Saturday, 22 November 2008
Cassie's Sheikh /Linda sole/ Red Rose Publishing
Cassie's Sheikh is available in ebook from www.redrosepublishing.com and www.fictionwise.com and will soon be available from www.amazon.com in print!
Kasim hates scandal magazines and people who work for them so what chance does Cassie have of convincing him that her father's racign stables is the right place for him to bring his horses?
Enjoy the excerpt!
"If she's the bitch I imagine she must be, there is no way I shall let my uncle place his horses at her father's stable," Kasim said. "It would be the worst thing he could do."
"But you don't know that," Ben Harrison, his friend, constant companion, and lawyer told him. "She may be a perfectly pleasant woman for all you know."
"A woman who writes for one of those filthy rags?" Kasim's eyes flashed with scorn. His face had the proud, regal lines of his ancestors, the bones angled beneath his olive-toned skin, but his eyes told another story. They were a deep brilliant blue, testimony to his mixed parentage, for he was the son of a desert Sheikh and the beautiful blonde and blue-eyed daughter of an American millionaire.
"Maybe she just does it for a living."
The angles of Kasim's face hardened. "Don't try to make excuses for her, Ben. I've had experience with her kind, remember?"
"Yes, of course I remember," Ben replied. "But you shouldn't jump to conclusions. You were all set for this deal until you found out that Josh's daughter worked for that magazine."
"My uncle thinks it is the best place available," Kasim said. "So I shall keep an open mind, but I want to see what they're like on a normal working day, not when everything is cleaned up for inspection."
"Shall I come with you?"
"Not today." Kasim's face relaxed into an affectionate smile, the angles softened as he looked at the man he trusted more than any other. "If I decide to go any further, we'll keep our appointment tomorrow—but today will be my little surprise."
Cassie rushed out into the hall as she heard the commotion, feeling concerned as she saw everyone gathered about her father. Her mother turned to look at her anxiously.
"Your father thinks his ankle may be broken, Cassie."
"Oh, Dad," Cassie said. "Does it hurt badly?"
"Pretty bad," Josh Livingston said, grimacing. "It may mean I'm stuck in hospital for a few days, and you know who's coming tomorrow, don't you?"
"An important client," Cassie and her mother echoed each other.
Cassie understood what was going through his mind. Josh ran a small but successful racing stable in Newmarket, but the owner who had kept a string of horses with them for the past several years was about to retire from the business.
"Maybe they will let you out, Josh," Helen Livingston said, without really believing it. "You may not have to stay in hospital."
"But what if I do? Who is going to explain the way we work here to our visitor? Joe is great with the horses, but he hates getting involved with owners. It's the reason he doesn't work for himself."
"I suppose I could try…" Helen said doubtfully. "If you helped me, Cassie?"
Cassie hesitated for a moment. She was meant to be back in London the next day, and they had a magazine to get out—but she was due a few days leave and she could email her stuff through to the office.
"Yes, of course. If Dad thinks I'm up to it?" She grinned, tossing back her long pale hair, her greenish-blue eyes sparking with mischief. "You know I'm a walking minefield, Dad—dare you risk it?"
"It looks as if I may have to. This ankle is pretty awful, Cas. Try not to say or do anything daft when Mr. Ahmed comes, won't you?"
"You mean like calling him the Sheikh of Araby and wearing my harem costume?"
"Cassie!" her mother cried, horrified. "Please don't joke about this, darling. Your father has enough to worry him."
"It's all right, Cas doesn't mean it. I know you'll both do your best, but you're too like me, Cas—you'll probably fall flat on your backside just as you go to shake his hand," her father said.
"Shake the Sheikh's hand," Cassie said irrepressibly. "I think I could make up a little song about that…"
"Please spare me," her father begged. "That sounds like the ambulance outside, love." He looked at his wife. "I think I shall need a chair."
"Yes, of course. Stay where you are, Josh."
As his wife hurried out, he looked at his daughter. "You know your mother hates horses, Cas, always has. She can't bear to go near them. I sometimes wonder how she has managed to live with me all this time."
"Because she adores you," Cassie said and smiled at him affectionately. "And because you treat her as if she were special, Dad. Not many women are lucky enough to find a man like that, and Mum knows a good thing when she sees it."
"Bless you, love. I'm relying on you to charm Mr. Ahmed, Cas. He can be a pleasant chap, but they say he is hard to please when it comes to business and we need his horses. Tell him that we shall be able to devote ourselves to his string by next month, and that we are very stringent about security, also discreet—that is important to him. He hates newspapers and magazines…"
"Pity about that," Cassie said. "I might have gained Brownie points with Maggie if I'd been able to get an interview for our rag."
"Mr. Ahmed wouldn't be seen dead in your rag," her father said. "Whatever you do, don't tell him you work for Stars & Their Lives or he will be gone so fast we shan't see the dust."
"I was only teasing, Dad," Cassie said, and for once her famous grin was missing. "I do know how much this means to you, and I promise I shall do my best to pull it off for you. I won't breathe a word about the magazine, and I shall tell him what a wonderful trainer you are. Not that I have to with your record. You had six winners last year and that surely speaks for itself."
"I haven't won a Classic for three years," her father said with a grimace. "That could all change with Mr. Ahmed's string—if he placed them with us."
"Yes, I know." Cassie looked at him curiously. "Why doesn't he like to be addressed by his title?"
"He is a very private man. He never allows photographs, and is furious if the press catches him anywhere but at a race meeting. He can't prevent that, of course, nor being addressed as Sheikh Ali bin Ahmed in public, but he prefers to keep a low profile in private."
"He's extremely rich, isn't he?"
"One of the richest of them all. The thing is that he…" Josh broke off as two ambulance men came in carrying a chair.
Cassie watched as her father was helped into the chair by the paramedics and taken outside, followed by his wife. Helen Livingston cast an agonized glance at her daughter as she left.
"You can manage, can't you, love? I may be with your father for the rest of the day. There are a few letters that need typing. You will find them on the desk in the office."
"Yes, of course," Cassie said. "Don't worry about anything here. I'll be all right until you come home, I promise."
And that was quite a promise, Cassie acknowledged after her parents had left in the ambulance. She had columns to write for the magazine, those letters for her father, and a routine tour of the yard, just to make sure she knew anything she ought to know before the arrival of the Sheikh of Araby the next day. A little giggle escaped her as she pictured him, looking much like Rudolph Valentino, the star of the silver screen in the twenties.
"That's enough of that, Cassandra," she told herself severely. She had no idea what Mr. Ahmed looked like. He could be thin and dashingly handsome or fat, boring, and ugly. And that wasn't important either. He was her father's one hope of keeping the stable going, because without him Josh would probably have to sell everything and that would break her father's heart. He had put so many years into this business.
A determined look came over Cassie's face. If she had anything to do with it, Mr. Ahmed was going to run straight to his lawyers and sign the contract even if she had to—what? Oh no, there were limits, she decided. She'd heard about some of these rich playboys, and the one thing she wasn't about to do was fall into bed with him!
But if Mr. Ahmed was the private businessman he claimed to be, he probably wouldn't be interested in her as a woman. Why should he? Cassie glanced at herself in the mirror and giggled. She wasn't exactly Miss Glamourpants, was she? Wearing her oldest jeans, a faded sweatshirt, her hair decidedly in need of a wash, she wouldn't exactly drive any man to madness with lust for her. That wasn't important. Tomorrow she would be wearing smart jodhpurs, her best riding boots, and her hair would be gleaming. But for the moment she had too much to do to worry about what she looked like!
She walked into her father's office and switched on his laptop. She was just about to insert a disc with the details of the articles she had prepared for The Stars & Their Lives when she heard a loud crunching sound and a car come to a screeching halt in the gravel outside her window. Now who on earth is that? she wondered, getting up to investigate. The car was a very expensive Mercedes sports model in metallic silver with a black leather interior, and the hood had been rolled back, which made it appear even racier.
Oh, no, it couldn't be! Cassie's heart sank as the man got out of the car, standing there in the sunshine for a moment. He was tall but not too tall, strong-looking with powerful shoulders and an air of assurance that made Cassie's heart plummet all the way down to her white, wedge mules. It had to be Mr. Ahmed! He was turning towards her now and her breath caught as she saw that he was better looking than any Sheikh she had seen in old movies on the TV screen. His hair was jet black with a bluish tinge in the sunlight and his eyes—were hidden behind his designer shades. His suit shouted Saville Row at her, his shoes obviously handmade and expensive.
What the hell was he doing here today? She felt like exploding as she glanced down at herself. She looked like something the cat had dragged in and felt worse. Oh, why couldn't he have kept to his appointment as arranged? There was no help for it, Cassie realized. She had to meet him as she was and grovel.
She went swiftly through to the front door, opening it seconds before he could ring the bell. He removed his glasses and looked at her, his eyes going over her slowly in a measured way that made her want to die. This man was used to having the best of everything—and no doubt that included women!—what must be going through his mind? He must think her a poor specimen.
Hang on a minute! Those eyes were blue, bright, clear and devastating. She had always thought men from the Middle Eastern countries had dark eyes—but his were startling. And she was staring like an idiot!
"I am so sorry," she said, offering her hand and smiling. "We weren't expecting you until tomorrow, sir. I'm afraid I'm not properly dressed for showing you round the yard, but I can find a pair of Wellington boots and then I'll be with you."
"And you are?" he asked, his brows rising. He did not immediately take the hand she offered, and she let it drop, feeling rejected. His voice had the quality of cut glass and Cassie shivered, her knees suddenly feeling as if they had the consistency of jelly. He was clearly a man of authority, and none too pleased by being met by someone who looked as if she'd been pulled backwards through a hedge. "I was expecting to meet Mr. Joshua Livingston—the owner of this stable I understand?"
"My father, yes, of course, sir," Cassie said, but her head went up and she refused to be cut down by the slash of his tone. His manner was sending shivers along the entire length of her spine, but she wasn't going to fail at the first fence. "Unfortunately, he had an accident this morning and had to go to hospital. Actually, there must have been some mix-up, Mr. Ahmed. I am so sorry to seem at a loss, but we weren't expecting you until tomorrow."
"So, you are Miss Livingston?" he said and appeared to be considering, his eyes surveying her with a calculating coldness. "And you are offering yourself in your father's place?"
"It might seem a poor substitute," Cassie admitted. "I'm not a trainer, but I've been around horses all my life and I love them. I don't have my father's expert knowledge, but I know a great deal about the way he runs the stable—and his head groom, Joe Green, will be glad to tell you anything that I can't, sir."
"Mr. Ahmed will do," he said, and his mouth relaxed slightly. She thought he might have been laughing at her, and for a moment her heart did a giddy somersault, but he had replaced his glasses and it was impossible to tell. "Do you think you could find those boots, Miss Livingston? I shall be calling on you officially tomorrow, but I decided to drive myself down early and take a quick look round this morning. I like to see things as they are, not specially tidied up for my benefit."
"Yes, of course, sir," Cassie said and opened the door of the hall cupboard, taking out the Wellingtons her mother used for gardening. They were a bright turquoise, and really little bootees rather than the sensible boots she would have chosen given time, but at least they fit. "I hope you won't allow this little misunderstanding to put you off my father's stable. He really is an excellent trainer."
"If I didn't know that I should not be here." He glanced at his watch—gold, fabulously expensive—and then at her. "I have just thirty minutes before I have to fly back to a meeting in London."
"You came all this way for half an hour?"
Cassie couldn't help being fascinated. There was something about him that she found stimulating, a raw masculinity that she had seldom met with in the men she knew, his mouth curiously sensual despite his aura of power and disdain.
"I assure you it was nothing. I would go much further on…important business. Indeed, I often do, and few of my meetings last longer than thirty minutes. I am a busy man, Miss Livingston."
"Yes, of course."
Cassie felt like a wilting rose under his withering stare. She was babbling like a fool, and that wasn't really like her. In her real life, apart from the odd accident, like knocking over her diet drink and ruining her copy, she was confident, vibrant and one of the best journalists on Maggie's staff. But she mustn't even think the word. This man could probably read her mind—oh, she did hope not, and not just because she was a journalist. She couldn't help thinking that Maggie would drool over this one, if only she could get photos—preferably of him wearing something less than his smart silk suit. She watched as he bent to remove his own shoes and replace them with a pair of riding boots that had seen a certain amount of wear, noticing the way his jacket pulled tight across his shoulders for a moment. The body under that suit had to be something special!
"Shall we go then?"
His abrupt question broke into her thoughts, bringing her sharply to heel. Stop dreaming of sunlit beaches, iced drinks, and fabulous men in bathing shorts, Cassie Livingston, and get on with the job at hand.
She switched into professional mode as they walked from the house to the yard. It was a matter of only a few minutes, but the walk was pretty with the blossom trees just beginning to drop their flowers, and the sound of birdsong all around them. She told him of her father's love of horses, the way he could often tell what was the matter with a sick horse just by looking and watching, and how he had saved his previous owner thousands of pounds by working with one particular horse they had all adored.
"The vet said we ought to have Jester put down," Cassie said, her voice warm and enthusiastic, "but Dad wouldn't hear of it. He nursed Jester himself, slept there every night for weeks until my mother threatened to divorce him—but it was worth it in the end."
"Why—did the horse win a race for you?"
"No, but it sired a colt that won for someone else," Cassie said. "Besides, the very fact that Dad made Jester well again was worth all the trouble, wasn't it?"
"Was it?" His voice was clipped, precise, slashing at her like a scimitar. "It would probably have been more economic to have the horse put down in the first place."
"But totally cruel!" Cassie cried, infuriated that he could suggest such a thing. "I hope my father would never think that the better option."
"I was merely putting the point," Mr. Ahmed said coldly, his eyes raking over her. "There is no need to jump on me as if I had suggested murder."
Cassie took a deep breath, counting to ten before speaking. Had she been free to behave as she wished, she might have turned on her heel and left him standing there. He might be the most totally fascinating man she had ever seen, but he was also infuriating. Unfortunately, her father was desperate for a new owner, and the only one to profess an interest was this man. She swallowed her pride.
"Forgive me. I did not intend to be rude."
"Did you not? I would not like to hear you when that was your intention, Miss Livingston."
Cassie clamped down on a sassy retort, giving him what she hoped was a conciliatory smile. "It was just that we all loved Jester so very much."
"I had thought you meant that your father would do as much for any horse if it was sick?"
"Yes, of course he would!"
"I am relieved to hear it. I should not consider placing my…horses with anyone who was not prepared to put themselves to extra trouble to nurse a horse that needed it."
Cassie did a quick stock-take of her thoughts. Just what was he doing here? Had he deliberately set a trap for her? She paused for a moment, giving him one of her Cassandra looks. A look that her work colleagues knew well, though her parents and friends had rarely seen it.
"I hope you don't think I am a silly, sentimental woman, Mr. Ahmed. I assure you that I have my wits about me. I care for all animals, not just horses, but if I loved an animal that could not be helped I should immediately send for a vet to put it down."
"Indeed? How practical you are," he said and the look he gave her was deliberately provoking. "I thought for a moment that I had discovered that rare thing these days—a tender-hearted woman."
Oh, damn him! He was determined to turn everything she said on its head, and she had a dawning suspicion that he was laughing at her. Not that there was a trace of it in his expression, his mouth firmly set in disapproving lines, and of course his eyes were hidden.
"Tenderness should be reserved for the right moment, Mr. Ahmed."
"Yes, I believe that is very true," he replied. "I have very little use for it myself—except at the right moment."
If only she could see his eyes! Cassie was sure that he was thoroughly enjoying himself at her expense, and she was quite certain that she knew exactly what he meant by the right moment. Thinking about what he would feel was a moment for tenderness was making her knees go wobbly again. Oh, hell, this wasn't the time to start having fantasies about a man with beautifully tanned skin and a body to die for!
Posted by Linda Sole at 01:46