Read an Excerpt
"I want a divorce."
The moment she'd blurted the words out, Jayne felt her pulse quicken. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited. The silence on the other end of the line was absolute.
The answer rang with finality over the vast distance that separated Zayed from New Zealand. Tariq's voice was smooth and deep and very, very cool. Like ice. Tingling shivers of apprehension started to dance along Jayne's spine. She recognised that sensation. It meant trouble.
Jayne gripped the handset until her fingers hurt. "But we've been separated for over five years. I thought you'd be jumping for joy at the prospect of a divorce." And your father, too. She refrained from adding the dig. Mention of his father, the Emir of Zayed, tended to result in argumentsshe'd learned that a long time ago. And she didn't want a battle with no ceasefire in sight, she simply wanted a divorce.
But this was not going quite as she'd planned. From the outset Jayne had intended avoiding any direct contact with Tariqor his father. She'd phoned the Emir's chief aide, Hadi al Ebrahim, and had bluntly stated that more than five years had passed since Tariq had banished her from Zayed. Tariq was a citizen of Zayed and their marriage had been conducted in accordance with the laws of his country. According to the laws of Zayed, parties had to be separated for five years before a divorce could be petitioned.
The legal waiting time was over. She wanted to set divorce proceedings in motion. The excruciatingly polite aide had taken her number and promised to call her back.
But the aide's promised call hadn't come. Instead Sheikh Tariq bin Rashid al Zayed, her husbandno, her hopefully soon-to-be-ex-husbandhad called.
Only to refuse her request.
No. No explanation. No softening the blow. Just a very blunt, very final "No."
Jayne resisted the urge to stamp her foot. Instead she tried for her most reasonable teacher's voice, and said, "You haven't seen me for years, Tariq. Don't you think it's time for us both to move on?" From a past that had brought her more pain and anguish than she'd ever anticipated.
"It's not yet time."
Jayne's heart skipped a beat. She sensed all her well-laid plans to start a new degree with the new year, to start dating again, to come out of hibernation and start living a life, unravelling. "Not time? What do you mean it's not yet time? Of course it's time. All you need to do is sign"
"Come to Zayed and we'll talk about it, Jayne." Even over the distance between them the husky sound of her very ordinary name on his tongue sounded sensual and intimate and had the power to make her shiver. It was madness.
"I don't want to talk. I just want a divorce." Jayne heard the touch of shrillness in her voice. She could see her brand-new life, her well-laid plans going up in smoke. Damn Tariq.
"Why?" His voice changed, became harsh and abrupt.
"Why are you suddenly so desperate for a divorce, my faithless woman? Is there finally a man who objects to having a woman with a husband?"
A brief hesitation. She thought about Neil, the nice accountant her brother-in-law had introduced her to three months ago. He'd asked her out, but she hadn't accepted. Yet. "No! You've got it all"
"We will meet in Zayed," her husband decreed. "There will be no divorce. Not yet. But it is possible that the time will come soon. Very soon. We will talk."
But he was already firing information about dates and flights and visas at her. Belatedly Jayne realised that she no longer held her Zayedi passport, she'd left it behind in the bedroom she'd shared with Tariq on that terrible last day. She'd had no intention of ever returning. She'd have to apply for a visa to go to Zayed, which meant at least a week of delay.
"Tariq." It was a desperate call.
He paused and the sudden silence that stretched between them was shattering.
Jayne swallowed, her mouth dry. Then, more quietly, she said, "Can't we meet somewhere" neutral "else?" Tariq would not come to New Zealand; it was too far. He was a busy man. And she didn't want him here, destroying her safe haven.
But there had to be other options. Somewhere where she wouldn't need to revisit those traumatic weeks before the end of their marriage, somewhere she wouldn't have to walk through the corridors of the lavish palace that had stifled her dreams, or confront the two men who had killed her soul. "What about London?"
"There are problems in Zayed. I cannot leave."
She thought about that for a long moment. "I can't come to Zayed," she said at last.
"Can't or won't?"
She didn't answer.
"Then let me make it easy for you. If you don't come to Zayed, Jayne, I will oppose any application you make for a divorce."
The words were chilling, even though the tone that delivered them was rich and lingering. The laws of Zayed stated that no divorce could be granted unless the husband consented. As much as it riled her, she needed Tariq's consent.
Unless she went to Zayed, Tariq would deny her the one thing she wanted above all else: her freedom.
"Don't forget to send me photos of Zayed."
Jayne had almost reached the front door of her sister's house, the Louis Vuitton bag clutched in her hand, when the request caused her to pause. She turned to look at the three people gathered in a huddle to see her off, the three people she loved most in the worldher sister and her two nieces. Raising an eyebrow at her elder niece, Jayne asked, "What kind of photos?"
"Of the desert the palaceanything cool."
"It's very hot in the desert, not cool at all. Certainly not as cool as anything here in Auckland." Jayne kept a straight face as she referred to her older niece's active social life, then broke into a smile when Samantha poked a pink tongue out.
"What do you want the photos for?"
Samantha moved closer. "I'm doing a PowerPoint project on Zayed. Most of my class has never heard of it."
"I'm sure I can dig up some really up-to-date information while I'm there," Jayne promised, setting the heavy bag down for a moment and flexing her fingers. Samantha flashed a pleased grin and Jayne restrained herself from rumpling her niece's sleekly gelled hair. The style was so much more sophisticated than the ponytail Samantha had worn last year. It was hard to believe that in less than a month Samantha would turn thirteen. A teenager.
"Great." Samantha beamed. "If I can wow my teacher, I might even get an A."
"Do you really have to go?"
A small hand tugged at her arm. Jayne looked down into the hazel eyes of her younger nieceher goddaughterand her heart twisted.
"I really have to go, Amy, my sweet."
Jayne hesitated. Why? She thought of the abortive conversation with Tariq. How to even start to explain? "Because " Her voice trailed away.
"'Because' is not an answer," Amy replied, her freckled face solemn.
"Quite frankly, I can't understand why you're going, either," Helen chipped in with typical older-sister impatience. "After everything that happened in that godforsaken country, what Tariq and his horrid father did to you, why on earth would you contemplate going back?"
Jayne recognised her sister's impatience for what it was concern. "Because I want a divorceand it looks like going to Zayed is the only way I can get it."
Tariq had made that clear enough. "Why Zayed?" Helen asked, her lips tight. "Why couldn't you have met in London?"
"It wasn't an option I was given." Jayne shrugged her shoulders. "That's Tariq. His way. Or no way."
"Are you sure he isn't up to something?" Helen fretted. "I don't trust him one bit."
"Hush, don't work yourself up." Jayne moved closer to her sister. Helen had never understood the attraction, the fascination that Tariq had held right from the moment that Jayne had walked into him in the Tate Gallery in London and landed ignominiously at his feet. How could she explain the untamed attraction Tariq had held? "There's no reason to be suspicious. Tariq wouldn't take me back if I came coated in twenty-four carat gold."
Helen's eyes sparked with indignation. In a low voice she murmured so that only Jayne could hear, "He never deserved you."
Emotion surged through Jayne. She slung an arm around her sister's shoulder and pulled her close. Helen smelled of talc and roses and the familiar comfort of home. "Thank you. And thank you for all the support you've given me. For everything."
"I don't want to see you in that state again." Helen hugged her back fiercely. "Five and a half years ago you were a mess."
"It won't happen again," Jayne vowed, suppressing the sudden stab of apprehension. "I'm no longer nineteen. I'm older now, able to take care of myself."
"Famous last words. And it better not happen again, because this time I'll tell Tariq what a" Helen cast a glance at the girls and lowered her voice "jerk he is."
Her sister sounded so ferocious that Jayne couldn't help the giggle that escaped her. For the first time in a week, the tension that had been winding up in her chest subsided. Her sister would always be there for her. Family. Sisters. A sacred bond.
"I suggest you don't say that to Tariq's face." Just the thought of his freezing expression, the way he would look coldly down his elegant bladed nose, was enough to make Jayne chuckle again.
"You won't be here for my first day of school." Amy's desolate wail cut into Jayne's moment of good humour. Instantly all laughter dried up. Bending down, she swept Amy up until the little girl's eyes were level with hers.
"But I'll be thinking of you," Jayne promised. "I'll even know where you'll be sitting. Remember? You, mom and I went together to check your new school out?"
"I s'pose," Amy said reflectively. "And I'll have the pencils you bought me." She already sounded more cheerful. Jayne smiled at her sister over Amy's head, her throat tight.
A hoot sounded. "Daddy's ready." Amy wriggled out of Jayne's arms. Helen rushed over and then Jayne was wrapped in her sister's warm arms. "Take care, Jayne."
"I will." Jayne held on for a moment. A kiss on her sister's cheek and then she freed herself and picked up her bag. "I'd better not keep Nigel waiting. Look after yourselfand the girls. I'll e-mail photos, I promise," she called to Helen and Samantha as she hurried out the door. From beside the car, Jayne gave them a last wave before getting into the idling car where her brother-in-law waited to take her to the airport.
Finally Jayne let herself admit she wasn't looking forward to the long flight that lay ahead. And she dreaded the coming confrontation with the man who waited for her at the journey's end.
The chilly air-conditioning in the international airport at Jazirah, the capital of Zayed, took the edge off the searing heat that shimmered over the runways outside the terminal building. A deferential official took charge of Jayne the instant she presented her passport and whisked her through customs. He retrieved her luggage and showed her to a plush seat in a sheltered alcove off the arrivals concourse, murmuring that he'd be back shortly.
Jayne attempted to assure him that she was quite capable of organising her own transport, but he grew increasingly agitated. He was obviously concerned by the fact that she was travelling alone. Zayedi men could be extremely protective, to the point of being overbearing. So Jayne subsided with a shrug and watched him scurry away.
Pulling the white chiffon scarf out the side pocket of her handbag where she'd tucked it in before leaving Auckland, Jayne looped it around her neck. It wasn't a hijab, but it would do. Zayed was more modern than its neighbouring states, some of the youth even wore jeans, but most women still adopted conservative dress. Jayne knew that the narrow black trousers and casual geometric patterns of the black and white shift dress she wore over them were acceptably modest even if they were straight out of this season's budget fashions in Auckland, a far cry from the traditional jilbab and colourful kaftans so many older married Zayedi women wore.
From where she sat, Jayne could see the long wall of glass that separated the airport from the drop-off zone outside. A fleet of shiny black Mercedeses were parked there, reminding her of the extent of the wealth in this desert sheikhdom.
A commotion a way down the concourse attracted her attention. Jayne rose to her feet to get a better look. A knot of uniformed men were causing a stir. Her gaze narrowed. She recognized those uniforms, they belonged to the Emir of Zayed's palace guard. They held some very unpleasant associations. The last time she'd seen the red and khaki colours had been here, at this airport, when the men wearing them had been charged with making sure she left Zayed.
Behind them she caught a glimpse of a tall man in a dark suit. His sheer imposing height and the familiar tilt of his head caused her heart to leap. Tariq. Jayne froze, her muscles tight, and her head swam with the sudden light-headedness caused by the panic that swirled through her.
He was coming closer. Her pulse grew choppy, loud in her ears. His head turned and their eyes connected. The first thing that struck her was that his eyes were still the colour of pure, molten gold. The second was that they were not the least bit welcoming.