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Darker Side of Desire & the Sheikh's Pregnant Prisoner

By:Penny Jordan

CHAPTER ONE


‘DARLING, I’m sorry about this, spoiling what was supposed to be your holiday treat too.’

‘Being with Uncle Henri is far more important than spending the day shopping with me,’ Claire assured her godmother. ‘It was just lucky that the hospital managed to get through to you before we’d left the hotel.’

‘Umm.’ A worried frown creased her godmother’s forehead. ‘Henri has had these attacks before of course, but…’

‘You must go to him,’ Claire told her firmly. Her godmother’s second husband had suffered from angina for several years and Claire knew that her godmother was deliberately playing down her concern because she didn’t want to spoil what had been intended as her birthday treat to mark Claire’s twenty-second birthday.

‘There’s a flight back to Paris in just over an hour. I could be on it.’

‘You will be on it,’ Claire corrected. She glanced at her watch, surprised to see that it was still only seven in the morning. The call which had disturbed their sleep and altered their plans seemed to have come hours ago not a mere fifty-odd minutes. ‘I’ll help you pack and ring down to reception to tell them that we’ll be checking out. I’ll come to the airport with you.’

‘No, Claire.’ Susan Dupont spoke firmly. ‘No, I want you to stay on here and enjoy your day as we’d planned. You’re looking so tired, darling,’ she added softly. ‘I wish I could do more to help you. If I could only pay Teddy’s school fees for you…’

They had been through this discussion so many times before that she knew what her goddaughter’s response would be before it came. Although Henri was a good and kind husband, she was solely dependent on him financially, and both she and Claire knew that if she did pay Teddy’s school fees it would have to be without the knowledge and permission of her French husband, who, while he allowed her to spoil her goddaughter upon occasions, saw no reason why he should be responsible for that same goddaughter’s brother’s school fees, and this was something that Claire would not allow her godmother to do.

‘Now promise me that you will spend the day shopping and enjoying yourself,’ Susan Dupont pleaded. ‘The room is paid for for tonight, and I’ll speak to reception and have them forward the bill on to me.’

Claire smiled, signalling her acceptance. Two days in London staying at the Dorchester, all expenses met by her godmother, had been a delightful surprise birthday present, and even if she did not really have the spare cash to shop at the more exclusive stores she knew her godmother had visualised for the treat, she wasn’t going to add to her distress by refusing to stay on at the Dorchester when her godmother left. She could easily fill in time wandering round the art galleries and museums, it would give her something to write to Teddy about when she next sent him a letter; and if she returned home all she would be doing would be moping about the small flat which was all she could afford at the moment.

Unconsciously she sighed. Life hadn’t been easy since the death of her parents. Teddy had only been eight at the time, and because their parents lived and worked abroad, he had already spent two years at the exclusive and expensive private school their father had also attended. Ten years separated brother and sister. Claire had been on the point of starting university when her parents died. Like Teddy, she too had attended boarding school; her parents had been comfortably enough off for her to share in all the ‘extras’ the school provided, and she had not really given a thought as to how she would spend the rest of her life.

Then her whole world came crashing down around her. In six short months she had grown from a carefree teenager into an adult. Her father’s generous salary ceased with his death, and apart from a modest insurance policy there had been no provision made for the future. There wasn’t even a house to sell as her father and mother had lived abroad at his company’s expense.

The family solicitor had tried to be as gentle as possible. Teddy would have to leave school, the man had told her, there simply wasn’t the money… The proceeds of the insurance policy could be used to buy a modest house and provide a small income. But, rightly or wrongly, Claire had ignored his advice. His school and the friends he had made there were Teddy’s whole world. If she took him away from school she would have to pay child-minders to look after him while she was at work and being taken away from his school so soon after losing their parents was bound to have a profound effect upon him, she decided, and so, instead of taking their solicitor’s advice, Claire had used some of the money to pay for her own secretarial training, using the rest, carefully eked out over the years, to pay for Teddy’s schooling.

Inflation had caused school fees to soar and over the last two years the money she had put aside hadn’t been sufficient. A large part of her own salary went towards keeping Teddy at school. Her job was a good one, she worked for the Managing Director of an advanced electronics company based within half-a-day’s drive of Teddy’s school, but she didn’t earn anything like enough to pay for six more years’ schooling. Teddy was exceptionally clever, so his school told her, almost definitely Oxbridge material, and for the past few months the problem of how to raise the cash to keep him at school had constantly taxed her mind. She had no real financial assets. Her small Mini was already on its last legs, and the only thing she could think of was to try and get an evening job to supplement her daytime earnings.

This brief stay at the Dorchester was very much an unaccustomed luxury, but she was determined not to add to her godmother’s problems by letting her see how disappointed she was that she could not remain with her.

‘Now promise me you’ll go down and have breakfast. Don’t stay up here on your own,’ Susan Dupont cautioned when her case was packed. ‘Who knows, you might run into that gorgeous man we saw downstairs last night.’

Her godmother was an inveterate matchmaker, and Claire subdued a small grimace. The gorgeous man her godmother referred to had done nothing for her. Oh, he had been gorgeous right enough—far too gorgeous with that thick dark hair, and those unusual green eyes. And despite the formal tailoring of his European suit there had been no mistaking his Middle Eastern origins. They were there in the arrogant pride of his profile; faintly cruel in a way which had sent shivers down her spine and made her think of herself as foolishly imaginative. She had disliked him instinctively. There had been something in the way he looked at her, a careless scrutiny that observed and dismissed with languid hauteur coupled with an unmistakable contempt that burned her pride.

She had seen him again later, in the restaurant, dining with a group of men. Unaware that her gaze had rested on him she had flushed uncomfortably when her godmother followed it and remarked teasingly, ‘Mm, there’s definitely something about those tall, dark, forceful-looking men, isn’t there?’

To cover her embarrassment, Claire had replied acidly, ‘He’s probably the sort of man who thinks he simply has to dangle a diamond bracelet in front of a woman’s eyes and she’ll jump right into bed with him.’

Her godmother’s rich chuckle had surprised her. ‘My dear,’ Susan Dupont had responded roguishly. ‘I suspect that most women, if they thought such a gorgeous male creature was even thinking about taking them to bed, would be offering him the diamonds!’ She had laughed again at Claire’s shocked expression, noticing the sudden tightening of her lovely full lips with a faint sigh. She was full of admiration for the way Claire had shouldered her burdens since her parents’ death, but it sometimes seemed to her that Claire was old before her time, not physically but mentally. There had been no time for fun, for the careless enjoyment of dalliance with the opposite sex, before the blow had fallen and now Claire seemed to concentrate all her energies and time on her job and her younger brother. If only Henri would allow her to help, but he had grandchildren of his own and Teddy was, after all, no relation.

‘No, don’t come to the airport with me,’ Susan Dupont reiterated when Claire followed her out on to the steps in front of the hotel to wait for her luggage to be placed in the waiting taxi. ‘Go back inside and have your breakfast.’ As she got into the taxi she placed a cheque in Claire’s surprised hand. ‘This is the rest of your birthday present, darling. I want you to buy yourself something nice… something… sexy…’ she added with a twinkle. ‘Something that would appeal to our friend from the restaurant last night.’

She was gone before Claire could protest. The cheque was a generous one and Claire already knew that she would not spend it on herself. She would use it to replace those items of Teddy’s school uniform which most needed attention. Twelve-year-old boys grew so quickly… She suppressed a small sigh.

It was all too easy to imagine the sort of ‘something’ that would appeal to the insufferably arrogant male nature she had sensed lurking below the warm olive skin and cold green eyes of the man her godmother had referred to. Rich silks and satins. Fabrics with a sensual appeal that would bring the glitter of sexual appreciation to those strange eyes. He would like his women supine and obedient, toys to be played with and then discarded when other, and more important matters took his attention. Unknowingly, her mouth hardened, and she was oblivious to the appreciative looks directed towards her by the hotel staff as she stepped back inside the foyer.

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