Y’all please welcome Victoria Vane. In addition to her retelling of E.M. Hull’s The Sheik she has a Georgian series featuring Devil DeVere. If you haven’t met him yet you don’t know what you’re missing….I adore Devil. A Wild Night’s Bride was recently free & hope y’all took advantage of that & got it. If you did would enjoy hearing your thoughts. Victoria will also be unveiling a contemporary cowboy series soon.
“You’re a damned obstinate little devil!” Aubrey exclaimed.
“I am what you have made me so how can you quarrel with the result? It is illogical. My life is now my own to deal with, and I will deal with it exactly as I wish. I will do what I choose when and how I choose, and I will never again obey any will but my own.”
Aubrey’s mouth hardened. “Then I hope to Heaven that one day you will fall into the hands of a man who will make you obey.”
I rose with a scornful laugh, flinging over my shoulder as I stormed back to my tent, “Then Heaven help him who tries!”
A savage son of the Sahara who knows no law but his own…
“There will be inquiries.” I choked out. “I am not such a nonentity that nothing will be done when I am missed. You will pay dearly for what you have done.”
“Pay?” His amused look sent a cold feeling of dread through me. “I have already paid… in gold that matches your hair, my gazelle. Besides,” he continued, “the French Government has no jurisdiction over me. There is no law here above my own.”
My trepidation was growing more terrible every passing moment. “Why have you brought me here?”
“Why have I brought you?” He repeated with a slow and heated appraisal that made me acutely, almost painfully, conscious of my sex. “Bon Dieu!Are you not woman enough to know?”
When pride and passion vie for supremacy, blistering desert days are nothing compared to sizzling Sahara nights…
The city of Algiers, French Algeria- February 1920
“Diana, won’t you please let me manage this,” Jim pleaded with me once more.
“Not on your life,” I responded, hackles upright. “I’ve already been “managed” as much as I can stand, thank you very much.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He gave me a look of dismay that evoked a twinge of guilt on my part. My predicament was not his fault. On the contrary, had I only listened to his advice two months ago…
He continued in a placating tone. “What I am trying to say is that you might be a bit too distraught at the moment to handle this with the tact it may require. Won’t you please consider waiting another day, or better yet, let me intercede on your behalf. Given the military governorship, my presence alone should lend more credence to your story. They may have trouble swallowing it, you know. It is quite an incredible tale.”
Deep down I knew he was right. First Lieutenant James Arbuthnot was both an officer of distinction in the British Army, as well as a gentleman of the first order, but I would not listen. My mind was filled with a militant mania for justice, vindication, and vengeance—in whatever order might be achieved. I didn’t care that I was at the Governor-General’s mansion sun-beaten, wind-burned, wild- eyed, and dressed like a heathen— I probably smelled like a camel too. Nevertheless, I couldn’t bring myself to concede once more to a man—not after all I had been through at the merciless hands of men.
I squared my shoulders and met him with my haughtiest stare, one maybe not intended to kill outright, but certainly to maim. “But it’s also the truth.”
I refused to back down, even though I wasn’t certain which office was the Governor-General’s. With the lack of British diplomatic presence in Algiers, I perhaps should have gone first to the Secretary of Police, but I was a lowly woman amongst the Arabs and knew the contempt I would experience from them. No, I would begin at the top of the pyramid—with the highest French authorities— rather than letting myself be relegated to the bottom.
“Step aside, Jim. I’ll speak for myself.”
His grey gaze met mine and wavered, a sure sign of weakness that I was quick to exploit. Leaving him gaping after me, I barreled ahead and straight past the two armed Legionnaires who took only seconds to give chase.“Arrêtez-vous ou je vais tirer sur vous!” shouted one of the guards.
“Shoot me then, by Jove!” I flung back over my shoulder.
I’d already proven that I had as many lives as a cat. I’d survived a plot against my life, been shot at multiple times, had endured almost two months of captivity, and had now survived a three-hundred-mile trek across the barren Sahara. Although, I’d surely used up at least five by now, I figured I must still have three or four lives remaining.
Amidst the melee, a portly man in a highly decorated French uniform flung open a door and stepped into the corridor with hands thrown up in classic Gallic fashion. “Porquoi tout ce remue-ménage?” he demanded with an air of authority and then eyed me with patent surprise. “Et qui est cette femme?”
“I am Diana Mayo,” I answered back in French. “I came here to see Monsieur Jonnart, the Governor –General.”
“Diana Mayo? The English heiress?” He stepped closer, regarding me with renewed scrutiny. He reeked strongly of both garlic and disbelief. “She is dead these two months.”
I laughed hysterically. “Au contraire, monsieur. Though others may have done their best to achieve my demise, I am very much alive.”
“C’est incroyabale!” He shook his head. “No English woman could survive in that wasteland!”
“I speak the truth!” I cried. “I am Diana Mayo. The Governor- General knows me personally. We met in Paris only a year ago at an Embassy soiree just after the signing of the peace. My brother and I came to Algiers at his express invitation. If you still do not believe me, there are at least a dozen people in Biskra, citizens of my own country, who can positively identify me.” I took a deep breath, willing a demeanor of cool authority that I seemed to have lost. “Now, monsieur, I demand to see Charles Célestin Auguste Jonnart, the governor of this backward province.”
He smiled slowly, revealing two gold teeth. “I’m afraid that is not possible, mademoiselle. Charles Célestin Auguste Jonnart has been recalled to Paris on official diplomatic business.”
“When does he return?” I asked with growing impatience.
“He does not. Another has been appointed in his stead.”
My stomach sank. “Then please tell me who acts in his stead?”
He puffed his chest and raised a hand to twist the end of his waxed moustache. “The acting Governor- General of this backward provence… would be me, mademoiselle.” He completed the introduction with a curt bow. “I am General Jean-Baptiste Eugene Abel at your service.”
I closed my eyes with an inward groan. Damn! Why hadn’t I listened to Jim? It seemed I was defeated even before I had begun to tell my story! I wondered if the new governor would have me quietly carried out of the building, or dragged through the streets as a madwoman.
Neither it seemed.
His gaze flickered over the two Legionnaires shifting restlessly on either side of me, looking as uncertain as I felt. He waved them away with an irritated gesture. He then stepped back to motion me into his office. Large and opulently furnished in gilts and silks, it was a fascinating meld of Ottoman Empire and ancien régime.
“S’il vous plait.” He waved me to a low Turkish divan. “Come and sit, mademoiselle. I shall call for coffee and then you shall recount to me all that is the cause of your great distress.” He smiled and settled his girth into a large leather-covered chair. “I wish to know precisely how such a delicate English woman managed to survive alone for months in such inhospitable conditions.”
“I am not so delicate, nor was I alone,” I replied. “I was abducted and held captive.”
“Were you indeed?” He lit a cigarette and then offered his case to me, but I didn’t care for the scent of the cheap Gauloises tobacco, having become accustomed to the rich aroma of pure Turkish Murads.
“I suppose these savages demanded a ransom for your release?” he asked and took a long draw on his cigarette.
“No, he did not.”
“He?” His brows rose as he blew a wispy cloud of grey smoke.
“Yes. My captor wanted nothing monetarily.”
“Is that so?” He was silent for a long moment as his beady black gaze swept over me. The unspoken implication and his lascivious sent a profusion of heat to my face. Nevertheless, I forged on. “It is my belief,monsieur, that my own brother may have intended to kill me.”
“You believe your own brother has intrigued against you? And where is he now, this brother?”
“He is in New York or perhaps Newport. He has a perfect alibi, of course, but I have evidence to support my suspicions.”
He nodded slowly and then pursed his lips. “Then your abductor was an accomplice in this nefarious plot?”
“No. It is not as simple as that. As it turns out, my captor inadvertently saved my life.”
“Alors! This is fascinating indeed. I wish to hear this tale en totalité, but first I shall summon my scribe to record this story. After which, I intend to send an urgent dispatch to the British Embassy in Paris. I assure you, mademoiselle, justice will be served.”
He stubbed out his cigarette. “As to your abductor, I shall deal with this heathen dog, this barbaric bâtard, personally.” His gaze suddenly narrowed on me with a disconcerting intensity. “You must tell me now, Mademoiselle Mayo, who was the perpetrator of this…this… outrage to your person?”
And in that moment I knew.
It was not the details of my intended murder that had captured his interest. No, he didn’t care at all about me. He desired only to know what I knew—specifically, the name and location of the force behind the simmering unrest—my captor and my lover— Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan.