Read an Excerpt
"Here you are, lady," the cab driver said cheerfully, as he slapped the arm of the meter down and peered curiously out of the windshield at the brilliantly lit entrance to the mansion. "Seems they're having a party." He gave a low whistle as his gaze traveled over the cars parked in the courtyard. "This looks like a combined Rolls-Royce-Mercedes car dealership. Very nice!"
Sabrina smiled, amused by the man's admiration for those purely mechanical toys. He seemed not even to notice the magnificence of the mansion itself. "Yes, very nice," she agreed, as she drew her white velvet cloak about her, adjusting the hood carefully to shadow her face. "And you're quite right that there's a party here. It's a birthday party."
He got out of the cab and opened her door. "A birthday party," he repeated thoughtfully, as he helped her out and then reached across the back seat to pull out a large, tarpaulin-covered canvas. "This is a pretty hefty present for a little thing like you to be carrying. Would you like me to take it inside for you?"
Sabrina shook her head. "I'm stronger than I look." She handed him the fare and accepted the painting in return. "If you'll just ring the doorbell for me?"
"Sure thing," he said. Suddenly his eyes widened in surprise. "Birthday party," he said, snapping his fingers as he made the connection. "Didn't I read about some fancy party in the newspaper this morning? It was for that billionaire oil sheik who's set Houston on its ear in the last few years."
Sabrina nodded calmly. "Alex Ben Raschid. It's his grandfather who's the sheik. He's only the heir apparent to the Sheikdom of Sedikhan."
"He may not run the country yet, but he sure must run everything else," the driver said wryly, as he punched the bell in the recessed entry to the doorway. "Sedikhan Petroleum seems to be buying up every industry in sight."
He cast a knowing glance at the young woman standing quietly at his side. Now he could understand his passenger's presence at what must be an elite party. The apartment complex where he'd picked her up, while respectable, was inexpensive, and Ben Raschid had a very rakish reputation where beautiful women were concerned. Even with her face shadowed by the hood of her cape, he could tell this one was exceptionally lovely. The door was suddenly opened by a white-jacketed manservant and the driver touched his cap in a parting salute. "Good night, Miss. Have a nice evening." He turned and strode swiftly back to his cab.
"You have an invitation?" the butler asked politely.
"No." Sabrina shook her head as she reached in the pocket of her cape, withdrew an envelope, and handed it to the butler. "I was told to give this to Mr. Clancy Donahue."
The butler nodded. "If you'll wait in the foyer, I'll see if I can locate him for you immediately. I believe I saw him step into the library just a moment ago." He glanced at the canvas in her hands. "May I take that from you?"
"No, thank you," Sabrina answered, her hands tightening protectively on the canvas. "I was told to deliver it only to Mr. Donahue."
The butler frowned uncertainly. "Then perhaps you'd better come with me," he said. "I'm sure it will be all right. Will you step this way?"
The elegant foyer was almost deserted, but as she passed the open doors of the ballroom she caught a brief glimpse of motion and color and heard the mellow strains of a live orchestra. Then the butler was knocking discreetly on a carved teak door opposite the ballroom. He preceded her into a large book-lined room, lit only by a single brass desk lamp on a massive executive desk which was the central focus of the room.
"You wanted to see me, Josef?" a gravelly voice demanded from a bar in one corner, and Sabrina's gaze flew to the shadowy alcove as a man came forward into the pool of light before the desk.
"This young lady has a parcel to deliver, Mr. Donahue," the servant said, handing him the note and silently withdrawing.
She would never have pictured Clancy Donahue as an executive assistant. The man looked more like a prizefighter than a businessman. The dark tuxedo he wore only served to emphasize the burly toughness of his tall, massive figure. His blunt features were granite hard beneath curly brown hair, heavily streaked with gray. He appeared to be in his early fifties and the look he directed at her confirmed her supposition. The wisdom of hard-lived years shone in the ice blue eyes that assessed her with a hint of suspicion.
Then he swiftly read the letter before looking up with a frown. "You know what is in this letter, I presume, Miss"--he glanced down at the letter again--"Miss Courtney. I see that it's been in your possession for almost six months."
Sabrina shook her head. "No, of course not," she said, faintly shocked.
"Seeing that it was a personal letter from Princess Rubinoff concerning you, I'd say you've exercised admirable restraint," Donahue said dryly. "Particularly since Honey failed to seal it. Not many women could be trusted to stifle their curiosity to that extent."
"She knew I wouldn't read it," Sabrina said, a thread of indignation in her voice. "I met Honey at a gallery exhibition of her husband's work six months ago and we became very good friends. She knew very well I wouldn't violate that friendship."
"As I said, admirable," Donahue repeated. "It's very brief and to the point. It merely states that Honey has arranged a little birthday surprise for Alex and I'm to help in facilitating the giving of the gift in whatever way you may require." He lifted an inquiring eyebrow at the canvas in her hands. "I take it that's the gift in question?"
"No, this is Prince Rubinoff's gift," Sabrina said softly. "Honey entrusted it to me at the same time she arranged for her own present." She set the canvas down on the floor, leaning it carefully against the desk. "I've had it at my apartment for the last six months and I admit that I'm rather glad to be rid of it. It must be very valuable. Prince Rubinoff is so enormously famous now."
"Well, then what is the present that I'm to facilitate?" Donahue asked impatiently.
"Me," Sabrina said simply, as she slipped the hood from her head to reveal the dark, flaming shimmer of her long red hair. "I'm from Novelty-grams Incorporated, Mr. Donahue. I specialize in bellygrams. Honey paid me quite generously to perform a dance for Mr. Ben Raschid's birthday celebration. That's her gift to him."
"A belly dancer?" Donahue muttered, momentarily shocked out of his cynical coolness, "Good Lord, a belly dancer! And a red-haired belly dancer at that." Suddenly he started to chuckle. "Are you sure it wasn't Lance who put you up to this?"
Sabrina shook her head, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "I scarcely saw Prince Rubinoff after I performed at the gallery exhibition. He was closeted away completing a portrait for almost the entire week of their stay. No, this is Honey's idea entirely." She continued gently, "You needn't worry, Mr. Donahue, the sheik's guests won't find anything offensive in my performance. I've been very well trained." Her green eyes twinkled. "I solemnly promise you that there will be no bumps and grinds."
"If it's Honey's show, I'm not worried about that," Donahue replied, his expression still amused. "I presume you're in full regalia. Am I to be permitted an advance preview?"
"Of course," Sabrina said serenely, opening the cloak to reveal her midnight blue, chiffon costume.
The costume showed off her lush golden tan, and the flaming silk of her hair against the dark blue of the chiffon seemed almost to issue a tactile invitation. The outfit consisted of a comparatively modest bikini with sheer chiffon panels that floated gracefully to her ankles. The panels parted when she danced and her midriff was bare. The bodice of her costume, while not shockingly low, displayed a generous amount of cleavage.
Donahue gave an admiring whistle. "Lovely, absolutely lovely," he said sincerely. "You're an exceptionally beautiful woman, Miss Courtney." There was a hint of mischief in his broad grin. "I think I can guarantee that you'll be Alex's favorite present at this particular birthday party. I can hardly wait to see his face when he catches sight of you. When do we get this show on the road?"
"At the intermission when the orchestra takes a break," Sabrina answered, pulling a tape cassette out of the pocket of her cape and handing it to him. "Honey wanted the performance to come as a complete surprise. If you'll just take care of starting my music on Mr. Ben Raschid's stereo tape player, I'll introduce myself."
"Right," Donahue said, checking his watch. "That should be in about ten minutes. You'd better wait here in the library until I come for you. I'll tell Josef to stand guard and be sure no one comes in to disturb you." His lips curved cynically. "Though I doubt that even your charms would tempt that pack of sycophants away from Alex." He strode toward the door with surprising grace for such a large man. "Lord, I can't wait until he sees you!" The door shut quietly behind him.