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Authors: Burning Love

Nan Ryan

BOOK: Nan Ryan
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Burning Love

Nan Ryan

For

The Daughters of the Desert

Robyn Carr

Carolyn Connolly

Rosemary Dowe

Christine Flynn

Mary Ann Jones

Jane Kidder

Eileen Nauman

Susie Van Orden

Zelma Orr

Katonna Smothermon

and

Pat Warren

Contents

Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Part Two

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Part One

A London Cabaret

A Balmy Spring Night in 1898

A ruby was caught
in the cabaret’s muted light.

Tiny spangles inside the red stone reflected the six-rayed glow that gave the gem its name.

Starfire.

This Starfire had come from the fabled mines of Mogok, Burma, home of the world’s finest rubies. The ruby was one of those prized gemstones so intensely red in color, it merited the descriptive term “pigeon blood.”

The ancient Greeks had described such a ruby’s rare color as “anthracite.” A deep flaming red, like burning coal. In the Hindu religion the ruby was ranked above all other precious stones. Magical properties were attributed to the ruby, a coveted gemstone believed to bring peace and well-being to its owner.

It was said that the ruby held magical and talismanic significance to its wearer. And legend had it that the rare pigeon blood ruby could warn its owner of imminent peril by turning dark or black … and not returning to its normal color until the danger had passed.

All rubies were valuable. But rubies of the dark pigeon blood hue were among the rarest of all the world’s finest gemstones. Especially those in excess of three carats. This Starfire ruby now captured in the London cabaret’s mellow light was in excess of six carats.

The enormous ruby had once adorned a Burmese Buddha seated high on a Mogok hilltop overlooking the valley from which the stone came. It was now the solitary gem set intact in a simple wide gold ring. The ring encircled the long tapered third finger of a lean, masculine hand. A large, well-tended hand with short, clean, neatly clipped nails. A hand that was strikingly dark against the stark whiteness of the cloth upon which it rested. A hand that lay unmoving on a table.

The wearer of the magnificent six-carat ruby ring was as still as his hand. Seated alone at a tiny table for one set apart on the cabaret’s open-balconied mezzanine, he didn’t shift or fidget or twist about on his chair. He didn’t wave to patrons or call out to acquaintances or signal for a waiter. He didn’t so much as turn his head to the left or the right. He sat entirely motionless on his chair yet miraculously managed to look completely comfortable and relaxed.

A man of staggeringly handsome dark good looks, he was graceful, sophisticated, and totally sure of himself. Possessed of a body that was as splendid as his face, the tall, broad-shouldered man had smooth, deeply tanned skin and thick lustrous hair that was so raven black it produced dancing blue highlights.

His attire was impeccable. He wore a smartly tailored suit of crisp white linen, the well-cut jacket now open casually and pushed back. A custom-made powder blue shirt of fine Egyptian cotton lay softly against the hard flat muscles of his chest, the shirt’s stiffly starched collar snug around his smooth dark throat. His perfectly knotted cravat was of shimmering maroon silk, and a matching silk handkerchief was tucked into his suit jacket’s right breast pocket.

Unaware and uncaring of the covetous female glances boldly cast his way, the handsome, immaculately groomed man continued to sit alone at his table. The small, white-draped table was situated directly beside the wrought-iron railing encircling the mezzanine, overlooking the main floor of the smoky, noisy, dimly lit cabaret.

His dark, half-hooded eyes were focused on the dance floor directly below. The floor was crowded with dancers. Couples swayed and spun about in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of color made up of bright summer ball gowns and gleaming, carefully coiffured tresses and flashing jewels. Skirts of vivid hues flared and swirled as smiling gentlemen turned their radiant partners about.

But the man on the mezzanine saw only one color.

Only one dancer.

Dressed all in red, a young, slender woman was the object of his undivided attention. He watched her unblinkingly, his penetrating dark eyes riveted to her. Had been watching her from the moment she’d arrived with a group of laughing, well-dressed revelers. Now she turned about in the arms of a tall, prosperous-looking partner who was quite clearly captivated by her charms.

Although not dazzled like her enchanted escort, the dark man had quickly determined from his vantage point above that the woman in red was a natural beauty. Silky blond hair spilled around pale bare shoulders and framed a flawless face of classic delicate features. He couldn’t ascertain the exact color of her eyes, but he could see that they were large and flashing and ringed with long, dark lashes. Her nose was small and slightly tilted at the tip, and her soft mouth—which never seemed to be closed—was full lipped, perfectly shaped, and as blood red as the ruby adorning his finger.

She was, he discerned, tall, willowy, and attractively long waisted, with the soft, supple curves of a nubile young girl. Hers was a regal, lithe, long-limbed body, the kind of perfect symmetrical frame on which expensive, beautiful clothes were worn so well. And, he surmised calmly, the kind of exquisite female form on which nothing at all was worn even better.

The young woman was stunning in her red chiffon dress, the bodice cut so low that it exposed the creamy white tops of her high, full breasts. Appealingly tight around her trim midriff and narrow waist, the gauzy crimson fabric flared out over the sculpted arch of her hips and fell in graceful swaying folds to the floor.

She was beautiful. And she was vivacious. Too vivacious. She was constantly laughing and talking and louder than the women to whom he was accustomed.

A tiny white scar at the left side of his full lips twitched spasmodically as the dark, somber man in the white linen suit watched the woman in red. His handsome face hardened minutely. His night black eyes narrowed ever so slightly. The smooth flesh of his firm jaw ridged as he involuntarily clamped his teeth too tightly together. And continued to stare unblinkingly at the woman in red.

“My dear, I do so wish you would reconsider,” said Sir William Perry as he turned his beautiful blond companion about the dance floor. “Such a journey is not only totally unnecessary, it’s foolhardy and most dangerous.” His handsome, pale patrician face wore a frown of disapproval and worry.

“Ah, Bill, don’t. Let’s please not speak of it again.” Temple Longworth laughed away his concern. “I shall be perfectly safe, I assure you. Why, men travel into the deserts all the time and no one thinks a thing about it.”

“Men, Temple, yes,” said Sir William. “Not ladies. Especially not beautiful blond young ladies who—”

“I’m going and that’s final,” she said, cutting him off. “I’ve been planning this journey for months, and nothing can stop me.”

Sir William sighed with exasperation but said no more, knowing that once the strong-willed Temple Longworth had made up her mind, no one could change it. Certainly not him. Desperate to keep her safe and yearning to have her for his own, he drew her closer into his embrace. He pressed his cheek to hers and closed his eyes, wishing he could persuade her to marry him at once and give up her foolish notions of dangerous journeys to foreign, uncivilized lands.

Temple Longworth allowed Sir William Perry to hold her close for only a few seconds. She sensed what was going through his mind and had no intention of encouraging him. She certainly had no intention of marrying him.

And she had no intention of allowing Sir William or anyone else to put a damper on her high spirits. She wanted to continue to dance and laugh and have a merry time on this, her last night in London.

It was, after all, a celebration.

The twenty-five-year-old American heiress was out for the evening with a lively group of her favorite European friends to celebrate her much anticipated, long-planned trip into the vast Arabian deserts. Couples both young and old had accompanied Temple out for a final gala evening of fun and merrymaking, although many felt as apprehensive as Sir William about her proposed adventure.

It was, they felt certain, more than a little dangerous for a beautiful young woman to go into the vast Arabian deserts with only her middle-aged, dutiful distant cousin, the widowed Rupert Longworth, for protection.

“Cousin Rupert won’t be my only escort,” Temple argued. “I’ve engaged a number of dependable Arab scouts to guide us on the entire journey. So you see, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”

And since they were of the privileged elite, unused to worrying a great deal about anything, the revelers in Temple’s party put aside their doubts and enjoyed themselves.

No one more so than the bold, thrill-seeking American socialite Temple Longworth, who would leave London at dawn to begin her long journey.

Tonight the mood was gay. The dancing was spirited. And Temple, breathtakingly gorgeous in her elegant long gown of scarlet chiffon, was the center of attention.

As usual.

BOOK: Nan Ryan
5.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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