Dangerous pleasure, p.21
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       Dangerous Pleasure, p.21
 

         Part #12 of Bound Hearts series by Lora Leigh
Page 21

 

  Anwar had been Jafar’s older brother by several years. A full brother that Jafar had idolized as a child. He had also been the heir to a third of the Mustafa province and had been petitioning the regime to reacquire the property with a vow that it would be run as the family of Mustafa had vowed to run it centuries before.

  Paige knew both Khalid and Abram were still certain Azir and his sons, Ayid and Aman, were behind his death.

  Chalah moved to the table and leaned against it as Paige watched her quietly for several moments.

  “Why are you telling me this?” Paige asked her warily. “Wouldn’t Jafar be upset?”

  Chalah’s expression sobered. “If he knew, then he would be very upset, and f Azir ever learned I told you anything, then he would most surely have me stoned,” she revealed heavily. “But I don’t think I have to worry about you telling anyone but Abram, do I?”

  “Then Azir has known all along that Abram and Khalid weren’t estranged,” she whispered, her stomach pitching sickeningly.

  “I don’t know how long he’s known, but Jafar has known for several years. Just as he’s known that Abram and Tariq have had a lover to share each time they’ve been to the U. S. ” Chalah’s gaze was curious now. “Was it you?”

  Paige nearly choked on her own mocking laughter. “Khalid had a cow when he caught Abram kissing me. Do you really think I could have gotten away with anything else?”

  “Knowing Khalid?” Chalah’s brows lifted. “It is rather doubtful. ”

  And Chalah knew Khalid. Not as well as Paige did, and certainly not as a lover, but one of the young women Azir had bought Khalid years ago for a personal harem, attended the same college with Chalah, and the two girls had socialized often.

  Chalah was considered a friend, as well as a cousin to Khalid, and he had made it plain more than once that if she ever needed anything then he had no problem helping her out.

  Watching Chalah closely now, Paige still had a hard time believing the other girl was here, or that she seemed to be willing to help.

  “Why are you telling me this, Chalah?” Paige asked wearily, not bothering to hide her suspicion now. “By your own words, the brother who has spoiled you all your life might allow you to be stoned, or murdered for giving me this information. Why would you risk that?”

  “Because you would do it for me,” Chalah said softly, her honey-gold eyes filling with pain. “And Khalid would do it for me. But even more importantly, for Jafar. Because if anything happens to you and Abram, and Jafar ever realizes the mistake he’s made, then it will kill him. Protecting him from himself is the only way I can help him at this point. ”

  “Even if you have to face being murdered by your brother? By your uncle?”

  Chalah sighed heavily. “It isn’t murder here, Paige, not to these people or to this land. And not to Jafar or Azir. Betrayal isn’t tolerated, especially by a woman, and Jafar and Azir both would see it as an unforgiveable betrayal. ”

  “And you would risk that for me, Abram, and Khalid?” Paige asked her again. “I’m having a hard time believing that. ”

  Chalah wasn’t lying to her. She knew too many truths, understood the situation too clearly. But was she really trying to help, or in someway lead Abram into a trap?

  “Really?” Chalah drawled as she crossed one ankle over the other and tilted her head to the side. “Why else would I return to this sun-baked wasteland but to try to help your stubborn ass? Have you really forgotten how much I hate this place, Paige?”

  Paige shook her head as she kept a careful eye on the other woman. “We’ve been friends for a long time, Chalah. ” She sighed. “But Jafar is your brother, and I know you love him. ”

  “And I do love him. ” Chalah nodded sharply. “But Jafar is wrong, Paige, and I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you because of him. And I feel guilty,” she whispered miserably. “I knew he was up to something when he called and asked me if I knew why you weren’t at your apartment any longer and if I had heard where you were staying. I should have called you then. I should have warned you he was looking for you. ”

  But would it have really changed things? Would she have taken the situation even less seriously than she already had simply because she thought she could trust Jafar?

  Paige lifted her hand to rub at her temple again as she watched Chalah thoughtfully. Everything she knew of the other girl told her that Chalah was being honest. That she was simply trying to help.

  “I don’t have to agree with my brother to love him, Paige,” she said regretfully. “And loving him doesn’t mean I have to let him get away with what he’s doing to you and Abram. ”

  “And how do you think you can help?” Paige sighed as she paced to the table and sat down wearily. “Neither of us have enough power here to protect ourselves, let alone our brothers. And you know that as well as I do. You should go home and be safe. If anything happens to you, you’re only going to make Abram feel as though it were his fault. He has enough on his conscience. ”

  “And you think Jafar won’t have enough on his conscience when he realizes the mistake he’s made?” Chalah hissed back at her, her expressive eyes burning with anger. “I came here to help, Paige. To help my brother and yours, as well as Abram. I need to know what to do. ”

  Paige’s eyes rounded in surprise. “And you think I’d know what the hell you can do?” she whispered fiercely. “For God’s sake Chalah, I haven’t been out of these rooms since the day I came here. I have no idea what the hell is going on or how to help anyone. I don’t even see Abram until after dark, and when I do see him, he’s exhausted. So why don’t you tell me what I could do. ”

  Chalah stared back at her in dismay. Then her jaw tightened and she stomped to the end of the couch before turning back in frustration.

  “There has to be something, Paige. ”

  Paige gave her head a quick shake as she kept her voice low. “Go home. Go back to school. If Abram has to worry about protecting you as well as me, then it’s only going to fracture his attention further. He can’t afford that right now. ”

  And she couldn’t afford it. Losing Abram would kill her, especially if she lost him because of his affection, his connection—whatever the hell it was—to her.

  He had come back to Saudi Arabia rather than defecting as he’d planned after the deaths of his brothers.

  He’d been forced to return to Saudi Arabia as a personal favor to the Saudi Arabian ambassador to take pictures of suspected terrorists. When he’d managed to get back to the U. S. , he’d had to return again because of the threat to her.

  He couldn’t seem to break away from the bloody legacy his father was creating here, or the threat of death that resulted from the pleasure he found in sharing his lover sexually.

  “Jafar didn’t used to be like this. ” Chalah sighed in regret as her lips trembled with the painful emotion she was feeling. “He wanted to be an American. He wanted to have the freedom to do as he wished, as Khalid did, as he knew Abram did. ”

  “He knew Abram wanted to defect to the U. S. ?” Paige asked.

  “Paige. ” Chalah stared back at her in bemusement. “Abram, Tariq, Jafar, and several other cousins planned to defect together. It’s been their plan since Abram’s first wife, Lessa, was murdered by Ayid and Aman. Jafar has always known his plans, because they made them together. ”

  “And Jafar would know exactly how to block every move Abram made. ” She sighed.

  “But Abram knows what Jafar is aware of,” Chalah pointed out. “It’s some sort of battle between them. ” The other girl frowned in confusion. “And I can’t understand what started it or why they are at odds with each other. ”

  It was the same problem Paige had, trying to figure out what had changed Jafar since the last time she had seen him. She had been vacationing with her parents in Greece, three, perhaps four years before.

  As she watched, Chalah’s
expression turned somber.

  “Jafar was a good man once, wasn’t he, Paige?” she whispered, grief flashing in her eyes for just a moment.

  Paige looked away for a second wondering if she should lie, of if she should tell Chalah how she felt in regards to good men.

  “Men are what they are,” she finally said softly. “They’re either born mostly good, or they’re born mostly bad, just like anyone else is, Chalah. But the bad is always there, and for most men, the good is always there as well. ”

  “For most men?” Chalah asked with bitterness. Paige could see the need in her eyes for an affirmation that there was a chance that her brother wasn’t mostly, or even worse, fully bad.

  “Sometimes, some men are always bad,” she said gently. “And then, there are those good men, those really really good men, Chalah, who just want everyone to think they’re bad for whatever reason. ”

  “And then,” Chalah whispered, tears filling her eyes. “There are those really bad men who are really good at making some people think they’re good. ”

  Paige dropped her eyes and crossed her arms over her breasts to hold back the pain she felt for the other girl, to hold back her need to comfort her.

  She hadn’t decided yet, was Chalah the young woman she had once known? The future pediatrician with a gentle, loving heart, or was she one of those people everyone thought was good, but who for whatever reason, knew the evil inside her personally?

  She lifted her eyes as Chalah sighed heavily. “Go home, Chalah,” she said softly. “If you really want to help Abram, if you really want to help Jafar, then go home. ”

  “Because you don’t trust me, and if you don’t trust me, then neither will Abram,” Chalah guessed.

  “It has nothing to do with trust, Chalah, and everything to do with the fact that from the sound of it, you know more than I do about the entire situation. And I think you know that if you talk to Abram, then he’s going to tell you the same thing I did. Go home. ”

  Tears glittered in her eyes. “They’re my family, Paige. They’re all I have left. ”

  What the hell could she say? She knew exactly how she felt. After the death of her uncle when she was still a teenager she only had her parents and Khalid left, and she’d always been aware of the crosshairs Azir Mustafa kept the family under.

  She’d always been aware that any time, she could either be dead, or alone.

  As her lips parted to attempt to comfort the other girl, the sound of a heavy knock on the door sliced through the room, causing both women to jump, and Chalah’s eyes to flash with fear.

  A fear far stronger than she should have felt.

  “Chalah, it’s time to go. ” Jafar’s voice was far cold than it had been earlier.

  Paige swung her gaze around to the girl, and watched in fury as a tear slipped from the corner of her eye. Slowly, she lifted her hand to the medallion on the necklace she wore, turned it around, and showed Paige the device on the back of it.

  She’d seen enough television programs and read enough adventure-romance novels to know exactly what it was. An electronic listening device. And Chalah had waited until the last minute to show it to her.

  Paige straightened slowly, her arms dropping to her sides as she flashed Chalah a look of promised retribution. One way, some way, she would repay her for this.

  Go home! she mouthed. Now!

  Because if she ever saw the younger girl again then she would ensure Chalah knew exactly how completely severed their friendship was.

  Jerking the scarf around her head, neck, and finally tucking it around her face until nothing but her eyes showed, she moved with jerky fury to the door and wrenched it open.

  Chalah had only just managed to pull the abaya back on and secure the mesh over her eyes when Paige found herself facing the stone-hard, pale-eyed monster that watched her with calculating eyes.
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