Protecting the Desert Heir

By: Caitlin Crews
CHAPTER ONE

THE LAST TIME she’d run for her life, Sterling McRae had been a half-wild teenager with more guts than sense. Today it was more a waddle for her life than anything approaching a run—thanks to the baby she carried and had to protect no matter what, now that Omar was dead—but the principle remained the same.

Get out. Get away. Go somewhere you can never be found.

At least this time, twelve years older and lifetimes wiser than that fifteen-year-old who’d run away from her foster home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she didn’t have to depend on the local Greyhound bus station to make her getaway. This time, she had limitless credit cards and a very nice SUV at her disposal, complete with a driver who would take her wherever she asked to go.

All of which she’d have to ditch once she got out of Manhattan, of course, but at least she’d start her second reinvention of herself with a little more style.

Thank you, Omar, Sterling thought then. The heels she refused to stop wearing even this late into her pregnancy clicked against the floor of the apartment building where she and Omar had shared his penthouse ever since they’d met while he’d been a graduate student. A wave of grief threatened to take her feet right out from under her, but Sterling fought it back with grim determination and clenched her teeth tightly as she kept on walking.

There was no time left for grief or anything else. She’d seen the morning news. Rihad al Bakri, Omar’s fearsome older brother and now the ruler of the tiny little port country on the Persian Gulf that Omar had escaped at eighteen, had arrived in New York City.

Sterling had no doubt whatsoever that he would be coming for her.

There was every chance she was already being watched, she cautioned herself as she hurried from the elevator bank—that the sheikh had sent some kind of advance team to come for her even though the news had broadcast his arrival barely a half hour ago. That unpleasant if realistic thought forced her to slow down, despite the hammering of her heart, so she appeared nothing but calm. It forced her to smile as she moved through the lobby, the way she might have on any other day. There would be no honoring Omar if she let herself—and more important, her baby—fall into the clutches of the very people he’d worked so hard to escape. And she knew a little bit about the way predators reacted when they saw prey act like prey.

The more fearful you acted, the harder they attacked. Sterling knew that firsthand.

So instead, she walked. She sauntered.

Sterling walked like the model she’d been before she’d taken her position at Omar’s side all those years ago. Like the notorious, effortlessly sensual mistress of the international playboy Omar had been in the eyes of the world. She strolled out into the New York City morning and didn’t look around to savor the great sprawl of the city she’d always loved so much and so fiercely. There was no time for goodbyes. Not if she wanted to keep her baby—Omar’s baby—safe.

And she might have lost Omar, but God help her, she would not lose this baby, too.

Sterling was glad the summer morning was bright and warm, giving her an excuse to hide her thick grief and her buzzing anxiety and the too-hot tears she refused to let fall behind a pair of oversize sunglasses. It took her longer than it should have to realize that while that was indeed Omar’s gleaming black SUV pulled up to the curb on the busy Upper East Side street, that was not Omar’s regular driver standing beside it.

This man lounged against the side of the vehicle looking for all the world as if it was some kind of throne and he its rightful king. His attention was on the cell phone in his hand, and something about the way he scrolled down his screen struck Sterling as insolent. Or maybe it was the way he shifted and then looked up, his powerfully disapproving dark gaze slamming into hers with the force of a blow.

Sterling had to stop walking or fall over—and this time, grief had nothing to do with it.

Because that look felt like a touch, intimate and lush. And despite all the work Sterling had put into her image as a woman who wallowed neck-deep in the pleasures of the flesh, the truth was she did not like to be touched. Ever.

Not even like this, when she knew it wasn’t real.

It felt real.

This driver was too much. Too tall, too solid. Too damned real himself. He was dressed in a dark suit, which only served to make his lean, intensely dangerous body seem lethal. He had thick black hair, cut short as if to hide its natural curl, rich brown skin and the most sensual mouth Sterling had ever seen on a man in her life, for all that it was set in a grim line. He was astonishingly, noticeably, almost shockingly beautiful, something that should have been at odds with that knife-edged form of his. Instead, it was as if he was a steel-tempered blade with a stunningly bejeweled hilt.

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