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Diamond in the Desert

By:Susan Stephens

Diamond in the Desert
Susan Stephens

       CHAPTER ONE

MONDAY SEVEN A.M. on a cold, foggy day in London a breakfast meeting  was being held by a powerful consortium set up to acquire the world's  biggest diamond mine. The group of three men was led by Sheikh Sharif al  Kareshi, a leading geologist otherwise known as the Black Sheikh,  thanks to his discovery of vast oil lakes beneath the desert sands of  Kareshi. Concealed lighting was set at the perfect level for reading the  fine print on a contract, and the surroundings were sumptuous as  befitted the ruling Sheikh of Kareshi in his London home. Seated with  the sheikh at the table were two men of roughly the same age, that was  to say, thirty-two. One was a Spaniard, and the other owned an island  off southern Italy. All three men were giants in the world of commerce,  and heartbreakers in the game of life. Colossal sums of money were being  bandied about. The atmosphere was tense.

'A diamond mine beyond the Arctic circle?' the darkly glamorous Count Roman Quisvada remarked.

'Diamonds were discovered in the Canadian Arctic some years back,'  Sharif explained, leaning back. 'Why not the European Arctic, my  friend?'

All three men had been friends since boarding school in England, and,  although they had all gone on to make individual fortunes, they were  bound by friendship and trusted each other implicitly.

'My first pass over the findings suggests this discovery by Skavanga  Mining could be even larger than we suspected,' Sharif went on, pushing  some documents across the table to the other two men.

'And I hear that Skavanga boasts three sisters who have become known as  the Skavanga Diamonds, which in itself intrigues me,' the  dangerous-looking Spaniard commented as he peeled a Valencia orange with  a blade as sharp as a scalpel.

'I'll tell you what I know, Raffa,' the sheikh promised his friend,  better known as Don Rafael de Leon, Duke of Cantalabria, a mountainous  and very beautiful region of Spain.

Count Roman Quisvada also sat forward. Roman was an expert in diamonds,  with laboratories that specialised in cutting and polishing high-value  stones, while Raffa owned the world's largest and most exclusive chain  of high-end retail jewellers. The Black Sheikh, the Italian count, and  the Spanish duke had the diamond business sewn up.

There was just one loose end, Sharif reflected, and that was a company  called Skavanga Mining. Owned by the three sisters, Britt, Eva and Leila  Skavanga, along with the girls' absentee brother, Tyr, Skavanga Mining  had reported the discovery of the largest diamond deposits ever  recorded. He was on the point of going to Skavanga to check out these  reports for himself.

While he was there he would check out Britt Skavanga, the oldest  sister, who was currently running the company, Sharif mused as he drew a  photograph towards him. She looked like a worthy opponent with her  clear grey eyes, firm mouth and the tilt of that chin. He looked forward  to meeting her. A deal with the added spice of down time in the bedroom  held obvious appeal. There was no sentiment in business and he  certainly wasted none on women.

'Why do you get all the fun?' Roman complained, frowning when Sharif told the other men about his plan.

'There are plenty to go round,' he reassured them dryly as the other  two men studied the photographs of the sisters. Glancing at Raffa, he  felt a momentary twinge of something close to apprehension. The youngest  sister, whom Raffa was studying, was clearly an innocent, while Raffa  was most certainly not.

'Three good-looking women,' Roman commented, glancing between his friends.

'For three ruthless asset strippers,' Raffa added, devouring the last  piece of orange with relish. 'I look forward to stripping the assets off  this one-'

Raffa's dark eyes blackened dangerously as Sharif gathered the  photographs in. Sharif hardly realised that he was caressing the  photograph of Britt Skavanga with his forefinger while denying Raffa  further study of Leila, the youngest sister.

'This could be our most promising project to date,' the man known to the world as the Black Sheikh commented.

'And if anyone can land this deal, Sharif can,' Roman remarked, hoping  to heal the momentary rift between his friends. He could only be  thankful their interest wasn't in the same girl.

Raffa's laugh relaxed them all. 'Didn't I hear you have some  interesting sexual techniques in Kareshi, Sharif? Silken ties? Chiffon  blindfolds?'

Roman huffed a laugh at this. 'I've heard the same thing. In the harem  tents it's said they use creams and potions to send sensation through  the roof-'

'Enough,' Sharif rapped, raising his hands to silence his friends. 'Can we please return to business?'                       
       
           



       

Within seconds the Skavanga girls were forgotten and the talk was all  of balance sheets and financial predictions, but in one part of his mind  Sharif was still thinking about a pair of cool grey eyes and a full,  expressive mouth, and what could be accomplished with a little expert  tutelage.

An absolute monarch, bred to a hard life in the desert, Sharif had been  trained to rule and fight and argue at council with the wisest of  men-women being notable by their absence, which was something he had  changed as soon as he took over the country. Women in Kareshi had used  to be regarded as ornaments to be pampered and spoiled and hidden away;  under his rule they were expected to pull their weight. Education for  all was now the law.

And who would dare to argue with the Black Sheikh? Not Britt Skavanga,  that was for sure. Staring at Britt's photograph and seeing the steely  determination so similar to his own in her eyes only reinforced his  intention to check out all the assets in Skavanga personally. Britt  possessed the generous, giving mouth of a concubine, with the  unrelenting gaze of a Viking warrior. The combination aroused him. Even  the severity of the suit she was wearing intrigued him. Her breasts  thrusting against the soft wool stirred his senses in a most agreeable  way. He adored severe tailoring on a woman. It was a type of shorthand  he had learned to read many years ago. Severe equalled repressed, or  possibly a player who liked to tease. Either way, he was a huge fan.

'Are you still with us, Sharif?' Raffa enquired with amusement as his friend finally pushed Britt's photograph away.

'Yes, but not for long as I will be leaving for Skavanga in the  morning, travelling in my capacity of geologist and advisor to the  consortium. This will allow me to make an impartial assessment of the  situation without ruffling any feathers.'

'That's sensible,' Raffa agreed. 'Talk of the Black Sheikh descending  on a business would be enough to send anyone into a panic.'

'Have you ever descended on a tasty business prospect without devouring it?' Roman enquired, hiding his smile.

'The fact that this mysterious figure, conjured by the press and known  to the world as the Black Sheikh, has never had a photograph published  will surely be an advantage to you,' Raffa suggested.

'I reserve judgement until we meet again when I will be in a position  to tell you if the claims that have been made about the Skavanga  Diamonds are true,' Sharif said with a closing gesture.

'We can ask for no more than that,' his two friends agreed.

* * *

'Well, clearly, I must be the one to meet him,' Britt insisted as the  three sisters sat round the interestingly shaped-if not very practical,  thanks to the holes the designer had punched in it-blonde wood kitchen  table in Britt's sleek, minimalist, barely lived-in penthouse.

'Clearly-why?' Britt's feisty middle sister, Eva, demanded. 'Who says  you have the right to take the lead in this new venture? Shouldn't we  all have a part in it? What about the equality you're always banging on  about, Britt?'

'Britt has far more business experience than we have,' the youngest and  most mild-mannered sister, Leila, pointed out. 'And that's a perfectly  sensible reason for Britt to be the one to meet with him,' Leila added,  sweeping anxious fingers through her tumbling blonde curls.

'Perfectly sensible?' Eva scoffed. 'Britt has experience in mining iron  ore and copper. But diamonds?' Eva rolled her emerald eyes. 'You must  agree the three of us are virgins where diamonds are concerned?'

And Eva was likely to remain a virgin in every sense if she kept on  like this, Britt thought, fretting like a mother over her middle sister.  Eva had been a glass-half-empty type of person for as long as Britt  could remember and sadly there were no dashing Petruchios in Skavanga to  prevent Eva from turning into a fully-fledged shrew. 'I'm going to deal  with this-and with him,' she said firmly.

'You and the Black Sheikh?' Eva said scornfully. 'You might be a  hotshot businesswoman here in Skavanga, but the sheikh's business  interests are global-and he runs a country. What on earth makes you  think you can take a man like that on?'

'I know my business,' Britt said calmly. 'I know our mine and I'll be factual. I'll be cool and I'll be reasoned.'

'Britt's very good at doing stuff like this without engaging her emotions,' Leila added.

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