The Sheikh's Seduction

By: Emma Darcy

CHAPTER ONE

“MY NAME is Sarah Hillyard. My father trains racehorses in Australia...”

The artless words of a twelve-year-old child.

A child he’d liked and remembered seven years later when he’d come to choosing a trainer in Australia.

Sheikh Tareq al-Khaima shook his head in self-derision. Stupid to have let a sentimental memory influence his judgment. He’d hired Drew Hillyard, entrusted him with the progeny of some of the best bloodlines in the world, and the man had proved to be a cheat and a crook, wasting what he’d been given in favour of sure money, bribe money.

It was an effort to remain civil, sitting beside him in the Members’ Stand at Flemington Racecourse, waiting for the Melbourne Cup to be run. Recognised as one of the great races on the international calendar, The Cup was a prize coveted by trainers and owners. It made reputations. It sealed a horse’s fame. It was the return on an investment.

If Firefly won today, Drew Hillyard might earn himself another chance. If Firefly lost, the trainer could kiss Tareq’s string of thoroughbreds goodbye. The moment of truth was fast approaching. The horses were being boxed, ready for the start of the race.

“He should run well,” Drew Hillyard said reassuringly.

Tareq turned to Sarah’s father. The older man’s brown curly hair was streaked with lustreless grey and cut so short, the ringlets sat tightly against his scalp. His dark eyes were opaque, as though he’d fitted blinds over the windows of his soul. The memory of Drew Hillyard’s daughter flashed into Tareq’s mind—a glorious mop of burnished brown curls framing a fascinating face with eyes so dark and brilliant he’d loved watching them. He didn’t want to even look at her father.

“Yes, he should,” he answered, and returned his gaze to the track. Firefly had been bred from champion stayers. If he’d been trained properly he should eat this race. He should, but Tareq wasn’t banking on it. None of the horses he’d placed in Drew Hillyard’s stables had lived up to their breeding. The initial promise of the first two years had been whittled away by sly corruption.

Susan Hillyard claimed his attention. “Did you place a bet on Firefly, Tareq?”

He looked at her, wondering if she knew the truth. Drew Hillyard’s wife—second wife—was a thin, nervous blonde. With every reason to be nervous, Tareq thought darkly. “I never bet, Mrs. Hillyard. It’s performance that interests me. On every level. I like to see my horses fulfil the promise of their bloodlines.”

“Oh!” she said and retreated, her hands twisting worriedly in her lap.

Sarah’s stepmother.

My father’s marrying again. Since my mother’s made her home here in Ireland now, she’s arranged for me to go to boarding school in England. So she can more easily visit me, she says. I get to go home to my father in the summer break.

A lonely, disillusioned child, her world torn apart by divorce. Tareq wondered what had become of her, where she was. Not here at Flemington. He’d looked for her, curious to see the woman she’d grown into. He was tempted to ask about her but revealing a personal interest went against his grain in this situation. Sarah, the child, was a piece of the past, eleven years gone. Comprehensively gone after today, if Firefly failed.

A roar went up from the crowd, signalling the start of the race. Tareq stood with the rest of the people around him, binoculars lifted to his eyes. The commentator’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers, whipping up excitement. Tareq focused all his attention on the horse that had brought him here, a magnificent stallion who’d be worth his weight in gold if he won.

He was poetry in motion, well positioned for the early part of the race and running with a fluid grace and ease that was exciting to watch. He took the lead at the halfway mark and streaked ahead of the field. Too soon, Tareq thought. Yet he held a gap of three lengths into the last hundred metres. Then he visibly flagged, other horses catching him and sweeping past to the finishing post. Eighth. Respectable enough in a class field of twenty-two horses, people would say. Except Tareq knew better.

“Ran out of puff,” Drew Hillyard said, his weatherbeaten face appropriately mournful with disappointment.

“Yes, he did,” Tareq coldly agreed, knowing full well that a properly trained champion stayer did not run out of puff.

“Want to accompany me down to talk to the jockey?”

“No. I’ll have a word with you after the last race.”

“Fine.”

He and his wife left. Tareq was glad to see the back of them though he’d have to confront them later.

“Do you want me to do it?”

The quiet question came from his oldest friend, Peter Larsen. They’d been through Eton and Oxford together and understood each other as well as any two men could. It was Peter who had investigated Drew Hillyard’s notable failure to make champions of champions. The paper evidence left no doubt as to the reason behind the obvious incompetence. To top it all, Drew Hillyard had even sacrificed a chance at the Melbourne Cup.

Tareq shook his head. Peter had saved him trouble on innumerable occasions but this wasn’t usual business. “I was fool enough to choose him. He’s mine, Peter.”

A nod of understanding.

Drew Hillyard had broken a trust.

That was always personal.





CHAPTER TWO

SARAH helped her little half-sister to bed. Jessie had grown strong enough to move her legs herself but she was tired, her energy spent on all the anticipation, excitement and disappointments of the day. The latter had dragged her spirits right down and there was nothing Sarah could say to cheer her up.

Despite sitting glued to the television for hours before and after the running of the Melbourne Cup, Jessie hadn’t seen the sheikh, whom she’d imagined in flowing white robes. Sarah had suggested he would probably be in a suit. Not a well-received comment. To Jessie’s mind, a sheikh wasn’t a sheikh unless he wore flowing white robes. Either way, the television had failed to put him on display.

And Firefly had lost. After looking as though he might take out The Cup for most of the race, the stallion had faltered with the finishing post in sight. A flood of tears from Jessie. She’d loved Firefly from the moment she’d first clapped eyes on the beautiful colt and she’d desperately wanted him to win.

“Mummy didn’t call,” she now grumbled, adding another disappointment to her list of woes.

Sarah tried to excuse the oversight. “It would be a busy day for her, Jessie, what with having to entertain the sheikh and everything. They’ve probably gone out somewhere.”

Big blue eyes mournfully pleaded the injustice of it all. “It’s not fair. Daddy’s had the sheikh’s horses for four years and this is the first time he’s come to Australia and I didn’t even get to see him.”

Neither did I, Sarah thought ruefully. Though it wasn’t so important to her. Just curiosity to see what he looked like after all these years. Funny how some childhood memories remained vivid and others faded away. She’d never forgotten Tareq al-Khaima, nor his kindness to her over that first lonely Christmas in Ireland with her mother.

He’d been a young man then, immensely wealthy and strikingly handsome. Everyone at her mother’s house parties had wanted to know him. Yet he’d noticed a forlorn child, eaten up with the misery of feeling like the leftover, unwanted baggage from her mother’s first marriage, best out of sight and out of mind. He’d spent time with her, giving her a sense of being a person worth knowing. It was her only good memory from being twelve.

“Maybe there’ll be a photograph of him in the newspaper tomorrow,” she offered as consolation.

“I bet there isn’t.” Jessie stuck to gloom. “There hasn’t been one all week.”

Which had been surprising with the Spring Carnival in full swing and the social pages packed with photographs of visiting celebrities. Either the sheikh was not partying or he was camera-shy for some reason.

“And he’s not coming to Werribee to see his other horses, either. Daddy told me he’d only be at Flemington.”

“Well, the sheikh owns horses all around the world, Jessie.” He’d been buying them in Ireland when she’d met him. “I don’t suppose any particular string of them is special to him.”

She wondered if he remembered her. Unlikely. Too brief a connection, too long ago. It was just one of those coincidences in life that Tareq’s agent had assigned the sheikh’s horses in Australia to her father to train. There’d been nothing personal in the deal.

“He came to see Firefly race,” Jessie argued.

“That’s because the Melbourne Cup is special.” Having settled her half-sister comfortably, Sarah stroked the wispy fair hair away from the woeful little face and dropped a kiss on her forehead. “Never mind, love. rm sure your mother will tell you all about the sheikh tomorrow.”

Disgruntled mumbles.

Sarah ignored them as she made sure everything was right for Jessie; the electric wheelchair in the correct position for easy use when she needed to go to the bathroom, the night-light on, a glass of water on the moveable tray. It was amazing the amount of independence the little girl managed now. In fact, Sarah knew she really wasn’t needed here at Werribee anymore. It was time to move on with her own life. Once the Spring Carnival was over, she would broach the matter with Susan.

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