The Sheikh's Pregnant PrisonerBy: Tara Pammi
COULD HE BE DEAD? Could someone as larger than life as Zafir be truly gone? Could someone she had known for two months, someone she had laughed with, someone she had shared the deepest intimacies with, be gone in the blink of an eye?
Lauren Hamby pressed her hand to her stomach as dread weighed it down.
It had been the same for the past two days. The more she saw of the colorful capital city of Behraat and the destruction the recent riots had wreaked, the more she saw Zafir everywhere.
But now, staring at the centuries-old trade center building, every nerve in her vibrated. The answer she had been seeking for six weeks was here, she could feel it in her bones. All she had was his name and description but she was desperate to find out what had happened to him.
Desperate to find out about the man who had somehow come to mean more than just a lover. More than a friend, even.
The richly kept grounds were a lush contrast to the stark silence in the city. The glittering rectangular shallow pool of water lined on either side by mosaic tiles and flanked by palm trees showed her strained reflection. She walked the concrete-tiled path laid out between the pool’s edge and the perfectly cut lush lawn, her heart hammering against her rib cage.
Marble steps led to the enormous foyer with glinting mosaic floors, soaring, circular ceiling and, she couldn’t help smiling, palm trees in giant pots.
There was so much to look at, so much to breathe in that the sights and sounds around her dulled the edge during the day. But at night, the grief pushed in with vehemence, pressing images of him growing up in this country.
She saw him in every tall, stunning man, remembered the pride and love with which he’d painted a picture of Behraat to her.
“You coming, Lauren?”
Her friend David had spent the past few days capturing footage about the recent riots in the city.
She looked up and averted her face as he pointed his camcorder at her. “Stop filming me, David. Is my asking to see the records of people who died in the riots so necessary to your documentary on Behraat?”
Her gaze moved past the reception area, taking in the spectacular fountain in the middle of the hall, the water shimmering golden against the light shed by the orange, filigreed dome.
A hum of activity went on behind the gleaming marble reception area.
Her rubber soles made no sound as she walked past the fountain toward the reception desk. The glass elevator pinged down, a group of men exiting.
A quiet hush descended over the activity. Her nape prickling, Lauren turned, the sudden shift in the very air around her raising goose bumps on her skin. Six men stood in a circle in front of the elevator, all dressed in the traditional long robes. One man, the tallest among the group, addressed the rest in Arabic.
His words washed over Lauren, the tenor of his tone harsh and unyielding. It whispered over her skin like a familiar caress.
Rubbing her palms over her midriff, she tried to quell the sudden shiver. She turned back toward David, who was filming the group of men with arrested attention. The tall man turned, bringing himself directly into her line of vision.
Lauren stilled, her heartbeat deafening to her ears.
The red-and-white headdress covered his hair, rendering his features starker than usual. His words resonated with authority, power, his mouth set into a hard line.
He was not dead.
Relief was like a storm, rippling and cascading over her. She wanted to throw her arms around him, touch the sharp angles of his face. She wanted to...
A cold chill seeped into her very bones even though she was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and loose trousers to respect the cultural norms of Behraat.
Zafir was unharmed.
In fact, he’d never looked more in his element. Yet she hadn’t heard a word from him in six weeks.
She moved toward the group, an incessant pounding in her head driving away every sane thought. Adrenaline laced with fury pumped through her. The man standing closest to her turned around, alerting her presence to the group. One by one, they all turned.
Her breath suspended in her throat, her hands shook. The few seconds stretched interminably. A hysteric bubble launched into her throat.
Zafir’s gold-flecked gaze met hers, the sheer force of his personality slamming into her.
Everything else around her dulled as the explosive chemistry that had punctuated every moment of their affair sparked into life, a live wire yanking her closer.
There wasn’t a trace of pleasure in his gaze.
No shock in it.
But there was no guilt either.
The fact that he felt no remorse whatsoever fueled her fury. She’d shed tears over him, she’d reduced herself to a shadow of worry over him and he didn’t even feel guilt.
The men stared with interest as he stepped toward her. Two guards flanked him at a little distance.