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In his Arabian kingdom, Crown Prince Raif Khouri commands, and women do his will?but then he meets headstrong American Ann Richardson. To get back the priceless statue he's convinced her minions stole, Raif kidnaps her!
Held captive by the sexy prince and mired in scandal at her auction house, Ann has her hands full. How can she convince Raif she's innocent?and convince her traitorous body to resist his sultry kisses?
But after one night with ...
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In his Arabian kingdom, Crown Prince Raif Khouri commands, and women do his will but then he meets headstrong American Ann Richardson. To get back the priceless statue he's convinced her minions stole, Raif kidnaps her!
Held captive by the sexy prince and mired in scandal at her auction house, Ann has her hands full. How can she convince Raif she's innocent and convince her traitorous body to resist his sultry kisses?
But after one night with the woman his duty will never let him have, it's Raif who realizes the high price of ransom—his heart!
Ann Richardson supposed she should be grateful the Interpol agents hadn't strip-searched her and slapped on the handcuffs. But after her sixth hour in the small, stuffy, gray-walled Federal Plaza interrogation room, she couldn't muster up anything but annoyance.
Agent Heidi Shaw was back, a half-filled cardboard coffee cup in one hand, clipboard tucked under her opposite arm with a sheaf of papers Ann assumed were some kind of investigative notes. Agent Shaw was playing bad cop to Agent Fitz Lydall's good. She was five feet even, maybe one hundred pounds soaking wet. While Fitz was two-twenty of solid muscle with a face like a bulldog and the shoulders of a linebacker. Privately, Ann thought the roles should be reversed, but she hadn't offered up that suggestion.
Either way, since she'd watched a few detective dramas in her time, it was easy enough to see through their textbook ploy. The fact that she was innocent was also going to mess with their strategy. Psychological tricks and circular questioning were not going to trip Ann up and make her tell them she was selling a stolen antique statue on behalf of her employer, Waverly's Auction House.
She'd learned a lot about Rayas's Gold Heart statues in the past few months. Three statues had been commissioned by King Hazim Bajal in the 1700s. They were said to bring luck in love to his daughters, who'd been required to marry for the convenience of their royal line and their country. One of the statues was still safe in Rayas with a modern branch of the Bajal family. The other had been lost at sea when the Titanic sank. A third had been stolen five months ago from another branch of the Rayasian royal family, the one that included Crown Prince Raif Khouri. Prince Raif was convinced Roark Black had stolen the statue on behalf of Waverly's. The accusation was preposterous. But the crown prince was a powerful, determined man, and he had both Interpol and the FBI dancing to his tune.
Heidi set her clipboard on the scarred wood table, and scraped back the metal folding chair to sit across from Ann. "Tell me about Dalton Rothschild."
"You don't read the tabloids?" Ann countered, giving herself a moment to consider this new line of questioning. Dalton was the CEO of Waverly's rival, Rothschild's.
"I understand the two of you were close."
"We were friends." Ann paused. "Were being the operative word." She'd never forgive Dalton for betraying her and destroying her professional reputation. His lies about their supposed affair were one thing. But his attack on her integrity was at a whole other level.
"Friends?" Heidi mocked with obvious skepticism and disdain.
"So, you do read the tabloids."
"I read everything. So I know you never denied he was your lover."
"Would you like me to deny it?"
"I'd like you to answer the question."
"I just did," Ann pointed out.
"Why are you being evasive?"
Ann shifted her body on the hard metal chair. She was being honest, not evasive, and she resented the agent's new barrage of questions. She articulated her next words slowly and carefully. "We were friends. He lied about me. We are no longer friends."
Ann longed to do the same. But every time she'd tried to rise from the uncomfortable chair, someone had brusquely ordered her to sit back down. Her legs were starting to cramp from inactivity, and her butt was killing her.
"Where's the statue?" Heidi fired at her.
"I don't know."
"Where's Roark Black?"
"I have no idea."
"He works for you."
"He works for Waverly's."
Heidi smirked. "Semantics."
"'I don't know where he is,' is not semantics. It's a statement of fact."
"You do know it's illegal to lie to Interpol."
"You do know I'm capable of calling a reporter at the New
Heidi braced her hands on the table, making triangles out of her thumbs and forefingers, and leaned forward. "Is that a threat?"
Ann realized her nerves were getting frayed, and her temper was starting to boil. She allowed for the possibility that she was no longer acting in her own best interest. "I'd like to call my lawyer."
"Guilty people say that all the time."
"So do women who've been denied a restroom for five hours."
Heidi's expression turned smug. "I can hold you for twenty-four hours without charging you."
"And without a restroom?" Ann taunted.
"You think this is a joke?"
"I think this is ridiculous. I've answered every question six times over. I have complete faith in Roark Black. There are two statues at play here. And Waverly's is absolutely not trading in stolen antiquities."
"So, you raised the Titanic?"
"I don't know the whys and the hows of where he got it, I only know Roark has the missing statue, not the stolen one."
Roark had also signed a confidentiality agreement with the mysterious owner of the Gold Heart statue that had gone missing one hundred years ago. He'd destroy his own career and compromise Waverly's reputation if he revealed the person's identity to anyone, including Ann.
"Where's the proof?" Heidi demanded.
"Where's my lawyer?" Ann shot back.
Heidi drew a breath and rose to full height. "You really want to go that route?"
Ann was out of patience. She was through being cooperative, through measuring her words. She was innocent, and nothing anybody said or did would alter that fact. "You really want a long and productive career in law enforcement?"
Heidi's brows shot up.
"Then start looking for a new suspect," said Ann. "Because it's not me, and it's not Roark. Maybe it is Dalton. Heaven knows he's the guy with a motive to discredit Waverly's. But if it is him, he's done it without my knowledge and certainly without my cooperation. I'm about to stop talking, Agent Shaw, and there's not a single thing you can do to make me say more. You want to be the hero, solve the big, international case, get promoted? Then stop focusing on me."
Heidi paused for a beat. "You're an eloquent speaker."
Ann felt like she ought to say thank-you, but she kept her lips pressed tightly together.
"Then again, most liars are," Heidi finished.
Ann folded her hand on the table in front of her. She'd requested a restroom, and she'd requested a lawyer. If they were going to deny her requests, tromp all over her civil rights, she really would take the story to the New York Times.
Crown Prince Raif Khouri was completely out of patience. He didn't know how investigations were conducted in America, but in his own country of Rayas, Ann Richardson would have been thrown in jail by now. Let her spend a few nights in the bowels of Traitor's Prison; she'd be begging for an opportunity to confess.
He should have kept her in Rayas when she'd showed up there last month. Though he supposed canceling her visa and locking her up might have caused an international incident. And, at the time, he had been as anxious to get rid of her as she was to leave.
"Your Royal Highness?" A voice came over the intercom of the Gulfstream. "We'll be landing at Teterboro in a few minutes."
"Thank you, Hari," Raif responded. He straightened in the white leather seat, stretching the circulation back into his legs.
"I can show you the town while we're here," said Raif's cousin Tariq, gazing out his own window at the Manhattan skyline. Tariq had spent three years at Harvard, coming away with a law degree.
Raif's father, King Safwah, believed that an international education for the extended royal family would strengthen Rayas. Raif himself had spent two years at Oxford, studying history and politics. He'd visited many countries in Europe and Asia, but this was his first trip to America.
"We're not here to do the town," he pointed out to Tariq.
Tariq responded with a lascivious grin and a quirk of his dark brows. "American woman are not like Rayasian women."
"We're not here to chase women." Well, not plural anyway. They were here to chase and catch one particular woman. And then Raif was going to make her talk.
"There's this one restaurant that overlooks Central Park, and—"
"You want me to send you home?" Raif demanded.
"I want you to lighten up." Tariq was Raif's third cousin, but still an important player in the Rayasian royal circle. It gave him the right to be more forthright than others when speaking to Raif. But only to a point.
"We're here to find the Gold Heart statue," Raif stated firmly.
"We have to eat."
"We have to focus."
"And we'll do that a whole lot better with sustenance, such as maple glazed salmon and matsutake mushrooms."
"You should have been a litigator," Raif grumbled, fastening his seat belt as the landing gear whined then clunked into place. The two men had been friends since childhood, and he doubted he'd ever beaten Tariq in an argument.
Tariq leaned his head back in his seat, bracing himself for the landing. "I would have been a litigator. But the king objected."
"When I am king, you'll never be a litigator."
"When you are king, I am seeking asylum in Dubai." Both men fought grins.
"Unless I can get you to lighten up," Tariq finished. "Maybe get you a girl."
"I can get my own girls." Raif needed to be discreet, of course, but he was no fan of celibacy.
The wheels of the Gulfstream touched smoothly onto the runway, its brakes engaging as they sped through the blowing December snow. He would never understand how such a pivotal city had grown up in a place with such appalling weather.
"There's this club off Fifth Avenue," said Tariq.
"I'm not in New York to get girls."
Even as he spoke, Raif couldn't seem to stop his thoughts from drifting to Ann Richardson. He'd been a fool to kiss her, a bigger fool to like it. And he'd been a colossal fool to let their single kiss get so far out of hand.
When he closed his eyes at night, he could still see her wispy blond hair, that delicate, creamy skin, and her startling blue eyes. He could taste her hot, sweet lips and smell her vanilla perfume.
The Gulfstream slowed and turned, and finally rolled to a stop inside an airport hangar. The ground crew closed the huge door behind them against the cold weather.
When the airplane hatch opened, Raif and Tariq descended the small staircase. A few sounds echoed in the cavernous building—the door clanging into place, a heater whirring in the high ceiling and the ground crew calling to each other in the far corners. Beside the airplane, Raif and Tariq were greeted by the Rayasian ambassador, a couple of aides and some security staff.
Raif appreciated the low-key reception. He knew it was only a matter of time before his every trip would become a state occasion. Though still in his mid-sixties, his father had been ill for some time with the remnants of a tropical disease contracted decades ago in central Africa. These past few months had been hard on the king, and Raif was becoming more worried by the day that his father might not recover this time.
"Your Royal Highness." The ambassador greeted him with a formal bow. He was dressed in the traditional white robe of Rayas, his gray hair partially covered in a white cap.
Raif detected a slight narrowing of the ambassador's eyes as he took in Raif's Western suit.
But the man kept his thoughts to himself. "Welcome to America" was all he added.
"Thank you, Fariol" Raif shook the man's hand, rather than embracing him and air kissing as was the Rayasian custom. "You've arranged for a car?"
"Of course." Fariol gestured to a stretch Hummer limousine.
Raif raised a brow. "I believe my office said nondescript." Fariol frowned. "There are no flags, no royal seals on the doors, no Rayasian markings whatsoever."
Raif heard Tariq shift beside him and guessed he was covering a smirk.
"I meant I wanted a sedan. Something plain and inconspicuous. Maybe something I could drive myself."
Fariol drew back in obvious confusion. The younger aide beside him stepped up to speak in his ear. "I can arrange it right away, Mr. Ambassador."
"Please do," Raif said directly to the aide, earning himself another censorious expression from the ambassador.
The aide nodded and quickly withdrew, pulling a phone from his pocket.
Fariol turned his attention away from Raif. "Sheik Tariq," he said.
It was a slight but very intentional snub. It was the crown prince who ended a conversation, not an ambassador.
Tariq gave Raif a fleeting, meaningful glance, silently acknowledging the break in protocol before responding. "Mr. Ambassador. Thank you for welcoming us."
"Do you know when you'll be returning to Rayas?"
Tariq paused for half a second, putting on an exaggerated expression of surprise. "When the crown prince decides it's time for us to leave America, of course."
The answer was an obvious rebuke of Fariol's attitude, and Raif had to suppress his own grin. Tariq might be overly familiar and opinionated in private. But in front of others, he paid strict adherence to the Rayasian royal hierarchy.
The aide rushed back. "Your car will be here in just a few minutes. A Mercedes sedan. S-Class. I hope that will please Your Royal Highness."
"That will be fine," Raif answered. He turned to Tariq. "Think you can get that address?"
Tariq looked to one of the security guards. "Jordan?"
The man stepped forward. "We're good to go, sir."
Jordan Jones was an American security specialist who'd become friends with Tariq after they met at Harvard. Raif had never met Jordan in person before, but he'd heard stories over the years that gave him a good deal of confidence in the man's abilities.
The bay door clattered partway open, and a steel-gray Mercedes sedan drove inside. Instantly, the flight crew appeared with the royal party's luggage, waiting as the vehicle came to a halt in front of Raif.
"That will be all, Fariol." Raif dismissed the ambassador with a curt nod, striding around the front of the car. Tariq and Jordan immediately fell into step.
"I'll drive." Raif held out his hand for the keys as a man appeared from the driver's seat.
"Sir?" Jordan prompted, arching a brow in Tariq's direction.
Glancing over his shoulder, presumably to ensure Fariol and his staff were out of earshot, Tariq spoke in a low tone. "You don't want to drive, Raif."
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't."
The driver glanced from one man to the other. He was American, an employee of the rental company. In Rayas, there would have been no hesitation about who would win the argument. Raif's word there was law.
"Who's the prince around here?" Raif demanded of Tariq.
"Which one of us has driven in Manhattan?" Tariq countered.
"I'll drive," Jordan put in, deftly scooping the keys from the driver. He kept moving right past the surprised American, opening the back door of the sedan, turning to meet Raif's eyes. "Foreign royalty in the back. Brooklyn native at the wheel."
"You're pretty cocky," Raif said to Jordan.
"You know it sir."
Raif followed Tariq to the backseat door. "In my country, I could have you beheaded," Raif lied.
"In my country, I could abandon you in Washington Heights." Jordan paused. "Same thing, really."
Raif couldn't help but grin as he got into the car. He didn't have a problem with people speaking truth to power, so long as they did it respectfully or in private. He was willing to concede that a born and raised New Yorker could probably get them to Ann Richardson's apartment faster than he could.
Posted December 9, 2012
Posted December 9, 2012
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