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Hannah was not sleeping when the key turned in the lock. Apart from a few snatched moments she had not slept for forty-eight hours straight but she was lying down, her eyes closed against the fluorescent light above her head, when the sound made her sit bolt upright and swing her legs over the side of the narrow metal bed.
She made a few frantic attempts to smooth her tousled hair back from her face and clasped her shaking hands on her lap. She was able to mould her expression into a mask of composure, but recognised that it was no longer a matter of whether she lost it and cracked wide open, but when. For now at least she cared about maintaining an illusion of dignity.
She blinked against the threat of tears that stung like hot gravel pricking the backs of her eyes. Gouging her teeth into her plump lower lip, she found the pain helped her focus as she lifted her chin and pulled her shoulders back, drawing her narrow back ramrod straight. For the moment at least she was determined she wouldn't give the bastards the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
This was what happened when you tried to prove
/?rove what? And to whom? The tabloids? Your father? Yourself.?
She took a deep breath. Focus on the facts, Hannah. The fact is you messed up big time! You should have accepted what everyone else thinks: you are not meant for serious thoughts or fieldwork. Stick to your safe desk job, and your perfect nails She curled her fingers to reveal a row of nails bitten below the quick and swallowed a bubble of hysteria.
'Stiff upper lip, Hannah.'
She had always thought that was an absurd phrase.
About as absurd as thinking working a desk job for a charity qualified you for working in the field in any capacity!
'I won't let you down.'
Only she had.
She lowered her eyelids like a shield and tensed in every nerve fibre of her body just before the door swung in. Focusing on the wall, she uttered the words that had become almost a mantra.
'I'm not hungry, but I require a toothbrush and toothpaste. When can I see the British consul?'
She wasn't expecting a straight answer. She hadn't had one to this, or any of the other questions she had asked, since she had been arrested on the wrong side of the border. Geography never had been her strong point. No answers, but there had been questions, many questions, the same questions over and over again. Questions and unbelieving silences.
Humanitarian aid did not translate into Quagani military speak. She told them she was not a spy and she had never belonged to a political party, and when they tried to refute her claim with a picture of her waving a banner at a protest to stop the closure of a local village infant school, she laughedperhaps ill-advisedly.
When they weren't calling her a spy they were accusing her of being a drug runner. The evidence they used to illustrate this was boxes of precious vaccines that were now useless because they had clearly not been kept refrigerated.
For the first day she had clung to her belief that she had nothing to worry about if she told the truth. But now she couldn't believe she had ever been so naive.
Thirty-six hours had passed, the news hadn't even made the headlines, and the diplomatic cogs had not even thought about turning when the King of Surana picked up his phone and dialled his counterpart in a neighbouring country, Sheikh Malek Sa'idi.
Two very different men stood awaiting the outcome of that conversation, and both had a vested interest.
The older was in his early sixties, of moderate height with a straggly beard and shaggy salt-and-pepper hair that curled on his collar and stuck up in tufts around his face. With his tweed jacket and comically mismatched socks, he had the look of a distracted professor.
But his horn-rimmed glasses hid eyes that were sharp and hard, and his unkempt hair covered a brain that, combined with risk-taking inclinations and a liberal measure of ruthlessness, had enabled him to make and lose two fortunes by the time he was fifty.
Right now he stood once more on the brink of either major success or financial ruin, but his mind was not focused on his financial situation. There was one thing in the world that meant more to Charles Latimer and that was his only child. In this room, behind closed doors, his poker face had gone, leaving only a pale and terrified parent.
The other man wore his raven-black hair close cropped, and his olive-toned skin looked gold in the light that flooded the room through massive windows that looked out over a courtyard. He was several inches over six feet tall, with long legs and broad shoulders that had made him a natural for the rowing teams at school and university. Rowing was not a career in his uncle's eyes, so his first Olympics had been his last. He had gold to show for it, even if the medal lay forgotten in a drawer somewhere. He liked to push himself, he liked winning, but he did not value prizes.
Charles Latimer's restless, hand-wringing pacing contrasted with this younger man's immobilityalthough he was motionless apart from the spasmodic clenching of a muscle in the hollow of one lean cheek, there was an edgy, explosive quality about him.
This man was of a different generation from the anguished parentit was actually his thirtieth birthday that day. This was not the way he had planned to celebrate, though nothing in his manner hinted at this frustration. He accepted that his feelings were secondary to duty, and duty was bred into his every bone and sinew.
He got up suddenly, his actions betraying a tension that his expression concealed. Tall and innately elegant, he walked to the full-length window, his feet silent on the centuries-old intricate ceramic tiles. Fighting a feeling of claustrophobia, he flung open the window, allowing the sound of the falling water in the courtyard below to muffle his uncle's voice. The air was humid, heavy with the scent of jasmine, but there was no sign of the dust storm that had blown up after he had landed.
It was a good twenty degrees hotter than it would have been in Antibes. Through half-closed eyes he saw Charlotte Denning, her lithe, tanned body arranged on a sun lounger by the infinity pool, a bottle of champagne on ice, ready to fulfil her promise of a special birthday treat.
Recently divorced and enjoying her freedom, she was making up for a year spent married to a man who did not share her sexual appetites.
In short she was pretty much his ideal woman.
She would be angry at his no-show and later, when she found out the reason, she would be even angriernot that marriage would put him out of bounds. Knowing Charlotte, he thought it might even add an extra illicit thrill.
There would be no thrills for him. Marriage would put the Charlottes of this world off-limits. He had his memories to keep him warm. The ironic curve of his lips that accompanied the thought flattened into a hard line of resolve. He would marry because it was his duty. For a lucky few duty and desire were one and the same Once he had considered himself one of the lucky ones.
He took a deep breath of fragrant air, and closed the window, refusing to allow the insidious tendrils of resentment and self-pity to take hold. If he ever thought he'd got a bad deal he simply reminded himself that he was alive. Unlike his little niece, Leila, the baby who might have become his, had things been different. She died when the plane that was carrying her and her parents crashed into the side of a mountain, killing all on board, starting an avalanche of speculation and changing his future for ever.
He had a future, one he had inherited from Leila's father. Since becoming the heir and not the spare he had not thought about marriage except as something that would happen and sooner rather than later. With limited time he had set about enjoying what there was of it and in his determined pursuit of this ambition he had gained a reputation. At some point someone had called him the Heartbreaker Prince, and the title had stuck.
And now a freak set of circumstances had conspired to provide him with a ready-made bride who had a reputation to match his own. There would be no twelve-month marriage for him; it was a life sentence to Heartless Hannah. Those tabloids did so love their alliteration.
'It is done.'
Kamel turned back and nodded calmly. 'I'll set things in motion.'
As the King put the phone back down on its cradle Charles Latimer shocked himself and the others present by bursting into tears.
It took Kamel slightly less than an hour to put arrangements in place and then he returned to give the two older men a run-through of the way he saw it happening. As a courtesy he got the plan signed off by his uncle, who nodded and turned to his old college friend and business partner.
'So we should have her with you by tonight, Charlie.'
Kamel could have pointed out that more factually she would be with him, but he refrained. It was all about priorities: get the girl out, then deal with the consequences.
Kamel felt obliged to point out the possibility he had not been able to factor in. Not that this was a deal-breakerin life sometimes you just had to wing it and he was confident of his ability to do so in most situations. 'Of course, if she's hysterical or'
'Don't worry, Hannah is tough and smart. She catches on quick. She'll walk out of there under her own steam.'
And now he was within moments of discovering if the parental confidence had been justified. He doubted it.
Kamel thought it much more likely the man had not allowed himself to believe anything else. Clearly he had indulged the girl all her life. The chances of a spoilt English society brat lasting half a day in a prison cell before she fell apart were slender at best.
So having been fully prepared for the worst, he should have been relieved to find the object of his rescue mission wasn't the anticipated hysterical wreck. For some reason the sight of this slim, stunningly beautiful womansitting there on the narrow iron cot with its bare mattress, hands folded in her lap, head tilted at a confident angle, wearing a creased, shapeless prison gown with the confidence and poise of someone wearing a designer outfitdid not fill him with relief, and definitely not admiration, but a blast of anger.
Unbelievable! On her behalf people were moving heaven and earth and she was sitting there acting as though the bloody butler had entered the room! A butler she hadn't even deigned to notice. Was she simply too stupid to understand the danger of her position or was she so used to Daddy rescuing her from unpleasant situations that she thought she was invulnerable?
Then she turned her head, the dark lashes lifting from the curve of her smooth cheek, and Kamel realised that under the cool blonde Hitchcock heroine attitude she was scared witless. He took a step closer and could almost smell the tension that was visible in the taut muscles around her delicate jaw, and the fine mist of sweat on her pale skin.
He frowned. He'd save his sympathy for those who deserved it. Scared or not, Hannah Latimer did not come into that category. This was a mess of her own making.
It was easy to see how men went after her, though, despite the fact she was obviously poison. He even experienced a slug of attraction himselfbut then luckily she opened her mouth. Her voice was as cut glass as her profile, her attitude a mixture of disdain and superiority, which could not have won her any friends around here.
'I must demand to see the' She stopped, her violet-blue eyes flying wide as she released an involuntary gasp. The man standing there was not holding a tray with a plate of inedible slop on it.
There had been several interrogators but always the same two guards, neither of whom spoke. One was short and squat, and the other was tall and had a problem with body odourafter he had gone the room was filled with a sour smell for ages.
This man was tall too, very tall. She found herself tilting her head to frame all of him; beyond height there was no similarity whatsoever to her round-shouldered, sour-smelling jailors. He wasn't wearing the drab utilitarian khaki of the guards or the showy uniform with gold epaulettes of the man who sat in on all the interrogations.
This man was clean-shaven and he was wearing snowy white ceremonial desert robes. The fabric carried a scent of fresh air and clean male into the enclosed space. Rather bizarrely he carried a swathe of blue silk over one arm. Her round-eyed, fearful stare shifted from the incongruous item to his face.
If it hadn't been for the slight scar that stood out white on his golden skin, and the slight off-centre kink in his nose, he might have been classed as pretty. Instead he was simply beautiful She stared at his wide, sensual mouth and looked away a moment before he said in a voice that had no discernible accent and even less warmth, 'I need you to put this on, Miss Latimer.'
The soft, sinister demand made her guts clench in fear. Before she clamped her trembling lips together a whisper slipped through. 'No!'
This man represented the nightmare she had kept at bay and up to this point her treatment had been civilised, if not gentle. She had deliberately not dwelt on her vulnerability; she hadn't seen another woman since her arrest, and she was at the mercy of men who sometimes looked at her The close-set eyes of the man who sat in on the interviews flashed into her head and a quiver of disgust slid through her body.
People in her situation simply vanished.
Staring at the blue fabric and the hand that held it as if it were a striking snake, she surged to her feettoo fast. The room began to swirl as she struggled to focus on the silk square, bright against the clinical white of the walls and tiled floor blue, white, blue, white.
'Breathe.' Her legs folded as he pressed her down onto the bed and pushed her head towards her knees.
The habit of a lifetime kicked in and she took refuge behind an air of cool disdain.
'I don't need a change of clothing. I'm fine with this.' She clutched the fabric of the baggy shift that reached mid-calf with both hands and aimed her gaze at the middle of his chest.
Two large hands came to rest on her shoulders, stopping the rhythmic swaying motion she had been unaware of, but not the spasms of fear that were rippling through her body.
Kamel was controlling his anger and resentment: he didn't want to be here; he didn't want to be doing this, and he didn't want to feel any empathy for the person who was totally responsible for the situation, a spoilt English brat who had a well-documented history of bolting at the final hurdle.
Had she felt any sort of remorse for the wave of emotional destruction she'd left in her wake? Had her own emotions ever been involved? he wondered.
Still, she hadn't got off scot-free. Some enterprising journalist had linked the car smash of her first victim with the aborted wedding.
Driven over the Edge, the headline had screamed, and the media had crucified Heartless Hannah. Perhaps if she had shown even a scrap of emotion they might have softened when it turned out that the guy had been over the drink-drive limit when he drove his car off a bridge, but she had looked down her aristocratic little nose and ignored the flashing cameras.