Authors: Caitlin Crews
|His Christmas Captive|
Lucy Qaderi married her husband because she loved him. Not because he was
cousin to the future ruler of Alakkul. Not because he was a wealthy man. But
because Rafi Qaderi set her on fire like no one else.
But he no longer believes any of that. So Lucy summons Rafi to his family's
palace in Alakkul to tell him once and for all that she's leaving him…only to
have a winter storm trap them together, testing Lucy's resolve and proving one
thing is very much alive in their relationship—their passion for each other.
That passion brought them together once. But after all the pain and guilt
and accusations, is it enough to keep them together?
HIS CHRISTMAS CAPTIVE
leaving you." Lucy Qaderi forced the words out before she could convince
herself not to say them. Even if she had not yet dared to turn around and say
them to his face.
the moment he'd stepped into this opulent bedroom suite they had once shared,
high up in the mountains over the tiny Eurasian country of Alakkul.
know him anywhere, this brooding, ruthless man. Rafi Qaderi. The leader of his
ancient family, responsible for maintaining the Qaderis' many international
interests and vast wealth while his celebrated cousin prepared to take over the
throne of Alakkul from the ailing King Azat.
Rafi was a
financial wizard, a shrewd businessman. Noble and proud. Her husband.
you, Lucy." His tone was dark, sardonic, with that undercurrent of
patience sorely tried. "I was able to gather as much from your packed
luggage in the front hall."
hate him. At times, she did. And yet that voice moved over her like a wave of
heat, making her feel itchy, her chest tight.
out the window. Fiercely. The great Alakkulian Valley was like something out of
a fairy tale for a girl who'd grown up with nearly nothing in a small village
near Manchester. The crystal-blue mountain lakes shimmered with ice, the bright
fields were piled high with the latest December snowfall and far, far below was
the rush and clatter of the ancient capital city, bristling with white-capped
heights as it stretched out from the foot of the royal palace.
Lucy thought, preferred to look down on the country they'd helped guide and
rule for so many centuries from the remove of this house that was very near a
fortress, so high above it all.
Just as Rafi
looked down on her, and always had. She was a fool.
"Am I to
discern secret messages from the way you present your back to me?" His
tone was like a lash, rich and bitter, and she stiffened against it. "Or
is it your silence that I should pay attention to this time?"
Hateful, beloved man.
Lucy gathered her shaky courage as best she
could, and turned to face him.
she hadn't. Seeing him was a blow. Hard, hot. Straight to her midsection.
in the doorway, his mocking gray eyes trained on her, the expression on his
implacable face grim. She was shocked anew by the power that emanated from him,
like an electrical current. It made him seem much bigger—broader and taller
than he already was—and he was dressed impeccably in a dark suit that clung to
his lean, strong body. He was like some lethal angel, she thought wildly, all
that ink-black hair and harsh black brows drawn low over his stormy eyes. She
shivered in helpless reaction and her traitorous heart stuttered in her chest.
She bit at her lower lip.
exactly will you go?" His voice seemed to caress her even as it taunted
her, moving over her like silk. She shifted on her feet, and wished he did not
have the power to do this to her—to make her fidget as if she were an errant
care?" She threw the words back at him. But, sadly, she already knew the
"I am an
extraordinarily busy man," he said, his voice harder. Darker. His gray
eyes connected with hers. She caught her breath. "I do not have time to
dance attendance on you simply because you are having another one of your
little attention-seeking fits. My aide told me this was an emergency."
aide tells you whatever he thinks you want to hear," Lucy said, unable to
keep the bitterness from her voice. She thought of all the calls she'd made to
Rafi that had been blocked by his aide, Safir, of the man's snide and smug
tone, of all her messages that she suspected had never been delivered at all.
But Rafi would hear no word against Safir, and certainly not from her. "He
is an excellent gatekeeper, and no doubt keeps you adequately protected from
anything you might not like. You chose him well."
appreciate the vote of confidence in my business decisions." His voice was
sarcastic. Cool. It made her throat ache with tears she would not shed, words
she dared not say. "But I still don't see anything that I would classify
as an emergency."
He moved into
the room, and Lucy regretted suddenly that she was already standing with her
back to the wall of windows. There was nowhere else to go. She swallowed and
felt her pulse race, as if she were nothing more than prey. He stalked toward
her, dangerous and male, and Lucy could do nothing but watch him and pretend
she didn't wish for all the things she could never have. That she knew she
shouldn't even want. Not with him.
depends on your definition of an emergency," she said, as he drew close
and loomed over her, making heat bloom in her cheeks—and in other, secret
places. "It is Christmas, after all. And your wife is leaving you. Some
men might consider that an emergency."
see a head wound," he said, his voice that same sardonic lash, his eyes
flicking over her, cold and cruel. "No trauma of any kind. You appear to
be in perfect health, Lucy. As ever. And for this I raced home from
For a moment
she couldn't speak. His fingers rose, almost brushing against the skin of her
cheek, making her want to weep. It had been so long since he'd touched her.
had been so long.
But she couldn't let herself think about that. About the
sweet madness of his kiss, his touch. Of the incandescent heights she had never
dared dream of before this man had taken her there.
his hand. She told herself he had no doubt meant to check for a fever.
surprised you remembered this place at all," she managed to say, calling
on some deep well of determination and courage she hadn't known she possessed.
That he had forced her to find. "You haven't been here in so long I had
begun to think you'd forgotten about it entirely."
your flair for the melodramatic is with you still," he said evenly, his
gaze hard on hers. "What do you really want, Lucy? What is the purpose of
all this theater?"
you," she snapped at him. "I'm leaving you, Rafi. And unlike you, I
am not doing it the cowardly way—by inference. I'm not making sure to be 'away
on business' for the better part of three months. I'm not going to make you sit
what it means when I disappear, or take exactly one phone
call from you and then be
ever after. I'm saying it to your
face. Right now."
His dark eyes
moved over her, and his mouth twisted.
just call me a coward, Lucy?" he asked, his voice deceptively light as his
jaw knotted—warning signs she knew she should heed. "Did I hear that
correctly? Shall I share with you my thoughts regarding pots versus
your wife, Rafi," she ventured. "And yet you haven't set foot in this
house in months. You refuse my calls. Your horrible aide speaks to me as if I'm
part fractious child and part evil, scheming witch."
your rendition of the neglected, sorely abused wife?" Rafi interrupted
coldly, his brows raised. "The performance needs work. And an audience
unaware of the truth."
like you!" Lucy cried, unable to control herself, to keep all of her
misery at bay. Not when she could feel the heat of him—see the light at the
back of those mysterious, impossible eyes. "I can't
Rafi let out
something resembling a laugh, hollow and frozen.
contrary," he said, shaking his head slightly, his gaze trained on her
face—making her feel so small, so alone. "All you do is pretend."
the liar you've convinced yourself I am, Rafi!" she hissed at him. "I
never have been!"
He was too
close, then. His eyes like fire, his mouth a grim, condemning line.
every lie you've ever told, Lucy," he said. "And most of them to me.
You should just count yourself lucky that I have a particular weakness for the
lie of your body."
care what lies you think I've told you," Lucy said bravely.
admired her. Almost.
doesn't matter anyway," she continued. "I'm still leaving you. I
should have done it a long time ago."
She looked so
small. So fragile. Her arms were crossed over her chest as if she were holding
herself together by sheer force of will. Her coffee-colored eyes were huge and
dark beneath her pale blond curls, giving her the look of an innocent.
That was her
deepest deception, the one that he had believed so fiercely no matter what
those closest to him—including all of his staff and Safir—had told him when
he'd first fallen under her spell. No matter what proof they'd claimed to have
of her manipulative ways.
phone call three months ago when she had revealed the truth in that hollow,
shameless way, and he had been more devastated than he could remember ever
thought he still was.
away from his wife before he did something he would regret. Like taste her
again. Hadn't that been what had caused all this trouble in the first place?
He was a man
who prided himself on his rigid code, his steely commitment to his duty. He
lived for his name, his honor, his family and the responsibilities that were
his by virtue of being the oldest male Qaderi of his generation. His cousin
Adel might have been the current king's chosen successor, but Rafi was charged
with making sure the future king's family maintained its wealth and power, the
better to serve and support Adel when he ascended the throne. Rafi considered
it an honor.
that, he was a man hewn of the very mountains of Alakkul itself, like his
ancestors before him. Many empires had tried—and failed—to take this little
valley, to use it for their own ends. But Alakkulians did not bend. They did
not break. Rafi felt the truth of that like the very blood that ran through his
veins, marking him, defining him.
And then one
day he'd glanced up at a cocktail waitress in a club in Manchester, England,
and lost his head. Lost himself. It was those damned eyes, soft and vulnerable,
over a mouth that made him hard every time he looked at it. Even now.
And what a
pretty mess she'd made of him, hadn't she?
it's important to you to believe the worst of me," she said, her voice
clipped, color flooding her porcelain cheeks. "After all, how better to
excuse your own appalling behavior?"
behavior?" Temper pounded through him, threaded with that desire for her
that never left him, no matter how much distance he put between them. He bit
out a laugh. "I'm sure that in your mind, your deceit and betrayal is as
nothing." He held her gaze until her skin reddened. "Unfortunately
for you, Lucy, I live in the real world."
they were too close when his hands found their way to her upper arms, holding
her there. He let go as if electrocuted. But he could not dismiss the beguiling
satin feel of her skin as easily. He let his eyes travel over her.
It took a
moment, but the difference in her appearance filtered through. She
looked…perfectly appropriate. Her messy curls were tamed into a chignon, which
only drew his attention to her mouth. The dress itself was exquisite, tailored
to showcase her femininity without broadcasting her sensuality.
He felt a
pang in the vicinity of his chest, but thrust it aside. She had been all bold colors,
garish and exotic, when he'd brought her here. Hadn't that been what had lured
him in when he'd met her, in the midst of all that British rain? Her artless
delight. Her simplicity.
course, that had all been a lie, too. Hadn't it? He shouldn't mourn its loss.
He should be pleased that his uncultured wife had bettered herself in his
absence and now more closely suited the image of what his wife should be. So
why did he want to thrust his fingers into her hair and shake it from its
bonds, see it wild and free?
in costume?" he asked, without knowing he meant to speak. He indicated her
clothes with a jerk of his chin. "You almost appear to be what you are
not. The dutiful wife appropriate to my station."
as if he'd slapped her and he felt as if he had, vile and low. Hot, red heat
washed over her face, and her full lower lip trembled, but she did not bow her
head. She did not look away from him, though he saw the hurt in her brown eyes.
Rafi hated himself. But that never seemed to be enough to tamp down the poison
inside of him, the great swell of bitterness and rage at what she'd done to
him. He feared it defined him.
delight in being cruel," she said, her words too careful, as if they cost
her. "But I am not going to stand here and be your punching bag. I wanted
to tell you I was leaving you to your face, assuming I ever saw it again, and
now I have." She pulled in a shaky breath, and her mouth twisted slightly.