Master of the Desert

By: Susan Stephens

CHAPTER ONE

SHE had the figure of a glamour model, the face of an angel—and she was threatening him with a knife.

It wasn’t every day his ocean-going yacht was boarded by a barely clothed virago. What few clothes remained on the young girl’s bruised and scratched body were ripped and sodden, and the knife she was brandishing looked as if it had come from his galley. In her other hand, she was holding a hunk of bread and cheese, stolen from the same place, he presumed.

Was a French baguette worth killing for?

Probably, he mused, remembering he had persuaded a top French boulanger to open a branch in Sinnebar.

As the merciless sun sliced its way through the mist, his first impulse was to get the pirate princess into the shade, but he remained still, not wanting to provoke her into anything more reckless than she had already attempted. She was young, barely out of her teens, but had clearly been through some sort of trauma. He took in the tangled mass of blonde hair and bruised face with slanting blue-green eyes, more wounded than wounding. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he said calmly.

‘Don’t!’ she threatened, jabbing the sultry air with her knife.

He held the laugh, relieved she was okay. Mist hung tenaciously, making visibility poor; she must have climbed up on deck while he’d been in the sea checking the hull for storm damage.

‘I’m warning you!’ she exclaimed, though he hadn’t moved.

If she backed away another inch, she’d be over the side.

Her shock at seeing him had forced her into the role of aggressor, he concluded, remaining still so as not to alarm her. She hadn’t recognised him or she would have put down her little knife. ‘Why don’t you give me the knife?’ he suggested, knowing if she had meant to attack him she would have done so by now. ‘Or, better still, throw it overboard?’

She bared her teeth at that to give him a little warning growl, like a kitten with a toothache. ‘Don’t you come any closer,’ she warned, ‘Or I’ll—’

‘You’ll what?’ He disarmed her in one absurdly easy move. There was a flash of warm flesh beneath his hands, then it was all shrieking and clawing as she fought him as if to the death. ‘Wildcat!’ he exclaimed, feeling a sharp thrill of pain as she dug her sharp, white teeth into his hand. Resigned to capture, she couldn’t take her eyes off the much bigger knife he wore hanging from his belt. ‘I have no intention of harming you,’ he reassured her.

She had no intention of listening, which left him dealing with a wriggling desperado, who drummed his deck furiously with her tiny heels as he steered her towards the opening leading to the lower deck and his first-aid kit. Finally losing patience, he bound her arms to her side and swung her over his shoulder. ‘Stop that!’ he instructed as she arched her body and pummelled his back. ‘Do you want to bang your head?’

She went rigid as he padded sure-footed below deck into what was an all-purpose space on the ocean-going racing yacht. She was still in shock, he registered as he set her down on the one and only seat. All home comforts had been stripped away below deck to make room for necessary equipment, but as he’d been trialling on this voyage rather than racing there was plenty of fresh food on board—hence the bread his pirate wench had stolen. He had brought other supplies and small comforts along to make his time aboard more pleasurable, including the cushions he’d laid out on deck so he could sleep beneath the stars.

When the girl groaned and put her head in her hands, his first thought was to rehydrate her. He reached into the cold box for a glucose drink. ‘Here,’ he said, loosening the top and offering it to her. Her expression didn’t change. She remained stiffly non-responsive, staring ahead with her jaw set in white-faced fright.

‘Drink it, or I’ll hold your nose and pour it down your throat.’ He’d used similar shock tactics years back when his younger brother Razi had refused to take his medicine.

Just like then, she retaliated with a furious, ‘You wouldn’t dare!’

One look from him was enough to settle that argument. She held out her hand. He gave her the bottle; she gulped down the contents greedily.

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