Sheikh's Forbidden Conquest(5)

By: Chantelle Shaw

It was over a year since she had broken up with Steven— or, to be more precise, since he’d informed her in a text message hours before their engagement party that he couldn’t marry her because he had a girlfriend and a baby daughter who he had failed to mention when he and Lexi had grown close while they had been stationed together at Camp Bastion. Rejection hurt as much at twenty-eight as it had when she had been eighteen or eight, Lexi had discovered. She had dealt with Steven’s betrayal the same way she had dealt with all the disappointments in her life, by pretending that she did not give a damn and hiding her feelings from a world that had proved too often that people were unreliable.

Perhaps the women in the newspaper photographs, clinging like limpets to the Sultan of Zenhab, had the right idea, she brooded. At least if you were a playboy’s mistress you would have no expectations that he might commit to the relationship or fall in love with you. And no doubt the sex was amazing!

As Lexi visualised Sultan Kadir Al Sulaimar’s arrogantly handsome face, heat unfurled in the pit of her stomach. She would never be tempted to sacrifice her hard-won pride and self-respect for five minutes in the sexy Sultan’s bed, she assured herself. An hour on the treadmill followed by a brisk shower left her physically spent, but when she flopped into bed she was kept awake by the memory of the sensual promise in his molten chocolate eyes.

* * *

Two days later, Lexi donned her coastguard agency uniform for the last time, checked the gold buttons on her jacket were gleaming and adjusted her cap, before she walked into the station commander’s office.

‘I’m sorry to lose you,’ Roger Norris told her. ‘You’ve done a fantastic job over the past year.’

‘I’m sorry to go,’ Lexi said honestly. ‘I’m going to miss everyone on the team, but I knew when I came here that the contract for a second helicopter pilot was only for one year.’

‘The number of rescues you have carried out has proved the need for a second rescue helicopter, but unfortunately the funding for the coastguard agency has been cut.’ Roger’s frown cleared. ‘However, I have received a piece of good news. A private donor has offered to pay for a permanent second helicopter and crew. The details will still have to be ironed out over the next few months but, if the offer goes ahead, would you be interested in resuming your role of Flight Captain?’

Lexi’s eyebrows rose. ‘I’d certainly consider it. Whoever the private donor is must be very wealthy.’

‘He’s a billionaire, by all accounts. You met him two nights ago—’ Roger chuckled ‘—although I heard from Gavin and Chris that you didn’t recognise him. In fact you’re the reason that Sultan Kadir of Zenhab has made his incredibly generous offer after you rescued him and his crewmen from his capsized yacht. He has asked to see you so that he can thank you personally. He’s staying in the Queen Mary suite at the Admiralty Hotel and requested for you to meet him there at six o’clock this evening.’

Lexi’s heart collided painfully with her ribs at the mention of the Sultan. She flushed as she recalled the shockingly erotic dreams she’d had about him for the past two nights. She was behaving like a schoolgirl with a crush on a member of a boy band, she thought disgustedly.

‘I’m afraid it won’t be possible for me to meet him,’ she told Roger. ‘I’m going to my sister’s engagement party this evening and it’s a couple of hours’ drive to Henley, where Athena’s fiancé’s parents live. Can’t Chris or Gavin go instead of me?’

Roger shook his head. ‘Chris is on duty. Gavin is at the hospital with Kate, and it looks as though her labour pains aren’t a false alarm this time. Anyway, the Sultan particularly asked to see you.

‘I’ll be honest, Lexi. It is vital that the coastguard agency secures his donation. This part of the south coast is a busy area for shipping, and the rescue service needs a second helicopter. Perhaps you could phone the hotel and arrange to meet His Highness this afternoon instead of this evening?’ Roger gave her a level look. ‘It might also be a good idea to apologise to him. I understand that you had a heated exchange of words with him the other night.’

Lexi frowned at the reminder that she had behaved less than professionally when she had argued with the skipper of the capsized yacht, unaware that he was the Sultan of Zenhab and an experienced sailor. But the coastguard commander’s words tugged on her conscience. The Sultan’s offer to make permanent funds available for a second helicopter was astonishingly generous and could mean the difference between life and death for accident victims on the south coast who needed to be urgently transferred to hospital.