Exposed: The Sheikh's MistressBy: Sharon Kendrick
IF ONLY there had been some kind of warning…storm clouds gathering on the horizon, perhaps, or a sudden chill wind which iced your skin. Like an omen. But the day was sunny and golden with not an omen in sight, and ‘if only’ were the two most useless words in the language—Sienna knew that more than anyone.
And even if she had known—what could she have done that would have made things different? Nothing. She was as powerless as a leaf torn from its branch by a cruel autumn wind.
Yet her mood was light as she slipped into the back entrance of the Brooke Hotel, via the garden. The ivy-covered walkway was her favourite way into the building, for when you stood in the secret courtyard it was difficult to believe that you were right in the centre of London—with the hubbub and bustle of the busy streets only a stone’s throw away.
Here the sounds of the city were muted and softened by the tall, waving branches of trees which acted as a haven for all kinds of birds. Bees buzzed drowsily around the flowers and little ladybirds landed on your bare flesh and sometimes nipped it if you weren’t looking. These days she was essentially a city girl, but this place reminded her of a country childhood which seemed another world away.
Sienna loved the Brooke. It was where she had fled to. Where she had been promoted. Where she had made the slightly scary decision to go freelance—but the hotel still provided the bulk of her work. As an events organiser, she organised weddings, birthday parties, book launches and bar mitzvahs—and her name was becoming well-known on the busy London social circuit. From fairly humble and untrained beginnings, she had certainly landed on her feet.
And if she ever stopped to think how she’d got here…Well, that was the whole point—she didn’t ever think about it. Thinking never got you anywhere. It took you to all kinds of dark and disturbing places and in the end it changed precisely nothing. In life you just had to learn from your mistakes. To get through the bad times in the hope that there would be some good ones waiting round the corner. And there were. Of course there were.
Today, the dark onyx reception desk was massed with startling orange Bird of Paradise flowers mixed in with black irises and red lilies. It was a dramatic look, and not one favoured by shrinking violets—but then those kind of people didn’t tend to stay here.
Money and power and a hungry desire for something ‘different’ were the driving forces behind the screamingly influential clientele of the Brooke. Film-stars. Entrepreneurs. Royalty. Anyone who was anyone.
They all flocked to the converted eighteenth-century mansion where there was never an empty room. Where, as a client, you paid through the nose for luxury and discretion.
Sienna rode up in the penthouse elevator. She was meeting a Mr Altair, and before she met a client she always allowed herself a little daydream about just what kind of party they would want. A themed affair, perhaps? Like the time she had decked out a marquee to recreate a French circus—and had only just managed to persuade the trapeze artist not to flounce off in a huff because he hadn’t had star billing!
Or the time she had crammed a ballroom with a thousand red roses for one of the most over-the-top engagement parties she had ever had a hand in.
Sienna smiled. Her job required that she had the organisational skills of an army general—combined with the smooth tongue of a career diplomat.
As the lift doors slid open, the door to the penthouse was opened by a tall, olive-skinned man. Some sixth sense should have told her then—but why would it? With his black eyes and the expensive suit which didn’t quite disguise the gun in his breast pocket the man looked like any other foreign ‘minder’. Which she supposed was the modern word for bodyguard—and she came across plenty of those in this line of work.
‘Hello.’ She smiled. ‘My name is Sienna Baker and I have an appointment with Mr Altair.’
A flicker of something she couldn’t quite put her finger on passed over his impassive features, but he merely nodded and pushed the door to the apartment open. He stood by to let her pass but did not follow her inside, and as the door clicked shut behind her Sienna felt inexplicably apprehensive. As if she was closed in. Trapped. Though agoraphobia would be the last thing she should be suffering from in a room of these dimensions.
She looked around her, her senses swamped by the sudden crowding of different sensations which began to jostle for supremacy in her mind.
For a moment she was dazzled by the sheer impact of the light which spilled in from the enormous windows, and she screwed her eyes up in confusion as the faintest trace of a disturbingly familiar scent began to drift towards her. The exotic smell both tantalised her and began to make her stomach twist painfully, and she couldn’t work out why.