Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(6)

By: Trish Morey


‘What is she doing here?’ His voice sounded as if it had been dragged from him, his lungs squeezed empty in the process.

His mother blinked, her grey-blue eyes impassive as once again she reached for the coffeepot, the eternal antidote to trouble.

He stayed her hand with his, a gentle touch, but enough to tell his mother he was serious. ‘I saw her. Sera. In the passageway. What is she doing here?’

His mother sighed and put the pot down, leaning back and folding her long-fingered hands in her lap. ‘Sera lives here now, as my companion.’

‘What?’

The woman who had betrayed him was now his mother’s companion? It was too much to take in, too much to digest, and his muscles, his bones and every part of him railed against the words his mother had so casually spoken. He leapt to his feet and wheeled around, but even that was not movement enough too satisfy the savagery inside him. His footsteps devoured the distance to the balcony and, with fingers spearing through his hair and his nails raking his scalp, he paced from one end to the other and back again, like a lion caged at the zoo. And then, as abruptly as he’d had to move, he stopped, standing stock still, dragging air into his lungs in great greedy gasps, not seeing anything of the gardens below him for the blur of loathing that consumed his vision.

And then his mother was by his side, her hand on his arm, her fingers cool against his overheated skin. ‘You are not over it, then?’

‘Of course I am over it!’ he exploded. ‘I am over it. I am over her. She means nothing to me—less than nothing!’

‘Of course. I understand.’

He looked down into his mother’s age-softened face, searching her eyes, her features, for any hint of understanding. Surely his mother, of all people, should understand? ‘Do you? Then you must also see the hatred I bear for her. And yet I find her here—not only in the palace, but with my own mother. Why? Why is she here and not swanning around the world with her husband? Or has he finally realised what a devious and power-hungry woman she really is? It took him long enough.’

Silence followed his outburst, a pause that hung heavy on the perfumed air. ‘Did you not hear?’ His mother said softly. ‘Hussein died, a little over eighteen months ago.’

Something tripped in his gut. Hussein was dead?

Rafiq was stilled with shock, absorbing the news with a kind of mute disbelief and a suspension of feeling. Was that why Sera had looked so sad? Was that why she seemed so downcast? Because she was still in mourning for her beloved husband?

Damn the woman! Why should he care that she was sad—especially if it was over him? She’d long ago forfeited any and all rights to his sympathy. ‘That still doesn’t explain why she is here. She made her choice. Surely she belongs with Hussein’s family now?’

The Sheikha shook her head on a sigh. ‘Hussein’s mother turned her away before he was even buried.’

‘So her husband’s mother was clearly a better judge of character than her son.’

‘Rafiq,’ his mother said, frowning as her lips pursed, as if searching for the right words. ‘Do not be too hard on Sera. She is not the girl you once knew.’

‘No, I imagine not. Not after all those glamorous years swanning around the world as wife to Qusay’s ambassador.’

The Sheikha shook her head again. ‘Life has not been as easy for her as you might think. Her own parents died not long before Hussein. There was nowhere for her to go.’

‘So what? Anyone would think you expect me to feel sorry for her? I’m sorry, Mother, but I can feel nothing for Sera but hatred. I will never forgive her for what she did. Never!’

There was a sound behind them, a muffled gasp, and he turned to find her standing there, her eyes studying the floor, in her hands a bolt of silken fabric that glittered in swirls of tiny lights like fireflies on a dark cave roof.

‘Sheikha Rihana,’ she said, so softly that Rafiq had to strain to catch her words—and yet the familiar lilt in her voice snagged and tugged on his memories. He’d once loved her softly spoken voice, the musical quality it conveyed, gentle and well bred as she was. As he’d once imagined she was. Now, hearing that voice brought nothing but bitterness. ‘I have brought the fabric you requested.’

‘Thank you, Sera. Come,’ she urged, deliberately disregarding the fact that Sera had just overheard Rafiq’s impassioned declaration of hatred as if it meant nothing. He wanted to growl. What did his mother think she was doing? ‘Bring it closer, my child,’ his mother continued, ‘so that my son might better see.’ And then to her son, ‘Rafiq, you remember Sera, of course.’ Her grey-blue eyes held steady on his, the unsaid warning contained therein coming loud and clear.

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