, Lexi, would you care if someone took a pot shot at me?" he drawled.

In her mind, she was back in Helmand province in Afghanistan, watching her co-pilot Sam jump out of the helicopter and run to the aid of an injured soldier. The sniper’s bullet seemed to come from nowhere. One second Sam was running, the next he was lying lifeless on the desert sand. Death had been delivered in the blink of an eye. Lexi would always remember Sam’s cheerful grin and zest for life.

She stared at the blood-red rubies spattered over Kadir’s jacket and pictured a faceless figure in a crowd, aiming a gun and pulling the trigger.

"Of course I’d care, damn you," she said thickly.

"Lexi." Kadir swore beneath his breath.

She turned away from him, afraid he would see the raw emotions he evoked in her. "Why do you have a different bodyguard?" She glanced at the man sitting in the front passenger seat of the helicopter. "Where are Nasim and Ashar?"

"Ashar is away visiting his family. Nasim called in sick this morning."

Lexi frowned. "What’s wrong with him? He seemed fine in the gym yesterday."

Kadir closed his eyes and tried to dismiss the vision of Lexi’s bottom in tight pink shorts moving up and down as she performed push-ups in a competition with his bodyguard. "Your concern for Nasim is touching," he said curtly. "But no doubt you will strike up a friendship with Fariq."

"I’m not so sure." Lexi couldn’t explain why she had not warmed to the replacement bodyguard, or why her nerves felt on edge. She looked around the empty courtyard. "Where are Yusuf and your other advisers who usually accompany you?"

"I am going to the mountains alone, and I am not carrying my ceremonial weapons to show my host, Sheikh Omar, that I come in peace." By the end of today he would be officially engaged to Haleema and Zenhab would be looking forward to a royal wedding, Kadir thought with grim resignation.

Lexi held open the door of the helicopter and was gripped by an inexplicable sense of dread. "I’ve got a bad feeling about this trip." She shrugged helplessly. "I wish we weren’t going today."

For a split second, emotion flickered in Kadir’s dark gaze, a look almost of pain, before his thick lashes swept down like curtains hiding the windows to his soul.

"I have to go," he said harshly. "This is my destiny." He glanced at the gold watch on his wrist. "It’s time we were on our way."

The AgustaWestland was a dream to fly, and once Lexi had taken off she turned the helicopter towards the desert and prepared to enjoy the spectacular view. Beside her, the new bodyguard seemed restless and ill at ease and although the cabin was air-conditioned he was sweating profusely.

Lexi glanced at him. "Are you nervous about flying, Fariq?" she asked him, speaking into her headset.

"No. I’m not afraid, but you should be."

Puzzled, she turned her head to look at him and her heart catapulted against her ribs when she saw a gleam of grey metal and recognised the barrel of a pistol partly concealed in the bodyguard’s jacket. "Don’t make a fuss," Fariq said softly. "Fly the helicopter to these new coordinates."

Lexi glanced at the piece of paper he placed on her knee. On the video screen she could see Kadir in the rear of the helicopter, putting on his headphones, and she guessed he was unaware of the situation. Her eyes jerked to the pistol that Fariq was aiming at her ribs. Her mouth felt dry, but her military training kicked in and she suppressed her fear by forcing herself to think logically and remain calm.

Moments later, Kadir’s voice came though her headphones. "Why are you heading towards the coast? You’re flying in the wrong direction."

The bodyguard turned around and pointed the gun at Kadir. "There has been a change of plan, Your Highness. Hand over your cellphones, both of you."

Kadir froze, and his first thought was that he should have questioned, as Lexi had, the fact that Nasim had unexpectedly been taken ill. Clearly, someone had wanted his protection officer out of the way and he prayed that Nasim had not been killed.

"Whatever it is you want, there is no reason for you to involve my pilot." He spoke calmly to Fariq. "Let Lexi land the helicopter. You can keep me as a hostage, or kill me if that is your plan. But let her go."

"No!" Lexi felt a rush of emotion at Kadir’s attempt to protect her. "You can’t kill the Sultan," she told the gunman. "You’ll never get away with it. If you allow him to go free, I’ll fly you to wherever you want to go and no one will know about this incident."

Fariq laughed. "Your determination to protect each other is touching," he sneered. He stared at Kadir. "The rumour that the western woman is your mistress is obviously correct. Nobody will get killed as long as you do as I tell you. Continue flying to the coordinates I gave you," the gunman ordered Lexi, "and don’t try anything clever, because I swear I will pull the trigger, and we’ll all go down."

She could tell he meant what he said, and she could also tell he was nervous, which made him volatile and likely to panic. There was nothing Lexi could do but fly to the new destination. After fifteen minutes, during which time the mounting tension seemed to suck the air out of the cabin, they flew over the coast.

The sea was sapphire-blue and sparkled in the early morning sunshine. Did the world seem more beautiful because she had a gun aimed at her? Lexi wondered. She was conscious of her heart beating hard and fast in her chest as adrenalin pumped through her veins. On the video screen she could see Kadir sitting behind her. What if the gunman did actually intend to kill him?

Fear stole her breath. She could not bear to lose him! She couldn’t bear to kneel by his lifeless body as she had knelt beside her best friend, Sam, desperately searching for a pulse but knowing it was too late.

Kadir is not yours to lose, whispered a voice in her head. And in a heartbeat she discovered that she wished he was.

Below them, a small island came into view, white sand and green palm trees rising up out of the sapphire sea. "Land the chopper down there on the beach," the gunman instructed.

Would they be ambushed by more gunmen once they were on the ground? Supremely conscious of the pistol barrel inches away from her, Lexi took the helicopter down and landed it on the beach.

"Now get out, both of you, and put your hands above your heads."

Lexi jumped down onto the sand and raised her arms, and seconds later she was joined by Kadir. The gunman seemed to be working alone. She scanned the line of trees at the top of the beach and saw no sign of anyone else.

"I reckon we could take him," she muttered to Kadir. "We’re two against one."

"But the one has a gun," he hissed back. "Don’t be stupid."

His words had the desired effect, Kadir noted with relief as Lexi’s eyes flashed him a furious look. She was as courageous as a tigress, but no way would he allow her to risk her life. He was confused by their location. Nothing made sense, and the situation became even more bizarre when the gunman locked the helicopter and pocketed the key.

Fariq ran down the beach, and it was then that Lexi noticed a motorboat half hidden behind some rocks. She watched Fariq push the boat into the sea before he leapt aboard and started the engine.

"He’s leaving us here!" Her brain finally clicked into gear. Events had happened so quickly, but now Lexi stared at the boat as it sped away. "Hey..."

She spun round to Kadir. "Terrific, we’re stranded. From the air, the island looked uninhabited. But why would the gunman leave us here? Surely when you fail to arrive for your meeting with Haleema’s brother, an alert will be raised that you are missing and people will search for you? What can anyone hope to gain by kidnapping us and dumping us on a deserted island?"

Kadir racked his brain for an explanation. Someone did not want him to meet Omar bin Al-Hassan to discuss his marriage to Princess Haleema, but who, and why? The only reason he could think of was that the person behind the kidnap plot did not want him to make peace with the leader of the northern tribes. Someone wanted to stir up trouble in Zenhab, and the most obvious suspect was his uncle. He dragged his mind from his confused thoughts as Lexi started to stride along the beach. "Where are you going?"

She glanced over her shoulder. "To find somewhere for us to shelter; it’s the first thing I learned to do in RAF survival training. From the air I saw some cliffs on the other side of the island, and there might be a cave. We’ll also need to find food, and collect firewood."

Kadir hid his irritation that his pilot was too bossy for her own good and sat down on a rock. "It sounds exhausting," he drawled.

Lexi put her hands on her hips, her slender body practically quivering with impatience. "Are you just going to sit there? You might be a Sultan, but if you think I’m going to wait on you like your staff at the palace do, think again."

She marched away from him, her temper fizzing. But she recognised that her anger was a release of her pent-up emotions. She felt sick with relief that the gunman had not hurt them. Fear had churned in her stomach when the gun had been pointed at her, and she’d been terrified when the gunman had aimed at Kadir. Now, for some reason, she felt stupidly tearful and she was fighting a strong urge to run back to Kadir and throw herself into his arms.

The island was bigger than it had looked from the air and it took Lexi almost two hours to follow the coastline round to the other side, where she found a few low cliffs and no caves. She continued walking for another hour before completing a circuit of the island and finally ended up back at the helicopter. There was no sign of Kadir and, after dumping the driftwood she had collected to make a fire, she walked up the beach and into the shade of the palm trees. The ground was littered with branches and palm fronds that could be used to construct a shelter, she decided.

Pushing through the trees, she found herself at the edge of a desert plain. Beyond a line of dunes she could see more palm trees and the glint of water—an oasis, and next to it...a tent!

What on earth? Ignoring the fact that she was hot and tired from hours of walking in the burning sun, Lexi scrambled over the dunes, her progress hampered by her feet sinking into the soft sand. She was breathless when she arrived at the huge tent and stared in disbelief at Kadir lying on a hammock strung between two palm trees.

"Where are we?" She was beginning to feel as if she had fallen into the pages of Alice in Wonderland.

Kadir propped himself up on one elbow and regarded her lazily. He had changed out of his royal robes into a pair of frayed denim shorts that sat low on his hips and displayed his muscle-packed abdomen. Beneath the glare of the desert sun, his bare chest was the colour of burnished bronze overlaid with whorls of silky black hairs.

Lexi licked her parched lips, conscious that her pounding heart was not the result of walking over the dunes.

"We’re on Jinan, which means beautiful garden," he told her. "It is a private island belonging to me personally, rather than to the Sultanate of Zenhab."

"Why did the kidnapper bring us to your private island?" Lexi frowned as the meaning of his words became clear. "You must have known where we were when I landed the helicopter. Why did you let me traipse around the island looking for a place to shelter when you knew that this—" she waved towards the tent "—was here?"

He shrugged and his powerful shoulder muscles rippled beneath his satiny skin. "You were determined to demonstrate your survival techniques and it seemed a shame to spoil your fun."

In truth, Kadir had felt relieved when she’d stormed off along the beach. He had needed some time alone to control his emotions in the aftermath of seeing a gun being aimed at Lexi. When her life had been threatened on the helicopter he had been consumed with rage, but his desperation to protect her had been tempered by the bitter realisation that the kidnapper was quite literally calling the shots.

Lexi glared at him, her temper flaring as quickly as tinder set alight with a match. "Bastard!" Her blue eyes blazed as she walked towards him and Kadir tensed as he watched her pull a penknife from the pocket of her combats. Without uttering another word, she sliced through the rope which tied one end of the hammock to the tree trunk and watched him land in an ignominious heap on the sand before she strode into the tent.

It was the size of a marquee, Lexi realised as she looked around the interior of the tent. Camping on Dartmoor on military exercises with the RAF had never been like this! She pulled off her boots and walked barefoot across the richly patterned rugs covering the floor. In place of chairs and sofas there was a raised platform covered with brightly coloured fabric and sumptuous silk cushions. Drawing aside a curtain, she discovered a bedroom with a huge, low bed draped with satin sheets in vibrant jewel shades. Behind a partition was a bathroom with a walk-in shower and at the far end of the tent was a kitchen area complete with a working fridge.

"Solar panels provide electricity, and the oasis is a source of fresh water," Kadir explained as he followed her into the kitchen and opened the fridge to take out a bottle of drink. "I keep a satellite phone here, but the kidnappers have taken it so we can’t call for help," he said in answer to Lexi’s questioning look.

He watched her gnaw her bottom lip with her teeth and the giveaway sign of her vulnerability touched him more than it had any right to. "I don’t believe that whoever is behind the kidnap plot intends to harm us, because they would have done so by now. For some reason, someone wants me out of the way for a while." He frowned. "I have an idea who is behind this." Jamal’s weasel features came into his mind. "But at the moment I don’t understand why."

"What if we are left stranded here for weeks?"

"That won’t happen. My staff come to the island regularly to check on the place, and there is always a supply of non-perishable food here, certainly enough to last us for a few days before we have to go hunting for our meals."

The amusement in his voice was the last straw. "I can’t believe I was actually worried that the kidnapper might hurt you," Lexi snapped. "I walked around the island for three goddamned hours while you were lazing here in luxury." As she spoke, she swept her arms around the tent. "I could kill you!"

Her hand collided with the glass Kadir held out to her, showering him in pomegranate juice. "Oh, I’m sorry." She stared at the rivers of red liquid running down his face and chest. The dark red juice looked like blood.

If the kidnapper had fired the gun at Kadir... The thought made her feel ill. "I...I didn’t mean that." Her voice shook. She tried to firm her trembling mouth, but her lips wouldn’t stop wobbling. "I was scared on the helicopter," she admitted.

"You, scared?" Kadir’s voice sounded strained. "Never. You are the bravest, craziest woman I’ve ever met."

Suddenly Lexi did not care if she was revealing too much of herself. "I was scared the kidnapper would kill you."

"I would have ripped the gunman apart with my bare hands if he had tried to harm you," Kadir said roughly. The shimmer of tears in her eyes tore him apart. His self-control exploded and he muttered a savage imprecation as he hauled her into his arms, crushing the air from her lungs as he lifted her and held her so tightly to him that Lexi felt the urgent thud of his heart beating in time with her own.

The threat of death had brought home to Lexi the immeasurable value of life. She had been running from the truth and trying to hide her feelings for Kadir, but she could not run or hide any longer.

She felt detached from reality, cast adrift in a world where only the two of them existed. The feel of his warm skin beneath her hands heated her blood, and the feral hunger glittering in his eyes evoked an ache in the pit of her stomach. She curled her arms around his neck and buried her fingers in his silky dark hair as he lowered his head and captured her mouth, kissing her urgently as if he was slaking his thirst after being stranded in the desert without water for many days.

His lips tasted of pomegranate juice, and the sticky juice running down his chest transferred to her. But Lexi did not care; all she cared about was that he should not stop the sensual sorcery he was creating with his tongue inside her mouth. She was only vaguely aware of him striding across the tent into the bathroom, and she gasped as he turned on the shower and stepped beneath the spray with her in his arms.

"I’ve still got my clothes on," she muttered against his lips.

"Not for much longer," he promised. He let her slide down him so that she was standing on her feet, and whipped her vest top over her head. "No bra," he growled in satisfaction, cupping her firm breasts that he had bared.

"It’s too hot to wear one." She caught her breath as he rolled her nipples between his fingers until they hardened to turgid points and starbursts of sensation arrowed from her breasts to the pit of her stomach. His tanned hands splayed over her creamy pale breasts, caressing their rounded shape before he lowered his head and closed his lips around one nipple, suckling her strongly until she gave a moan of pleasure. He judged the exact moment when she could withstand no more of the exquisite caress, and moved to her other nipple, lashing the taut peak with his tongue, back and forth, tormenting her so that she gripped his hair and held his head to her breast in a silent plea for him to ravish her eager flesh.

"You are so damned beautiful, you’re driving me crazy," Kadir said harshly. "When I thought the kidnapper might kill me, all I could think was that I was going to die without ever knowing the sensual promise of your body."

In those seconds when he had faced his mortality the only person in his mind had been Lexi, and she consumed his thoughts now, making Kadir forget his responsibilities as Sultan, his duty to his kingdom and the promise he had made to his father. Time had halted, the universe had stopped spinning, and nothing mattered but the woman who had haunted his thoughts and dreams since he had met her.

His hands shook as he fumbled with the zip of Lexi’s combats and pushed them over her hips. While she was stepping out of her trousers he hooked his fingers in the waistband of her briefs and dragged them down her thighs, his impatient fingers skimming over the neat triangle of blonde hair to part her and probe her silken heat.

"You want me." His dark eyes gleamed with triumph, but Lexi could not deny her need when the wetness of her arousal betrayed her. Kadir gave a soft laugh as he slid one finger deep inside her, stretched her a little and inserted a second finger, swirling them in an erotic dance that drew a husky moan from her.

He handed her a bar of soap and Lexi smoothed it over his chest to wash away the sticky pomegranate juice. Now it was her turn to feel triumphant as she dragged her knuckles down his stomach and felt his body shudder. With deft fingers she opened the fly of his shorts and tugged the wet denim down his thighs before repeating the action with his black silk boxers. The size of his erection caused her a moment’s panic. He was beautiful, and huge, and her insides turned to liquid as she imagined taking him inside her.

Kadir gritted his teeth as Lexi stroked her fingers lightly up and down his shaft, teasing him with butterfly caresses that increased the blood flow to his swollen tip. In retribution he circled his thumb pad over the tight bud of her clitoris and simultaneously circled his tongue around a dusky pink nipple.

The effect was electric; she trembled and gave a keening cry which he caught in his mouth as he lifted her up and claimed her lips in a slow, sweet kiss that made his gut ache. Her unguarded response stirred his soul. Something about this strong woman coming apart so utterly in his arms humbled him and at the same time he felt like a king who had captured a thousand kingdoms.

She wrapped her legs around his waist as he carried her out of the shower. The drumbeat of desire pounded harder in his veins. "I can’t wait," he groaned, feeling the storm inside him building to a crescendo.

Lexi smiled against his mouth. Nothing mattered but that they were alive and she wanted to celebrate life in the most fundamental way, by making love with the man who had captured her heart. "I can’t wait either," she whispered. She could feel his arousal nudging her belly and she wanted him inside her now, now...

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