Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest(2)

By: Chantelle Shaw

The rescue had been dramatic—and just in time. Once Kadir had realised the yacht was sinking, everything had happened so quickly. He hadn’t had time to feel fear, but for a few seconds he had pictured himself galloping across a golden desert on his black stallion Baha’, and his heart had ached for what would become of the kingdom his father had entrusted to him.

But, like a miracle, out of the dark sky had appeared a shining light, and he had heard the distinctive whump-whump of helicopter rotor blades. Kadir had flown in a helicopter many times, and as he’d clung to the rigging of his wrecked yacht being battered by forty-foot waves he had recognised the skill and bravery of the pilot flying the coastguard rescue chopper in the worsening gale.

He knew that he and his crew had been lucky to survive. But the two young sailors who had crewed for him since the start of the race in the Canary Islands were suffering from hypothermia and were in a bad way. As Kadir watched them being wheeled across the helipad, frustration surged through him. His clothes were wet and stiff with sea salt and the wind whipping across the helipad chilled him to his bones. He lifted a hand to his throbbing head and felt a swelling the size of an egg on his temple.

The coastguard paramedic gave him a worried look. ‘Sir, please lie down on the stretcher and one of the medical staff will take you down to the A&E department so that your injuries can be treated.’

‘I’m fine; I can walk,’ Kadir said impatiently. ‘It’s my crew who I’m concerned about. I wish you had followed my instructions and rescued them first. They got too cold because they were in the sea for so long. You should have winched them up onto the helicopter before you rescued me.’

‘I was under instructions to rescue injured casualties first and it was obvious that you had sustained a possibly serious head injury,’ the paramedic explained.

‘My crew were my responsibility,’ Kadir argued. He was interrupted by another voice.

‘I hardly think you are in a position to question the professional judgement of a member of the coastguard team when it was your poor judgement in deciding to sail in atrocious weather that put your crew in danger.’

Frowning, Kadir turned towards the person who had jumped down from the helicopter cockpit. Like the other members of the rescue team, the figure was wearing a bulky jumpsuit, but as they removed their flight helmet Kadir’s confusion grew.

‘Who are you?’ he demanded.

‘Flight Captain Lexi Howard. I was in charge of the rescue operation. The helicopter crew acted under my instructions, which were to winch up injured casualties first.’

‘You’re...a woman!’

The instant the words left his lips Kadir realised he had made a crass fool of himself. There was a crowd of people standing on the helipad—medical staff and a team of firemen, who were required to be present whenever a helicopter landed at the hospital, and everyone fell silent and stared at him.

He could blame his shocked reaction to the female helicopter pilot on his recent trauma of nearly drowning, and also on the fact that—despite the new laws and policy changes he was gradually trying to introduce—gender equality was still a relatively new concept in his country, the isolated desert kingdom of Zenhab. But it was obvious from the pilot’s icy expression that any excuse Kadir might offer for his tactless comment would not be well received.

‘Full marks for observation,’ the Flight Captain said drily. ‘If the fact that I’m a woman bothers you so much I could always drop you back in the sea where I found you and your crew.’

The reminder of the two injured sailors reignited Kadir’s sense of frustration that he was not in charge of the situation. He was used to making decisions and having them obeyed without question, and he was struggling to accept that in this instance the female Flight Captain was in control. It didn’t help matters that his head felt as if it was going to explode. He gritted his teeth, fighting the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him and destroy what was left of his dignity.

‘As the yacht’s skipper, it was my duty to ensure the safety of my crew,’ he insisted. ‘I was in a better position to judge their physical condition than you were and I could see that they were both exhausted.’

‘It was my duty to ensure the safety of all the casualties in need of rescue, as well as the safety of my flight crew,’ the Flight Captain said coldly. ‘How dare you question my authority?’

How dare he? No one had ever dared to address Kadir with such insolence, least of all a woman, and certainly not in public. The knowledge that he was indebted to this self-assured young woman for saving his life made him feel emasculated. The fact that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen only made him feel worse.