Authors: Constance O'Banyon
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Regency, #19th Century, #Sheikhs, #1840's-50's, #Adult, #Adventure, #Action, #DeWinter Family, #DESERT SONG, #Sailing, #Egypt, #Sea Voyage, #Ocean, #Lord DeWinter, #Father, #Captors, #Nursing Wounds, #Danger, #Suspense, #Desert Prison, #Ship Passenger
Table of Contents
By Constance O’Banyon
All rights reserved.
This is gratefully dedicated to you, my readers. Many of you I know through your letters, many I have met in person, and some I will never meet. But we know each other all the same. You are the reason I spin my tales. Your warmth has touched me in so many ways. Thank you for your wonderful support and encouragement.
Two Hearts United Beneath the
"My friend Prince Khaldun would have me believe that
every marriage in Kamar Ginena is enchanted. Shall we believe him about that?" Michael said.
makes a lovely story," Mallory returned.
"Ah, a skeptic. You don't believe that if we kiss beneath
the moon, our lives will be entwined for eternity?"
She wanted to tell him that her heart already belonged to
him, but she dared not.
He bent his dark head and touched her trembling lips,
ever so softly. She sighed, drawing closer to his hard body.
His hand moved up to cup her face, and he turned it toward
the moon. "I believe
enchanted already. You are beauti
ful, Lady Mallory DeWinter."
Mallory curled up in Michael's arms and he saw mischief
dancing in her eyes. "So this is what it feels like to have a
legend make love to you."
Raile DeWinter, the duke of Ravenworth, moved out of the bedroom of his rented quarters when he heard his valet arguing with someone at the front door.
"If you wish to see His Grace, you must wait until morning. He's retired for the night," Oliver said imperiously, barring the person's way.
"I'm not asleep, Oliver," Raile said, wondering who would be visiting this late. The man was out of his view because he stood in the shadows. "Come forward so I can see you," Raile ordered, his eyes narrowed.
Reluctantly, Oliver stepped back and allowed the man to pass into the room.
The stranger wore a black robe and a white turban. He had a black patch over one eye that gave him a sinister appearance. "Effendi," he said, bowing subserviently. "I want but to deliver a letter to you from my esteemed master, Sheik Sidi Ahmed."
Raile looked the man over, then took the letter from him and began to read.
It has come to my attention that you are searching for certain individuals. I want to aid you in your mission because these men are dangerous to us who love peace. I can help you if you will meet me at an appointed place. Understand that I do this in peril of my own life. If you are interested in my information, come at once with the man who delivers this letter. He can be trusted, and I have anticipated your needs, so you will travel in comfort. Tell no one about this meeting, or it will not take place.
Raile raised his head and looked at the guide speculatively. "You know what's in this letter?"
"Only that I am to take you to my master if you agree to go."
"I don't know your master."
"He knows you, O exalted one."
Raile had no choice but to meet with this sheik. He had been in Cairo for eight weeks, trying to discover who was arming rebellious Bedouin tribes and inciting them against the British. But the Egyptians were suspicious of foreigners, and this was the first time he had been contacted with an offer of help. He was uneasy, but could think of no reason why he shouldn't trust this man. "Very well, I will accompany you. But I should first contact the British consul."
The man bowed. "Sorry, please, illustrious one, but my master instructed me not to guide you if you tell anyone."
"Very well. Oliver, pack only what I can carry in one valise."
Oliver had been with the duke for thirty years. He'd served him faithfully in the war against Napoleon, and when the duke had been wounded at Waterloo, Oliver had devotedly nursed him back to health. He would not let the duke go into the desert without him.
"I'm coming with you, Your Grace," Oliver said, with a look that dared the foreign guide to object.
Raile's lips twitched. "Of course you are, Oliver."
It seemed Sheik Sidi had thought of everything. Besides two guides, there were three servants to see to Raile's comfort. Under Oliver's direction, the servants set up camp each night with quiet efficiency.
Each day they traveled farther and farther from Cairo, until at last they stopped at a small oasis. Raile began to wonder if Sheik Sidi Ahmed really existed.
Raile stepped impatiently from beneath the awning of his tent. Looking past the small oasis where three tents dotted the sand, he raised his hand to shade his eyes against the scorching Egyptian sun.
His two guides had ridden off early in the morning and should have returned hours ago. How long did it take for them to arrange a meeting with Sheik Sidi Ahmed?
Raile's jaw tightened in anger. "Oliver, what am I doing in the middle of the Sinai Desert without benefit of guide and with no notion how to get back to Cairo? There are any number of men that Her Majesty could have chosen— why did she choose me?"
"Because, Your Grace, she knew you were the only man for this mission," the faithful retainer said with pride.
"A dubious honor," Raile replied cryptically. "Damn," he swore softly. "Where are they?"
He watched grimly as a gathering cloud of dust swirled in the distance, filtering slowly upward toward the sun. The storm would hit soon. Already the wind was whipping grains of sand and whirling it into Raile's face, stinging his eyes and blistering his cheeks.
"We're in for a fierce blow, Your Grace," Oliver, observed with growing concern. "If the guides don't return soon, they'll be caught in the sandstorm."
"If I knew the way back to Cairo, I'd leave now," Raile fumed.
"I'll ask the other men if they have any notion when the guides will return," Oliver said, hurrying toward the servants' tent. He returned a short time later. "Something odd has happened, Your Grace. The servants aren't in camp, and they took their belongings with them. Strange we didn't see them leave."
Suddenly a gust of wind struck with such a force it ripped one of the guy ropes away from the tent, causing one side to collapse. Raile and Oliver grabbed the rope, securing it firmly to the stake.
Oliver had to shout to be heard above the wind. "I rather like the Sinai Desert, Your Grace."
Raile glanced up at the cloud of dust that was quickly descending on them. "I find little to admire about this cursed place."
"It's so pristine and quiet," Oliver said reverently. "It makes me feel close to ... I don't know—it seems almost sanctified."
Raile gave Oliver a disparaging glance, as if he questioned his man's sanity. "When that storm hits, you'll most probably retract your opinion. Your only thought will be how to breathe."
Oliver tightened the last knot and looked at their handiwork with satisfaction. "I believe this should hold it, Your Grace."
"We'd best seek shelter. The storm's about to hit."
Raile entered the tent and tossed aside the burnoose he'd worn to protect him from the sun. "I'm wondering how much longer we'll have to remain in this hellish country. Already we've been here for over two months, and I still don't know who is arming the bedouin."
"When our guides return with Sheik Sidi, he'll be able to help you, Your Grace," Oliver said encouragingly.
"I'm not even certain there is a Sheik Sidi, Oliver. I may be on a fool's mission."
Raile turned to the camp table and lit a lantern. He wondered what his wife, Kassidy, was doing at the moment. He didn't want to be here; he only wanted to return to her. Not that she needed him—God only knew she was a most capable woman, but perhaps she missed him, too.
He picked up a miniature of his wife and stared at it for a long moment. He felt a deep aching need for her— he longed for the sound of her voice and most of all the musical sound of her laughter.
Dropping down on a cot, he reached into his breast pocket and withdrew the letter he'd received from her just before leaving Cairo. Apparently she was concerned about their son, Michael, and there must be cause since Kassidy wasn't one to worry needlessly. He reread the letter, trying to decide what to do about Michael when he returned to England.
My Dearest Raile,
How long the days seem without you. I pray each night for your safety, and for your speedy return to me. I received a letter from Arrian today and her health is good. You should be a grandfather within the month. I wish I could be with her, but so much requires my attention here at Ravenworth, and Scotland is so far away. Michael came home last week but stayed only three days. Raile, I believe it's time our son took on more responsibilities. I have insisted that he spend the winter at Ravenworth. Perhaps here, we can bend his mind to important matters, and he'll be less inclined to squander his life in frivolous pursuits.
Raile folded the letter and placed it back in his pocket, glancing up at Oliver, who was closing the flaps on the tent.
"I believe it's time I took my son and heir in hand, Oliver. Perhaps it was a mistake to allow him to reside in the London town house. He's too much a favorite with the ladies, and that crowd of young people he's connected with have no aim in life other than having a good time."
Oliver smiled. "As I recall, Your Grace, you were much the same in your youth."
"I suppose. But Her Grace is worried about Michael."
Oliver had a great respect for the duchess. "Then there would be a reason to worry, Your Grace."
The tent rattled and shook as the full force of the wind hit. The flap blew open, and it was dark as pitch until Oliver relit the lantern. "I'll just go and check on the horses, Your Grace. They seem to be restless."
Raile watched Oliver leave. If this meeting with Sidi wasn't fruitful, then he planned to return home at once. He frowned as he glanced at his travel clock. It was nearing evening, and still the guides hadn't returned. Most probably they had been forced to hole up until the storm abated.
At that moment the flap of his tent was thrown open and five men in dark robes entered. At first Raile wasn't concerned, thinking they must be the sheik's men. But when one of them leveled a gun at him, Raile instinctively dove for his holstered revolver, which was lying draped across a folding chair.
He never heard the shot that hit him so hard he was propelled backward from the impact. Sudden weakness drove him to his knees, and he fell face forward.
Kassidy's picture had been knocked to the ground, and one of the men crushed it beneath his boot.
"Kass . . . idy." Raile groaned, reaching his hand for the miniature of his wife—it was out of reach.
Raile fought against the black tide that threatened to swallow him, but he was soon engulfed in a dark void.
The black-robed man with a patch over one eye turned Raile over with his foot. "You fool," he said to his companion, "you killed him. Sheik Sidi will have you beheaded for this."
Blood ran from Raile's wound and was soon absorbed by the sand—he moved no more.
Two men lifted him and carried him out into storm. One of them spoke with uncertainty. "We shall take his body. Our lord will want proof of his death."
The other man asked with concern, "Is his man dead? Sheik Sidi wanted no one left alive to tell what happened here today."
A third man, who held the horses, nodded at Oliver's dead body that was impaled by a lance against a palm tree. "The English servant is dead, but he gave a valiant fight. He will talk to no one—he is food for the jackals."
Raile's limp body was thrown over a horse, and the black-robed men led him away from the oasis. They were soon swallowed up in the howling storm that sounded very like a woman's scream.