Diamond in the Desert

By: 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?’

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