Read an Excerpt
The Arabian Love-Child
By Michelle Reid
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRafiq Al-Qadim climbed out of the back of a chauffeur-driven limousine and strode through the plate-glass doors that guarded the International Bank of Rahman. In the clenched fist of one hand he held a rolled-up newspaper, in his eyes glowed a look that foretold of hell to pay for some poor fool. Hurrying behind him, his newly appointed aide, Kadir Al-Kadir, was wearing an expression that suggested he might be that very unfortunate person.
As Rafiq struck a direct line for the row of steel lifts set into a wall of grey marble, people in his path took one look at him and began backing away to give the big man an uninterrupted passage to his target. He didn't notice; he was too consumed by the blinding fury that carried his intimidating six-foot-four-inch frame into the nearest vacant lift. A dark-suited arm shot out; a decidedly murderous finger stabbed at the button for the top floor. The lift doors shut out Kadir Al-Kadir and the sea of stunned faces. No one who'd had any dealings with Rafiq Al-Qadim had ever seen him appear anything but formidably controlled.
But he was not in control. Rafiq had never been so angry. Rage was literally bouncing inside him, fighting to get out and vent itself. The lift took less than fifteen seconds to reach its destination. The doors opened; he strode out. Nadia, his secretary, took one look at his face, paled and shot to her feet.
"Good morning, sir," she greeted warily. "There have been several messages for you and your first appointment arrives in -"
"No calls. Nothing." He cut right across her and kept on walking, each of his powerfully constructed, sleekly toned muscles moving him with stallion-like grace to behind his office door, leaving Nadia staring after him in a state of near shock, for she too had never known Mr Rafiq to be anything but staunchly even-tempered and rigidly polite.
Rafiq's private office was a statement in architectural drama. High ceilings, marble floors, a window that was a wall of glass, in front of which a large slab of grey marble rested on legs of forged steel. As he moved across to it the pale sunlight of a London winter morning shot shards of cold steel through his black hair and added a sharpened cast to his lean dark profile that spoke of his ruthless Arab heritage.
Stepping around the edges of the slab of marble, he slammed the newspaper down on its smooth grey top. It unfurled on impact, showing him the inner-page headline that his aide had helpfully presented to him. It was Kadir's job to scour the world's newspapers, his job to mark those items he believed would be of interest to the acting head of the International Bank of Rahman. But Kadir would not be making the same mistake again very quickly, Rafiq mused as he glared at the reason for all of his anger. He had been duped, he'd been betrayed, he had been taken for a fool by a woman. And there it was, splashed all over the page of a Spanish tabloid: his private life uncovered, picked over and mocked at.
"Shock announcement," block capitals proclaimed. "Serena Cordero drops billionaire sheikh to marry her dance partner, Carlos Montez."
His skin began prickling against his clothing, sharp white teeth setting behind the grim line of his mouth. Only two months ago she had been clinging to him like a limpet, adoring him, begging him, telling him she could never love anyone else.
The liar, the cheat, the unfaithful little slut. As far back as six months ago his brother Hassan had warned him about Serena and Carlos Montez. Rafiq had dismissed those rumours as mere publicity to add spice to the current world tour the two flamenco dancers were embarked upon. Now he knew the truth and he could taste the bitterness of his own conceit and arrogance at having believed that Serena could not have wanted another man while she could have had him. Only twice before in his life had he ever been betrayed by a woman: once by his mother, and once by the only woman he had ever let himself love. After that last bitter experience he had vowed he would never be betrayed like that again.
Yet here he stood, pulled into the betrayal trap by yet another woman, and he was so angry he could spit nails into the half-page picture of the beautiful Serena, smiling into her new husband's handsome face.
His mobile phone began to ring; dragging it out of his pocket he put it to his ear.
"Querida, please don't hang up. I need you to listen to me!"
His face, like his height and the tough, muscled build of his body, made no compromises at the best of times but the low dark sensual tones that hit his ear made his face take on properties as cold as the marble and steel that surrounded him.
"The tour is in trouble. We needed a sensation to put our names on people's lips. I love you, Rafiq. You know I do. But marriage between us was never a possibility. Can you not accept this situation for what it is?"
"You are someone else's wife. Do not call me again," he incised, and broke the connection before tossing the phone from him as if it was contaminated.
Silence arrived, buzzing in his ears like a thousand wasp wings. In front of him lay the discarded phone and the damning newspaper. Behind him lay the rest of the world who would now be laughing at him. He was an Arab in every way you wished to look at him. Make an Arab look a fool and you win yourself a life-long enemy.
Eyes like black opals turned almost silver at the prospect. Picking up the newspaper, he flung it sideways and watched as it landed in the waste-paper bin. Serena Cordero's name would never reach his eyes again, he vowed as the other telephone sitting on his desk dared to start ringing. Black opals fired as a hand snaked down and long fingers closed round grey plastic as if it was someone's throat. "I thought I said no calls!" he bit into the mouthpiece.
"By your tone I presume you have seen the news today," a very dry voice drawled into his ear.
His half-brother, Hassan. He should have expected it. He swung himself down into his black leather desk chair. "If you have called me to say I told you so, then take my advice and try silence," Rafiq returned grimly.
"May I commiserate?" Hassan wryly suggested.
"You may mind your own business," he snapped, then added tautly, "Does our father know?"
"You think we swap gossip about your love life?"
"I don't have a love life," Rafiq hit back with bite. This had been part of the problem with Serena. Finding a time when their busy schedules came to together had been almost impossible. If he had seen her twice in the last few months he could well be exaggerating, for while Serena had been travelling the world in one direction with her flamenco dance troupe he had been travelling in the other direction, attending to business duties that usually belonged to Hassan.
"How is Father?" he enquired as one thought led to another.
"He is well,'" his brother assured him. "His blood count is good and his spirit is high. Don't worry about him, Rafiq," Hassan added gently. "He means to meet his first grandchild, believe me."
This time Rafiq's sigh was heavy. The last six months had been a trial for all of them. The old sheikh's illness had been long and miserable, spanning years of waste and pain. But six months ago it had almost taken him from them. With thanks to Allah, he had rallied on hearing the news about his coming grandchild. Now the disease was in remission, but no one could say how long it would remain that way. So it had been decided that from then on one of the two brothers must always be at home with their father. He needed the comfort of their presence. They needed to know that one of them would be there if his new-found strength should suddenly fade again. With Hassan's wife Leona in the latter stages of a much prayed for pregnancy, Hassan had elected to stay at home and deal with internal matters of state while Rafiq did all the travelling, taking care of the family's international business interests.
"And Leona?" he enquired next.
"Round," her husband drawled satirically. But Rafiq could hear the pleasure there, the love and the pride. He wished he knew what those things felt like.
Then, he told himself forcefully, no, he was not going to go down that particularly rocky pathway, and turned the conversation to the less volatile subject of business. But when he rang off he continued to sit there seething and brooding and contrarily wondering why it was that he was so angry.
He had never loved Serena. She had been speaking the truth when she'd said marriage between them had never been a possibility. She was beautiful and hot - the perfect bed partner, in fact - but love had never been the engine that drove them through the passages of pleasure, even if she'd liked to use the word to him. It had been sex, good sex, but just sex for both of them. And sitting here wishing for love like his brother had was a damn fool's game.
Excerpted from The Arabian Love-Child by Michelle Reid
Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.