Blind Obsession by Angela Weaver released on May 24, 2005 is available now for purchase.
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By Angela Weaver
ARABESQUE BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Angela Weaver
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFamily was the only thing that mattered in a man's life, and Darius Yassoud had been given three. The family he'd been born into, the one that had raised him, and the one that kept him from getting killed as he served his country. Today marked his first full day on leave, but half of him already wanted to hitch a ride on an Army transport back to Fort Bragg.
After putting on his jacket, he checked the G-shock watch on his wrist, locked the door to his empty apartment, and pocketed the keys.
Darius loved his uncle's family, but there were times when he loved the camaraderie of his Delta Special Forces team more. Even now, he missed his first months in the field when he'd spent days in the jungle doing reconnaissance. Despite Detroit's cold weather, he remembered well the call of the birds, the stench of rotting vegetation, and the constant wetness of the oppressive humidity on his skin.
As an expert communications specialist, he could speak many languages, program satellites, manipulate electronic devices, and go behind enemy lines at a moment's notice. For the past ten years, he'd been in and out of war torn countries while at the same time advancing to the rank of Sergeant Colonel. In combat, as the line between life and death thinned, he responded faster, pushed harder, becoming all the more lethal. He'd never left a man behind or failed a mission.
And yet, he had woken that morning contemplating whether he could leave active duty for Army Intelligence training. Darius keyed the car's ignition and pulled out of the parking space. His heart warmed as he thought of his uncle. Rashad had orchestrated a large family celebration the night before he went to West Point Academy. Even his own parents had journeyed from his father's newest posting in Turkey. Lowering the volume on the radio, he headed toward the highway.
Twenty minutes later, he entered Bloomfield. After their financial situation changed for the better, his uncle had moved the family into the affluent Michigan suburb. The large colonial residences differed greatly from the two-story duplex his aunt and uncle had called home when Darius first arrived in America.
He slowed the rental car as he drew near his destination. The neighborhood had changed little since he'd last seen it. It had the same large brick houses, manicured lawns, and pristine streets with elegant lamps lining the sidewalks. Darius pulled up to the front of the iron gates, rolled down his window, then pressed the intercom button while looking into the small videocamera lens.
Seconds later, the gates drew back and he drove up the circular driveway to park the car near the front entrance.
Reaching into the backseat, he grabbed two shopping bags full of gifts he'd gathered during a short visit to Nairobi. Darius got out of the car and strode up the pathway to the stained glass double doors. He pulled out a second set of keys and unlocked the door. With his hand still gripped on the knob, he eased the door open, quietly stepped inside, and paused in surprise at the lack of noise.
The two-story open foyer, usually filled with music, stood silent, meaning that his Aunt Inas wasn't home. Closing the door behind him, Darius shut his eyes as his lungs filled with the scent of jasmine. No matter where he traveled, the memorable smell always reminded him of family. He placed the gifts in the entranceway closet and shrugged off his coat.
"I'm in the kitchen." The older Yassoud's deep, authoritative voice came from the back of the dwelling.
Darius's booted feet slipped soundlessly over the thick carpet; he bypassed the formal living room and entered into the arched hallway, which led into the kitchen.
Leaning in the doorway, he watched his Uncle Rashad dig in the back of the cabinet and crow happily as he pulled out the Oreo cookies. "One bag left." He held it up as though discovering a priceless treasure.
"She knows about your hidden stash, Amm," Darius chuckled as he addressed his father's younger twin using the Arabic word for uncle.
"That wife of mine knows everything. I dare not wish, much less think about food anymore," Rashad Yassoud grumbled, but placed the bag on the counter. "Your aunt's newest diet will drive me insane. I am the head of an international multi-billion dollar enterprise, but I must hide cookies in my own house.
"Bah, enough of this," Rashad said briskly, then held out his arms. "Welcome home."
"It's good to be here." Slipping back into the affectionate manner of his childhood, Darius stepped forward and kissed his uncle on the cheek. His coal-colored hair had lightened with gray, and his walk had slowed, but Rashad's eyes continued to be sharp as ever.
"You're early," Rashad pointed out.
"I brought presents and thought it would be best to hide them so I don't get mobbed."
Uncle Rashad nodded his head before turning back toward the cabinets. "You were always the smart one. Last summer when Bashr returned from Fez, he didn't make it past the entryway before those grandchildren of mine bombarded him with pleas."
"Speaking of my cousin, how is he?"
His uncle looked up at the ceiling while raising his arms. "Insha'allah, soon to join the rest of Allah's blessed."
"Ahh, he's dying," Darius joked, while struggling not to chuckle at his uncle's weary expression of the Islamic prayer of God willing.
"No," Rashad shook his head. "He's getting married."
"When's the wedding?" Darius leaned back against the kitchen island. He had spent the best days of his life in this kitchen watching his aunt and cousins shout over pots and pans while he and Bashr sat at the breakfast table enjoying the chaos.
"In autumn. Plenty of time to make wedding preparations and to finish building their new house. Let us talk further over coffee." Rashad patted Darius on the back. "If you tell me pleasing news, I might share my cookies with you."
Darius pulled two small cups out of the cabinets. "Where is everyone?"
"Your aunt had to run to town to get your favorite dessert and pick up my grandchildren from their Arabic lessons."
Darius watched as Rashad poured a measured amount of water into the espresso machine. Less than a minute later, the strong bitter smell of Turkish coffee filled the air. After they'd settled into the plush chairs in the study, he waited until his uncle had consumed his third Oreo before speaking.
Rashad took a sip of coffee and waved a hand. "Very good. So good, in fact, I'm thinking of retiring."
Darius looked at the other man intently. The import/export enterprise his uncle had built from the ground up had been less of a business and more of a child to him.
"Retire?" He leaned forward gripping the cup's porcelain handle.
Rashad waved his cup. "Inas worries about my health. All of my children nag me to spend more time at home. I will make the announcement at the board meeting next month."
Darius remained unconvinced. "Is that all?"
His uncle shifted uncomfortably and picked up another Oreo. "Why would you think there is something else?"
Darius's lips hitched upward while his gaze shifted downward toward the black and white Oreo cookie clutched between his uncle's fingers. "That's your fifth cookie. You only eat those when you're worried."
Rashad's eyebrows rose and chagrin filled his dark eyes. "It is mortifying to know I am that transparent."
"Only to family. Now, would you like to tell me about it?"
The other man leaned back and sighed. "It is not business that worries me. I have an opportunity to repay an old debt and now I find that I must decline."
The coffee on the tray sat forgotten as he examined his uncle. His mind shifted from concerns over Rashad's impending retirement to the new unknown issue of a debt. Darius linked his uncle's agitation to the problem of repayment. There was no doubt Rashad would pay, but at what price? "Now you've got me worried. What's got you in such a state?"
"Sebastian van Ryne."
Darius didn't straighten from his relaxed pose. Sebastian van Ryne had been the first major investor in his uncle's business. The Dutch shipping CEO had made it clear that Yassoud Enterprises cargo would be delivered on schedule. At a time when it was customary to overcharge and delay shipment, van Ryne had made good on his promises. The shipping magnate had acted with honor and integrity when his uncle had asked for dedicated cargo space on the New York to Turkey shipping run.
"What does he want?" Darius asked.
"Someone he can trust."
He froze and his eyes locked with his uncle's. "Tell me everything."
"He needs someone to be protected for a few weeks."
"Let me guess. He wants Bashr's help?" Darius's brow creased then smoothed at the mention of his younger cousin. Why wouldn't van Ryne want a professional bodyguard? As if reading his mind, his uncle answered.
"We've talked throughout the years. Sebastian knew that your cousin was a police officer before leaving to work for the family business."
"Did Bashr agree to this?" he asked.
"Of course ..."
"But-" Darius interjected.
"My wife did not." Rashad looked crestfallen. "The person in question is not only Sebastian's unmarried daughter, but it would also require him to go to New York City."
"I see," Darius chuckled, imagining the fierce scolding his aunt had unleashed upon the house. The younger member of the family had an unearned reputation with women. Bashr's Lawrence of Arabia good looks stirred more passion than sense where women were concerned.
"Now that she has finally succeeded in finding him a wife, Inas will hardly let Bashr go for short business trips. The sun will rise in the West and set in the East before she'll agree to this endeavor."
Darius watched as his uncle picked up another cookie; he couldn't keep the grin off his face.
"Don't be too smug, nephew." Rashad wagged a finger. "Mark my words, Inas will be after you next."
Darius shook his head. "I've many years before I reach the point where I'm ready to settle down."
"Exactly what all my children have said, and now I have five grandchildren and will have more if Bashr's future mother-in-law has her way," he said smiling proudly. "I'm sure you'll change your mind after she's finished with you."
Knowing his aunt, Darius had no doubts that she would begin parading marriageable daughters in front of him within the week. As the image of long family dinners with young women floated to the front of his mind, Darius mimicked his uncle in shifting uneasily in his chair. "It's been too long since I have seen Nadia."
In one shot, he could kill three birds with one stone: avoid his aunt's machinations, reconnect with Nadia, his cousin, and repay his uncle's debt.
Rashad deliberately rubbed his chin. "Ah, she and Mahmood have opened an Egyptian restaurant in Philadelphia. They sent me a newspaper review. It says her couscous is the best in the city."
Darius leaned forward and picked up the coffee carafe. "I'm not surprised; she learned from a master chef."
"Yes." His uncle sat back and smiled. "Yes, you're right. Having family stop in for a visit would be nice."
"New York isn't far from Philly," Darius commented, pouring both his Uncle and himself another cup of coffee. "With your permission, Uncle, I'll take Bashr's place."
"You have my deepest gratitude, Darius."
"There's nothing to thank me for, Uncle. You have raised me as your son. I would give thanks as to a father."
Before he could question his uncle further on the matter of why van Ryne's daughter needed protection, the quiet of the house gave way to the clamor of tiny feet running down the hall. He stood but didn't make it three feet before the doors burst open. "Uncle Darius!" the toddlers shouted in unison.
"Uncle Darius, remember me? I'm all big now," Suna giggled.
Darius looked down at the tops of their heads as his nieces and nephews poured into the room. Locking their hands together, they made a ring and began to circle round and round him, giving their greetings in an old Arabic nursery rhyme.
Bending down, he reached out and plucked his oldest niece from the circle. Leila had been but a small thing when he'd last held her in his arms. Tweaking her chubby cheeks, he hugged her close, inhaling the scent of baby powder.
"Uncle Darius, did you bring me a present?"
"Of course," he laughed, starting a chorus of demands and tugging of his pants. "I have gifts for all of you."
Darius looked up in time to see the relief and affection in his aunt's expression. Her dark eyes disappeared behind soft gold cheeks as a smile enveloped her face. Now that his aunt had returned, the house would fill with the smell of bread, spices, lamb, fish, and vegetables.
He sighed contentedly. It was good to be home.
Chapter TwoI will never escape him....
Gabriella Josette Marie suppressed a shiver caused by the sudden drop in temperature as she disembarked from the transcontinental airplane at John F. Kennedy airport. Even after spending close to seventeen hours in the air or waiting in airport lounges, she still imagined him close at her heels.
Her eyes closed briefly as she waited for the people ahead to move up the jet way. She walked with a stiffness gained from sitting in one position during the flight and the fatigue brought about from the stress of always looking over her shoulder. She'd slept in many small, unfamiliar beds and stayed in different hotel rooms and hostels.
Before her engagement, she'd spent the majority of nights at her fiance's designer loft, yet Gabriella still clung to the comforting memory of her one bedroom pied-a-terre, perfectly situated within walking distance of Berlin's Orchestra Academy. It was the only time in her adult life when she'd felt true happiness.
Pushing the memory aside, Gabriella followed the signs directing United States passport holders toward the proper immigration officials. After taking out travel documents and a passport from her handbag, she looked around at the happy groups of high school children and older adults as their raised voices intruded upon her deep thoughts.
It was a scene she'd witnessed time after time while traveling throughout Europe. At every train station, people waited for loved ones or parents greeted an excited child coming home on holiday. At one point in her life, she had craved that warm sense of family above everything; now she felt neither envy nor joy.
The line inched forward.
A knot had begun to tighten in her stomach the moment she'd landed. Gabriella swallowed hard in an attempt to keep down the few bites of food she'd managed to eat on the plane.
Excerpted from Blind Obsession by Angela Weaver Copyright © 2005 by Angela Weaver. Excerpted by permission.
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