’ Jasim countered with distinct derision.
Elinor counted to ten and said nothing. From the corner of her eye she noted that Jasim was still regarding her with expectancy. Having cut off her opinion at the knees, he still wanted to know what had made her think that his father might be trying to mend fences with him. Amused, she held her peace. She still found it extraordinary that Jasim was so volatile beneath that sober, serious exterior of his.
Beneath the safe surface, he had an explosive temper and he seethed with dark, deep emotion. At some stage, however, he had learned to suppress those feelings and make self-discipline and duty his twin gods to be obeyed. Sometimes she marvelled at how controlled he was, rarely showing emotion except in unguarded moments or when he thought he was unobserved. She had first seen the cracks in his smooth outer surface when he played with Sami.
His love and pride for their son shone out. With Sami, Jasim relaxed, and when he played with their little boy he discarded his reserve and dignity. Sami was very much an energetic boys’ boy and he made a beeline for Jasim whenever he saw him. In fact every time Elinor saw her child in his father’s arms she knew that she had made the right decision when she had decided to give her marriage another chance. Sami adored his father.
And Elinor had come to appreciate that she adored Jasim too, although she was a little more critical than Sami was. But there was no denying that the love she had once refused to acknowledge now ruled inside her, for Jasim had made a great deal of effort to ensure that she was amazingly happy. The guy who was waited on hand and foot, and whose staff revered him for his interest in their more humble lives, brought her breakfast in bed almost every morning. Her eyes sparkled. Once he had fed her to restore her energy he often got back into bed as well. No complaints there, she thought, getting a little breathless just stealing a glance at her handsome husband.
While they had been sent to the villa for privacy, daily flights came in carrying government ministers and courtiers. Jasim was consulted about just about everything that happened in Quaram. She had once read that a man could be judged by the company he kept and, in Jasim, she saw the evidence of that. His opinions were held in high regard, his gravity admired, and everyone was delighted that he now had a wife and child.
‘But what must people think about us after that wedding when we already had a baby?’ Elinor had asked anxiously during their first week at the villa.
‘They think that I married you without my father’s permission and kept quiet about you until it was safe to bring you out into the open after Murad’s death. While disrespect towards a father is a serious matter, the romance of forbidden love, a secret marriage abroad and a baby son win that contest hands down,’ Jasim had explained with unhidden amusement. ‘Our second wedding here in Quaram was regarded as a sign of my father’s approval and acceptance.’
Since their arrival, he had taken her on several trips into the desert where they had enjoyed the hospitality of the local tribesmen in villages and in goatskin tents. He was very well informed and often in demand to settle disputes. He could sit hour after hour with the tribal elders and listen patiently to arguments, such as what was the correct compensation to be paid for a goat that had strayed into a herb garden, and still give the matter his full attention. She had sat in the back of the tent with the women and children drinking strong sweet tea while a television running off a car battery supplied the entertainment. In the process she had also become hopelessly addicted to a madly melodramatic Quarami soap full of sobbing women, swashbuckling men and disaster.
One evening it had rained and he had taken her out the next day to see the amazing sheets of beautiful wild flowers that had come up overnight on the sand. Her pale skin burned easily in the sun and he was assiduous in ensuring that she was slathered in sunscreen and covered up when the light fell on her. She felt safe with him, cared for, appreciated, she acknowledged reflectively as she dismounted from her horse at the stables.
‘I should have told you about my mother before this,’ Jasim admitted without warning over breakfast. ‘It is easier for you to hear such a story from me than to embarrass someone else with questions.’
‘It’s not that unusual a story, though,’ Elinor told him gently.
‘It is in Quaram, particularly in the history of my family.’ Lean, strong face taut, Jasim frowned. ‘My father was a widower in his fifties when he met her. She was the daughter of a Swiss doctor and half his age. He fell in love with her and married her very quickly. By the time I was born two years later, I understand the relationship was already under strain as she disliked the restricted life she led here.’
Elinor stopped eating to listen. ‘And then?’
‘She met another man when she was visiting her family. There was an affair which my father discovered and she fled, leaving me behind. She married her lover. I never had any contact with her.’
Elinor frowned. ‘Did you ever try to have contact?’
‘No, nor did she ever try to contact me. She married several times, had no more children and died a few years ago. I don’t think she had a maternal streak. I had no cause to thank her for anything other than the gift of life,’ Jasim proffered. ‘My father couldn’t bear to look at me—the son of the woman who had humiliated him in the eyes of our whole country. He sent me off to a military school abroad as soon as he could.’
‘That was cruel!’
‘He once told me that he was concerned that I might have inherited my mother’s moral weakness. Some years later, however, I learned the true reason why my father rejected me. He feared I might not be his child and I was DNA-tested without my knowledge as soon as the tests first became available.’
Elinor shook her head, distressed by what she was finding out about his disturbed and unhappy childhood. ‘How could he be so blind? You look so like him.’
‘A physical likeness was not enough to satisfy a man tortured by his suspicions.’
‘He punished you for your mother’s desertion!’ she proclaimed with angry heat.
Jasim shrugged a broad shoulder in a dismissive gesture. ‘If that is what he did, it was not deliberate for he is not a vengeful man. I was the unfortunate casualty of a broken marriage and his bitterness. No one has the power to remake the past.’
But that afternoon when King Akil arrived for his third visit, Elinor was convinced that Jasim’s father was finally trying to bridge that difficult past with his only surviving son. Unfortunately the older man was too proud and Jasim too accustomed to maintaining formal relations for any advance to be easily made. Elinor remained troubled by the awareness that Jasim had been denied the love and affection of both his parents as well as being exiled to a foreign school as a child to toughen up. She saw the proof of his sad upbringing in the warm affection he continually poured on their son. She was now also wondering if he had ever been in love with any woman or if, indeed, he had the smallest idea of what that kind of love would feel like. Certainly there was nothing in his past experience likely to encourage him to trust a woman enough to love her. Jasim, Elinor recognised then, was likely to prove a long-term project in the love stakes.
In the heat of the afternoon, Elinor often lay down for a nap. She was undressing when Jasim strolled into the bedroom. As he came to a halt, dark golden eyes openly engaged in appreciating the picture she made in a turquoise satin bra and knickers, she went pink.
‘I was about to invite you for a swim,’ Jasim husked, moving closer and turning her round to fold her back against his long powerful body in a confident movement. ‘But you might burn in the water and I would prefer to burn you with the fire of my passion in here.’
He eased her rounded breasts free of the satin cups and stroked the straining pink nipples between his fingers. A tiny clenching sensation in her groin made her gasp, feel the race of arousal flame through her while he brushed her hair off the nape of her neck to press his mouth there. She quivered, arching her spine and moaning as his clever fingers teased the tender skin between her thighs. His
touch burned through the taut, damp fabric stretched there and with a sound of impatience he stripped the knickers off, bracing her against the side of the bed and parting her legs.
Trembling with wanton eagerness, she heard him unzip his jeans and waited. He drove into her hot wet sheath with molten urgency and an earthy groan of deep satisfaction.
‘You are perfect for me, aziz,’ he told her hungrily, his hands taking advantage of her position to knead her lush nipples and torment the tiny sensitive bud below her mound.