"Thank you," he whispered against her lips and then he kissed her.

It was the most tender expression of affection he had ever shown her. Then he broke into speech in Arabic, his hand moving to cover her belly, his mouth kissing her all over her face, neck and chest.


He cupped her breast. "My baby will suckle here," he said with awe.

Tears filled her eyes. "Yes."

He pressed a gentle kiss to one rigid peak and then the other. He moved until he had her laid out on the couch before him; somewhere along the way, their clothes had disappeared. He paid homage to her breasts again, then moved his mouth to press a ring of kisses around her navel. "My child is nourished and protected here in the warmth of your body."

Her fingers tangled in the thick black hair on his head and tears of love, joy, and pleasure swam in her eyes.

His mouth rested over the blond curls at the apex of her thighs. When his tongue darted out to part the folds of her femininity and seek her pleasure spot, she arched up off the couch. "Hakim!"

He pressed her thighs apart and continued to make love to her with his mouth until she was shuddering in exquisite release. He moved up her body, taking possession of her with one sure thrust. "From this pleasure we made life between us."

"Oh, darling ...Hakim. My love."

His lips cut off any more endearments, but her heart continued to utter them, beating out a rhythm of her love that he had to have felt.

He established a pace that soon had her arching in renewed tension, but this time when she went soaring among the stars, he was with her.

Afterward he collapsed on top of her and she brushed her hands down his back, petting him, loving him. "I love you."

His head came up and his face wore the most serious expression she had ever seen. "Do not stop loving me, I beg of you."

"Never," she promised fiercely. "I will always love you."

The warmth of his desert home was in his smile. "Then all is worth it, jewel of my heart. For the gift of your love, the gift of our child makes every sacrifice of no consequence."

"What sacrifice?"

But he was kissing her again and any thought of conversation melted under the fire of his physical love.

Catherine dressed for success for her meeting with Harold Benning. Her straight black skirt, short-sleeved black sweater and hip-length hound's-tooth jacket gave her badly needed confidence. She hadn't had a heart-toheart talk with her parents since before puberty.

He looked up from his desk, a telephone pressed to his ear, when she walked in. Wariness chased shock across his features.

He said something into the phone and then hung it up. "Catherine."

Now that she was here, Catherine didn't know where to start.

"Would you like a cup of coffee, something to drink?"

She shook her head. "Not really. I want to talk to you."

"About your marriage." It was a statement, not a question.

"How did you know?"

Her dad leaned back in his leather executive chair, his pose relaxed, but his expression watchful. "Hakim called from Jawhar to tell me you knew about the mining deal."

Her hands clenched at her sides. "It isn't exactly your average mining deal, though is it? Instead of paying for the privilege to mine in Jawhar, you bartered your daughter like some medieval tyrant."

Her dad's brown eyes snapped with reproach. "It wasn't like that."

She sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk and crossed her legs, trying to project an air of casualness she did not feel. "Why don't you tell me what it was like?"

"You know your mother and I have been worried about your lack of a social life for years. When this business with King Asad came up, I saw a way to kill two birds with one stone is all. I didn't do a damn thing to hurt you."

She shot to her feet and leaned across his desk until their faces were inches apart. "You didn't do anything to hurt me? Just how do you think 1 felt when I discovered the man I loved didn't love me, that he married me as part of a business deal? Let me tell you. It hurt! It hurt a lot."

Her dad sank back into his chair like a puppet whose strings had been cut, but he didn't say anything.

She didn't need him to.

She was in full throttle now. "Let me tell you about hurting. I found out that both my husband and my father had lied to me. I knew I wasn't as important to you as Felicity, but I never thought you saw me as an expendable possession!"

He flinched and passed his hands across his face. "You aren't expendable to me. I didn't sell you into slavery in a third-world country, Catherine. I fixed you up with a business associate."

"Without telling me."

His expression turned belligerent at that. "Hell no, I didn't tell you. You would have run a mile in the opposite direction."

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