‘The Sheik Retold’
The Desert Was Never Hotter! Pride and passion vie for supremacy in this steamy retelling of E.M. Hull’s romance classic.
A haughty young heiress for whom the world is a playground…
A savage son of the Sahara who knows no law but his own…
When pride and passion vie for supremacy…
Blistering desert days are nothing compared to sizzling Sahara nights…
“There will be inquiries.” I choked out. “I am not such a nonentity that nothing will be done when I am missed. You will pay for what you have done.”
“Pay?” His amused look sent a cold feeling of dread through me. “I have already paid… in gold that matches your hair, my gazelle. Besides,” he continued, “the French Government has no jurisdiction over me. There is no authority here above my own.”
My trepidation was growing every passing minute. “Why have you done this? Why brought me here?”
“Why?” He repeated with a slow and heated appraisal that made me acutely, almost painfully, conscious of my sex. “Bon Dieu! Are you not woman enough to know?”
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Sick with apprehension, I watched as he bent over my luggage, rummaging around until returning with a silken scarf that he wrapped around my head and over my eyes. I wanted to scream and sob aloud, to grovel for my release, but I knew it was pointless. My courage had faltered; even my pride had finally failed me. A feeling of despair came over me and with it a sense of unreality, for the truth seemed too impossible, the setting too theatrical.
Blinded and bound to his bed, I lay quiet and still, as silent tears scorched my cheeks. I was supremely defenseless, and I hated and feared this utter vulnerability.
“Doucement, doucement,” he repeated in the same soothing tones he had used on his fretful horse. “It is not what you think, ma chère .”
I could not think at all. I trembled. I raged. I wept. But rational thought was far beyond me. My brain was completely numb, but my senses seemed only to sharpen. I was tense, drawn taut, every nerve thrumming on full alert, keenly aware of him—the soft tread of his feet, the rustling of his movements.
With my vision hampered, I was more acutely attuned to every scent—the smoky smell of burning lamp oil and the hints of nighttime in the Sahara, accompanied by the sweet pungency of desert flowers. Most taunting of all to my nostrils was his unique, musky bouquet—a distinctly mysterious and masculine essence hinting of ambergris, sweet incense, and tobacco that combined to simultaneously attract and repel me.
I also felt everything more intensely—the vibrations in the air at his approach even before his weight sunk into the mattress. The gentle touch of his hands on my feet. The pads of his thumbs massaging the ball of one foot and then the other. A sharp scraping sensation on the arch of my foot that the moist fan of hot breath confirmed as his teeth. The smooth sweep of his fingers over my calves, followed by the light abrasion of his beard bristle. The sensation of his hot, wet tongue lapping the hollow place behind my knees.
I was no longer afraid, but drank in every sensation. My body was on fire. I could not help myself given my voluptuary nature. I had lived my entire life indulging my senses with all things beautiful—art, music, food, wine, perfumes. I had never refrained from handling anything or feeling whatever I chose. Nothing had been out of bounds to me. My wealth allowed me these singular privileges, but I had never before indulged my receptors to another’s touch. I had long ago shunned the need for such physical contact as a contemptuous feminine weakness, but he had forced my submission to it.
I told myself I was only too weary to fight him, but the truth was that his all-out sensual assault had made me a victim of my own senses—of my own suppressed nature. And now awakened, I was starving for more. I relaxed by degrees as he moved up my body. My anticipation had become impatience fired with an eagerness I fought to hide while I drank it all in—secretly reveling in the fluttery feeling of his fingertips, the moist heat of his open mouth, the scoring sensation of his teeth across my skin. I burned. I ached. A haze of helpless need settled over me, causing me to throb deep inside.
I was not ignorant of the mechanics of coitus, but I had never before experienced even an inkling of sexual desire. I had believed it nonexistent in me. But now it grew in response to him, blooming inside, making me breathless, blurring my mind of all but the ceaseless ache in my loins.
A puff of hot air blew over my mound. His voice was muffled in my nest of curls. “Yes, it is as I suspected. My lamb has the loveliest golden fleece.” He nuzzled deeper, and a whimper emerged from my throat. “Is this your revulsion that cries out, ma chère?”
I could visualize the mocking twist of his mouth. He plied that same mouth to my flesh, working hot open-mouth kisses low across my belly from one hip bone to the other, skirting just above my mons. My body quivered. He raised his head from me. “Shall I desist all this nasty unpleasantness now?”
My skin was damp with perspiration, but my mouth was parched. When I tried to respond, a soft, strangled noise emerged. He had sworn to make me revel in that which I most despised, and once more, the power of his will had proven superior to mine. Yet I still swore to deny him the satisfaction of this knowledge.
I set my teeth and stiffened my limbs, but my body betrayed me, belying my sham of repugnance when he slid his fingers between my legs to find the inside of my thighs damp with desire. I was wet with undeniable and unadulterated want and shuddered with ripples of pleasure as he dipped into my wetness and stroked the length of my nether lips.
He chuckled lowly, a smug and self-satisfied sound. “Say it, ma chère,” he softly demanded. “Tell me you want this above all things. Tell me you want me.”
I did. Desperately, but it was only the fleeting lust of the flesh that I craved—not him. Never him. “You have forced this upon me,” I hissed in a rage of frustration. “This means nothing—proves nothing.”
“As you will…I can be a patient man—when I choose to be.”
His weight shifted away from me, and then it was gone from the bed. He removed the blindfold and gave a single tug on the silk cord binding me to the bed. My arms instantly released from above my head. Just as suddenly, he freed my legs.
I scrambled to my knees, dragging the silken coverings up around me as if their thin shelter were a protection. “Are you finished with me now?” I asked breathlessly.
“Finished?” His expression was mixed mockery and mirth. “Par bleu! I have hardly even begun.
My eyes tracked upward to rest on his sun-bronzed and lightly bearded face. Harsh and angular in the lamplight, it was at once the handsomest and cruelest face I had ever seen. He regarded me fiercely with scornful eyes. Those eyes! Surely I had seen them before.
I gasped. It was him! The man from the party who had eyed me with such insolence. Even now he gazed at me as no other man had ever dared—in a way that made me acutely, almost painfully, conscious of my sex.
“Who are you?” I asked hoarsely, speaking in French without thinking.
He replied in French as well, “I am the Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan.”
The name conveyed nothing. “Is it money that you want? Are you holding me for ransom?”
He regarded me for a long and silent moment with an expression of contempt. “I have no need of your money.”
“What then?” I demanded, but deep down I already knew it was not a question of ransom. The way he looked at me was far too revealing and made my stomach churn. “Do you think that you can keep me here, you fool?” I lashed out in growing panic. “Do you suppose I can vanish into the desert and that no notice will be taken of my disappearance? That no inquiries will be made?”
“There will be no inquiries,” he answered me calmly.
“There will be inquiries,” I choked out. “I am not such a nonentity that nothing will be done when I am missed. The English authorities will make the French government find out who is responsible. You will pay for what you have done.”
“Pay?” His amused look sent a cold feeling of dread through me. “I have already paid…in gold that matches your hair, my gazelle. Besides,” he continued, “the French have no jurisdiction over me. There is no authority here above my own.”
My trepidation grew by the second. “Why have you done this? Why have you brought me here?”
“Why have I brought you here?” he repeated with a slow and heated appraisal. “Bon Dieu! Are you not woman enough to know?”
Understanding descended upon me in a nauseas wave that flooded me with heat, filling me with a horror that made each separate nerve in my system cringe. Instinctively, I shrank back. My gaze fell away from his, darting to the flap of the tent, but he read my mind, catching me in his arms before I could flee. My limbs quivered, and he laughed softly, his breath hot in my ear. His mirth was more frightening to me than anything he had said.
I averted my head, refusing to look at him, but he forcibly turned my face to his. I set my teeth and squeezed my lids shut, but I could not block out the vision of his eyes burning into me, nor the feeling of his hot, moist, mint-scented breath fanning my skin.
“I wanted you from the moment I saw you, my golden one…And now,” the backs of his long brown fingers brushed my hair, “you are mine.”
You are mine. His whispered words sent a wave of shock jolting through me.
“Damn you to hell!” I cried. “I am my own woman! No one owns me!” I knew he intended to force himself upon me, and the anticipation made me shudder with fear and revulsion. I could not win, but still I fought, writhing in an effort to free myself. When this attempt failed, I slumped in his arms in a feint of submission.
Unfazed, his lips neared mine. He murmured low and dark, his breath hot and faintly sweet against my face, “On the contrary, my gazelle, I do. I exchanged a large sum in gold with your would-be murderer. I bought your life. You are mine to do with as I wish.”
I willed myself to remain passive as his scorching lips met mine and his scalding tongue invaded my mouth, but the urge to escape resurfaced, reanimating my numbed nerves and galvanizing me to act. In a sudden surge of strength, I stomped the heel of my boot onto his instep. He drew back with a fierce curse, his grip loosening just enough for me to spin in his arms, yet when I tried to lurch free, the union with his bigger and stronger body remained. It was my valiant last stand…and it had failed.
“You will not get away with this,” I babbled. “Mustafa Ali or one of the caravan men has surely given the alarm in Biskra by now.”
“Mustafa Ali will not give any alarm in Biskra…or anywhere else for that matter.”
“Why not? Have you murdered them all?” I asked in a choked whisper. Myriad tales of ruthless Arab cruelty surged through my mind.
“No. I have not murdered them,” he replied. “There was no need when all had been arranged. When you come to know me better, you will realize that I leave little to chance. Of course, all things are with Allah, blessed be his name, but it is well to remember that Allah does not always concern himself with the affairs of men.”
My head swam dizzily at his reply. “What are you saying, that you planned all of this?”
He smiled slowly. “Voyons! It was all very simple. You engaged a caravan in the charge of Mustafa Ali to travel in the desert. You set out from Biskra, with the intent of traveling northward to Oran, where you would dismiss the caravan. From there you were to cross to Marseilles, then on to Cherbourg to embark for America where you would join your brother.” His slow, casual voice detailed my itinerary with the quiet certainty of perfect knowledge.
I swayed on my feet and whispered with dry lips, “H-how can you know…all…this?”
He replied with a blithe half-smile, “I wished to know.”
“I have told you, my dove. As to how, you paid Mustafa Ali to guide you into the desert. Your brother paid him even more to leave you for dead, and then I paid him even better to lead you to me. Well enough indeed to make him content to remove himself from Biskra, where awkward questions might be asked. Indeed, well enough to retire to a place where he no longer has a need to make his living as a caravan leader.”
To my amazement, he released me. I was too stunned to run, yet my mind raced with all he had revealed. Though I tried to reject it all as lies, tiny glimmers of truth broke through the darkness. I recalled vividly waking in my hotel room to a fleeting vision. There had been someone there. My revolver had been tampered with. I had not missed my shots; they had been substituted with blanks. Mustafa Ali’s shifting eyes, his desire to hurry from the oasis where we had rested at mid-day, his tone, were all explained. He had acted his part to perfection right down to the imaginary wound that had toppled him from his saddle. My faithless and deceitful guide had led me to a man who had bribed him to betray me. Even the horse I rode was trained to this sheik’s whistle. I could not deny that at least part of this absurdity was indeed truth.
The knowledge that I had been duped filled me with impotent rage, but the suggestion of Aubrey’s complicity was ludicrous! Nevertheless, seeds of doubt took root in my mind. Could this be why Aubrey had reacted so uncharacteristically the night before? Suddenly I recollected the last moments before our parting. What had he and the guide been discussing just before my departure? Had he really planned to kill me? But why? Aubrey lived a life of extravagance. Could he be in need of funds? In the event of my death, my entire fortune would be his.
I recalled the strange look in his eyes. Was it a pang of guilt over the murder he had planned? Had he had second thoughts at the last minute? Had Aubrey really paid the guide to kill me? My hands gripped my throat. My God! It could not be true!
“I don’t believe a word you say!” I gasped. “You are a brigand and a liar!”
His expression grew grim. His eyes shone cold, hard, and black as onyx. He came close behind me, placing his hands on my shoulders and then slowly slid them up to rest around my neck, where his thumbs caressed my pulse. His voice was low and soft. “Were you a man, I would slice your throat for such calumny. Do notever disparage my character again.”
My heart stood still. “But why me?” I choked out.
He dipped his head to murmur in my ear. “It was fated. I saw you once before—in Paris. You were surrounded by your panting lapdogs and would have none of them. It was then I knew that I alone would have you. The rest was Allah’s will,” he continued matter-of-factly. “You came to Biskra. You arranged a tour in the desert. You were bored and wanted adventure. I have granted that wish.” He flashed a feral smile. “And now you will grant mine.”
We moved in silence through the curtains. It was if he knew my mood and that any further words might break the spell that bound us. The tented bedchamber was dimly illuminated by a single lantern, yet we stood close enough that I could clearly discern his face. I studied his every move and expression as intensely as he had earlier watched me.
Once the curtain dropped behind us, his large warm hands came to my shoulders. I still wore my gown of green silk and nothing beneath. The heated look in his gaze told me that he remembered that as well. He slowly peeled away the thin layer of fabric from my shoulders, and the entire thing slid down my body in a whisper of silk, to pool at my feet. I made no move to cover myself but rather tilted my head to meet his gaze.
He smiled a look of intense satisfaction. I parted and wet my lips, and his pupils flared bigger. Blacker. Although I was an arrant novice at this game of seduction, his reaction to my efforts filled me with a sudden and strange sense of empowerment—as if the menacing tiger had become my prey.
He did not ask me this time if I wanted him. He did not insist as before that I confess my desire. Perhaps he knew that also would break the spell. I would not have given voice to the words anyway. Instead, I let my body speak. Leaning into him, my naked breasts against his linen-clad chest, I removed his headdress and slid my fingers into his silky hair. His breathing came harder, faster, as we stood there, immobile, with the length of our bodies pressed against one another. I could feel him growing more aroused by the second, yet he held back, watching me, as if daring me to make my next move in our new game of seductive chess.
My gaze was at the level of his chin. I slanted it upward an inch or two to study a mouth curved in bemusement. I darted higher to his eyes. There was a hint of challenge in them, nuanced with disbelief that I would take this any further, but he was mistaken if he thought I would back down.
No, on the contrary, I was more emboldened. I felt much like I had the first time I donned that daring green gown, venturing out in shyness and trepidation, but once I knew how well the garment suited me, I wore it unabashed and proud. So it was with my new mantle of seductress, I would wear it brazenly or not at all.
I did not wait for him to claim the kiss from my lips but took what I wanted from his. I had spent the last decade fending off rather than initiating kisses, but he had already shown me what he liked. And I was ever a quick study.
I was amazed at my own temerity. Though my heart beat wildly, I marshaled my resolve. Without prelude or the least sign of timidity, I darted out my tongue and licked it slowly across the smooth, soft, sensitive seam of his mouth. I then sucked his lower lip between mine, catching it between my teeth and biting down gently, relishing the feel of this pliant little piece of his flesh, but this tiny bite only sharpened my hunger for much more of him. I was dizzy with the pure headiness of being in control—or at least with the brief illusion of it, as he quickly demonstrated.
My sheik, for I had already decreed that he would be mine in precisely the same degree that I would be his, opened his mouth and ravaged mine, invading with his hot, wet tongue. With it he swept my mind clean of every thought but his body and mine. His hands came around me roughly, sliding down my back to squeeze my buttocks and then jerking me hard against him. There was no question of his arousal. It surged between us thick and hard.
“You have had a change of heart, ma belle?” His tone was rough and guttural. There was an equally savage flicker in his gaze. “It is a dangerous thing to tempt the beast.” With his hands on my arse, he guided me, ensuring that I felt the full length and breadth of his erection. “I would have been patient and gentle with you, but it appears the tigress has come out to play.”
My teeth scored over my lower lip. He would not be gentle with me.
But when had I ever done anything in my life gently? Or genteelly? The thought was almost laughable. I rode hell-for-leather, never shirking the highest fences. I hunted big game. I set out alone in the Sahara. I was no longer the cowering creature I had recently become. She was someone else, someone I despised. No, I was fearless. I was Diana Mayo.
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AUTHOR BIO: Victoria Vane is an award-winning romance novelist, cowboy addict and history junkie whose collective works of fiction range from wildly comedic romps to emotionally compelling erotic romance.
Victoria also writes historical fiction as Emery Lee and is the founder of Goodreads Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers and the Romantic Historical Lovers book review blog.
Look for Victoria’s Contemporary Cowboy Series coming summer 2014 from Sourcebooks.
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