Sheik Defense by Ryshia Kennie
by Ryshia Kennie
He's the one she can't remember, she's the one he can't forget…
Tossed overboard, Ava Adams had been left for dead, drifting at sea. But security specialist Faisal Al-Nassar was determined to find her. He owed her father a great debt and had never forgotten the connection he and Ava had once shared. Yet after rescuing Ava he discovered she barely rememberedhim.
Amnesia had left Ava uncertain of who had tried to kill her. She did know, however, that Faisal was a man she could trust. The sheik's embrace was familiar and enticing…and possibly even more dangerous. How could she succumb to feelings for her protector when what she didn't know could get them both killed?
Friday, June 10—11:00 p.m.
“Son of a...”
The broken expletive was followed by a bang that seemed to echo through the bowels of the yacht.
Ava Adams’s eyelids fluttered. Fitfully, she turned once, then twice. The yacht shifted and rocked in the waves. It had been a late night yesterday and the day before, not to mention the fact that this trip had been completely unexpected. She was dreaming—there was no reason to get up, not yet...not for hours yet.
Still, she shivered. Her sleep was skating on the edge of consciousness—what was reality and what was not were no longer clear. In her dream, she only knew that she needed to escape. She flung one arm out grazing the wall, causing her to turn to her other side.
She opened her eyes. She wasn’t fully awake. She didn’t even take in her surroundings before immediately closing her eyes again. But she couldn’t shift as deep into sleep as she’d been. In fact, now with her eyes closed, her consciousness was heating up. She could see through the curtain of lashes. The moonlight drifted in a faint stream of light across the sheet that twisted around her waist. Her breathing leveled out and she fell asleep again. This time the sleep was even lighter than it had been before—more troubled. She didn’t know how long she slept. She only knew that it wasn’t long before she was again awakened.
This time by sounds that she couldn’t ignore. They were loud against the background of the once calm rocking of the boat. Her senses came awake, first noting the change in smell. She inhaled, long and slow. She’d done that often in the two days that they’d been anchored in this cove. She loved the hint of vanilla that was so pervasive and wove through the salty scent of ocean, of seawater. Oddly, the vanilla scent was gone.
“To hell—” a man’s voice rose in a shout. It was a shout that seemed to be cut off as if forcibly stopped. He might have said something else. Words that jumbled in the scuffle and chaos of noise that preceded a crash, followed by another.
It was only a nightmare. It was a figment of her imagination. A result of the stress of stepping from one world into another; from academia into the world of a self-sufficient adult. Two weeks from today she was moving to Casper, Wyoming. At twenty-five and with a doctorate in psychology under her belt, it was about time. At least that was what she’d told herself. Her father had encouraged her to take all the time she needed. She knew that was a way of keeping her close, of keeping her dependent on him. Even though she had lived her own life, in her own apartment, paying as many of her college bills herself as she could with money she had made by occasionally tutoring other students, still she had relied on him. It gave him a chance to be the father he hadn’t gotten to be when she truly had been a child. She’d allowed him that. For he’d become her parent in her latter childhood. It had been through marriage, but stepparent or not, she couldn’t ask for a better father. Now they were making up for lost time. Thus, this trip. They both needed it—the time to be together. Life had gotten busy.
She hovered in the abyss between sleeping and wakefulness. But soon sleep was completely chased away as the shouts rose in volume. More disturbing was the absolute silence that followed. That brought her to full consciousness. She was still, hardly breathing, straining to hear. Were the voices real or only her imagination, or part of a dream? Seconds ticked by. She lay tense, unmoving. The conversation she’d had with her father earlier ran uninvited through her mind. Some, if not all, of the things he had said had been disturbing. He said he was concerned that his partner had gotten himself into a situation with fraudulent land sales. She’d begged him to give her details but he’d refused to say more. He had many projects and thus many people he’d partnered with and he hadn’t given her a name. Instead, he told her that what he’d said and what was recorded in a Texan town would be enough, if it were ever necessary, for her to take evidence to the authorities.
What was going on? There was the sound of heavy footsteps, scuffling and another shout. Something banged above her, as if something or someone had hit the deck hard.
Besides herself, there were two other people on board. Her father and his business partner, a man she didn’t know well. The arrival of Ben Whyte had been a surprise to both of them. They’d just been settling in for the night when he’d arrived on a small fishing boat. The fisherman had dropped him off and left. Neither of them had expected him. This had been their vacation—she’d sailed here to Paradise Island, Bahamas, from St. Croix with her father after he’d issued the last-minute invitation. It had been peaceful until Ben had arrived. Almost immediately, she hadn’t liked the tension that Ben seemed to generate. But the initial tension between him and her father later dissolved once they began telling boisterous sports stories. She’d retired for the night as they joked about the antics of a coach on the football field. But the joking she’d left less than an hour earlier was a far cry from what she was hearing now.
Things didn’t sound too friendly anymore. A curse, a series of banging and scuffling sounds that echoed through the boat. She sat up, her heart pounding.
Another shout had her tense, clenching the sheet. One foot poised on the edge of the bed as she tried to decide whether this was dream or reality. Something crashed, a hollow bang like someone had hit a wall, or the floor. The sounds escalated in volume, an angry shout followed but the words were incomprehensible.
She grabbed her phone. The thought of calling for help crowded out the other possibilities. She wasn’t sure who she would be calling or why. What would the local police do about a situation that was unknown even to herself? She needed to find out what was going on, if her father needed help, if...
Footsteps thudded over her head. Their heavy tread was oddly ominous when combined with everything that had preceded them. Then something else banged, a dull sound that seemed to echo through the boat. Something had fallen and hit the deck just a little to the right of where she now sat.
“What’s going on?” she muttered. She flicked on the lamp by the side of the bed. Soft light bathed the room, chasing away the shadows but not the odd noises from above deck. She got out of bed. Blindly, she grabbed something to throw on. A silk wrap that she’d purchased only this morning with no intention of wearing here. It was a garment made for when she had a boyfriend. It was an enticing garment. Now, it was only the first cover at hand.
She stood there for seconds. The seconds could have been a minute, maybe less, maybe more. She considered her options. But her options were unclear in a situation that was as dark as the night around her. All she knew was that something was very off. The silence that had descended in the last seconds was almost as ominous as what had preceded it. A shiver ran down her spine as she left the room. She moved through the tight passageway, slipping past the galley, which was lit only by a thin streak of moonlight that streamed through a porthole to her left. Memory guided her to the narrow metal stairs that led above deck. She was afraid to turn on any more lights, for that might alert whoever was on deck. She wouldn’t think of the fact that there might be strangers, a threat of some sort aboard the yacht. Her fingers quivered and the phone shook in her damp palm.
Only a few hours earlier she had been able to see through a porthole the shadow of the shoreline. Now, there was nothing but a dark, endless stretch of water. That was odd. But even more odd was the fact that the boat was rocking as if it were on open water.
She wished she’d grabbed her slippers, for the narrow passage was chilly against her bare feet. She could only hope that what she heard was nothing, a silly argument, a bit of a wind above deck that had knocked things over. But her thoughts were stopped midstream by another crash directly above her. She jumped and bit back a scream as she dropped her phone. In the dark she couldn’t see it. She felt around. Seconds passed and then a minute, maybe two. It was futile. She couldn’t waste any more time searching for the phone for above her something was terribly wrong.
She took the remaining steps two at a time. She pushed open the door onto the deck. She was met by a wind that seemed to come out of nowhere and wrapped a chill breeze around her, lifting the silk from her body. She held the wrap down with one hand and pushed forward, determined to find out what was going on, to put an end to it. Seconds seemed to become minutes. She stumbled and lost her footing on the rain-slicked deck.
Her breath caught in her throat when she stepped around the wheelhouse. The moonlight lit the deck revealing two men locked together, struggling. She froze and then she took a choked breath. She covered her mouth to block the involuntary beginning of a scream.
Time seemed to stop. She could almost hear the tick of her vintage, manual-wind wristwatch as she took in details. Blood stained her father’s white polo shirt. But that wasn’t what frightened her the most. Instead, it was the man who stood mere inches behind her father.
The moonlight revealed the face of the man. Ben Whyte. Like her father, Ben was in his late fifties. Now it was clear that her initial feelings about the man were not misplaced. The thought pierced her shock as she put her right hand over her mouth. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
It wasn’t possible.
Her brain, her feet—everything had frozen at the shock and horror of what lay ahead of her. Things like what she was seeing only happened on television. Not to normal everyday people like her and her father. And yet she knew her father wasn’t normal. He was a wealthy philanthropist. But that wasn’t the issue. Or was it?
The moonlight was glinting off the black barrel of the handgun that Ben had aimed at her father. The handgun’s deadly gloss seemed to wink in the muted light of the deck. Worse, that same barrel was against her father’s head. Time seemed to make the moment unendingly long when she knew that it was only seconds. She hadn’t had time to think, to react, to recover from the shock. She could only watch this like it wasn’t real, like it was happening to someone else. Because before she could move, her father twisted, grabbed Ben’s gun hand and slammed it against the railing. Once, twice—the gun dropped and skidded across the deck.
“No! What are you doing?” Her voice seemed loud in the sudden silence. Vaguely, she realized that she hadn’t shouted at all, that her cry had been no more than a whimper. She was behind and to the side of them and neither one of the men had seen or heard her. She glanced around the deck as if the answer to her father’s plight lay there.
Unarmed, in bare feet and a silk wrap, with shaking hands, she was no one’s hero. She looked around for a weapon, something to leverage her defense of her father. There was nothing.
Moonlight spilled over the surface of the water. She could see nothing but an endless tract of ocean around them. There was no sign of land, of Paradise Island or of the beautiful cove that they had docked in. They were in open water with no land in sight. But as much as that frightened her, the scene in front of her frightened her more.
One calamity had replaced another. Ben had her father by the throat.
“Dad!” This time the words crept past her frozen throat. This time the words weren’t just her imagination. But still they were no help.
“Stay back!” Her father choked out the words with what seemed more willpower than strength, for she’d had to strain to hear him.
But rage flooded her and, despite her earlier doubts, she only knew that she had to join forces with her father. Take this threat down no matter what the odds. They could do it together, as a team—as her father always said they could. Of course, he’d meant much smaller, much less threatening situations than this. It didn’t matter. This was life and death. It was, for whatever reason, them against him.
“What are you doing?” She flew at her father’s attacker. The fact that the man had, a few hours ago, greeted her with all the cordiality of a long-lost friend, was now lost to her.
He was the enemy and she’d do anything in her power to stop him. Fueled by panic and a desperate kind of bravery, she grabbed his arm, trying to free her father.
“Let go!” she screeched. Her nails raked his cheek. Her actions were as desperate as she knew they were ineffective. There was no choice, there was only her and her father, who she feared would die without her help.
The punch hit her in the jaw and dropped her to her knees. She remembered nothing after that. She came in and out of consciousness. Minutes could have passed, even hours—she didn’t know. The deck offered her its slick, rocking comfort as her face pressed against the cool surface.
As consciousness returned once more, the one thing that was clear was the silence. She struggled to keep her eyes open. Her head pounded and she lost consciousness again for a minute, a second—she wasn’t sure.
This time when she came to she was groggy but able to sit up. As she did she saw the shadow of something against the wheelhouse. She tried to stand and slipped. Her hand caught her fall. She looked up, blinking, trying to clear her vision. She saw that Ben had somehow managed to get the pistol. But he had no chance to use it, for her father’s arm came up. His arm smashed into his assailant, knocking him backward, sending the pistol flying.
“Go!” Her father waved. He glanced her way for just a second. Then, he was pulled back into a chokehold. His assailant had taken advantage of his brief distraction. Her father directed her with his eyes. Glancing to a place behind her. There was a life raft and she knew that he wanted her to leave, to leave him alone with his attacker.
“No!” she screamed, scrambling to her feet. She clenched her fists—her hands were empty. No phone. But something else caught her eye. It was the hammer her father had used earlier to fix the back ladder. She grabbed it.
Despite her earlier failure, she wasn’t willing to give up. She’d do whatever it took to help her father. She wasn’t thinking straight. She was unschooled in any sort of self-defense but desperate times called for desperate measures. Her attack could confuse, muddy the waters, give her father an opening. And with that her only thought, she charged forward. She was unaware of the breeze that lifted her short sleep T-shirt revealing her upper thighs. Unaware that the silk wrap had slipped off her shoulders or that it floated behind her. Her father choked as Ben crushed his throat with one arm. But she’d caught Ben’s attention, she could feel his eyes on her and that was all she needed. She’d become the distraction and hopefully by doing that give her father enough of an edge to get free. Unfortunately, she could see from the look on his face that the only thing that stood between her and rape was her father. If her father died...
Ben looked at her with eyes filled with lust. He smiled in a way that held an ugly promise, one no woman would fail to recognize and one no woman would ever want. It made her feel dirty and terrified at once. She was frightened not just for her father but for herself. Too late, she realized her mistake. She should have put something else on, anything but what she had grabbed in her panic.
She’d never trusted him. She wished she’d told her father that. But it was too late. As if killing her father wasn’t enough... It wouldn’t happen. Her father wasn’t dead and no matter how many times she had to remind herself of that, it wouldn’t happen.
She raised the hammer and brought it down, catching Ben in the shoulder. He roared, releasing his grip on her father, reaching for her.
“Dad!” she screamed as she scrambled to get away from Ben.
Her father slammed Ben’s arm into the wheelhouse. He buried his fist in the man’s midsection, throwing him off balance. Another punch hit him in the jaw and Ben gasped for breath. His third punch knocked Ben down.
“Run, Ava!” her father shouted and didn’t give her a chance to consider before he had grabbed her hand. Together they ran, stumbling, propping each other up heading for the back of the yacht.
“Get in the life raft,” he hissed in an urgent undertone. “Get out of here. I’ll catch up. Once I...” His words were slurred. A tooth was broken and blood streamed from his mouth. His hair was wild and his eyes glazed. “Go.” He was half lifting her over the edge of the yacht, giving her no option. She shook her head. Her fractured thoughts spun.
“Call Faisal!” her father said with a shove that had her landing in the dinghy. “Al-Nassar,” he added as if she wouldn’t know who he meant with just his given name. There was no other Faisal who had been in their life. But why call him now? Then she remembered—Nassar Security. There was no time for thoughts or justifications—there was no time for anything. They needed to get out of here. Already her father was undoing the ropes that attached the small craft to the yacht.
“No.” She couldn’t leave him alone. “Come with me!”
“This is the only way you can help me, kid.” It was the pet name he’d always used for her, and still did despite her recent quarter-of-a-century status. He’d teased her on her birthday about how old she was and how old that made him.
Her eyes met his.
“No.” The word was strangled, panicked. As if she had any choice. She was already below deck level and had to look up. “If you stay, so do I. I won’t leave you alone.”
He was so banged up. She couldn’t leave him.
“I need you to go,” he said firmly. “I can’t be distracted trying to save you. I need to know you’re safe.”
It was his way of promising that he’d make it.
She knew there was nothing she could say to change his mind. Her teeth were pressing so hard into her lip that she tasted blood. And none of that stopped the shaking, the fear for both of them and for him especially.
“I’ll be right behind you. I promise.”
“Here.” She stood up, fighting for balance as she reached up and handed him the hammer. She had to trust that he’d be safe. There was no help for it. He’d taken the option of choice from her. And she could see now that the life raft was so small it might sink under the weight of both of them.
He took the hammer, his fingers brushing hers, and at the same time pushed something into her hand. She didn’t look but only closed her hand around the damp plastic.
“Call...” He wiped a trail of blood from his upper lip.
His nose was bleeding, the blood mixing with that from his lip and trailing down his chin. “Al-Nassar. The number’s there,” he reminded her in a voice that was pitched only for her. Behind them she could see his assailant struggling to his feet.
“Go!” The word echoed like the needless repetition it was. She had no choice. Choice was the option that had been removed from her arsenal. Her father had decided. She would be safe and he would face... She couldn’t think, didn’t know. She only knew that she was alone.
“Dad...” That one word trailed, bottomless and hopeless. For there was nothing to say.
A gunshot had her on her knees with a scream as the raft rocked and threatened to tip. She clutched the rope lashed to the side. The raft settled enough that she could look up. There was no doubt that what she’d heard was a handgun. She’d heard them many times, on the firing range with her father.
Her head spun and she sat back down. When she looked up to where she had last seen her father, he was gone. Waves pushed against the side of the life raft taking it farther from the yacht. She needed to get to shore, get help. She pulled the engine cord, grimacing at the old-fashioned technology. Her father was usually the first to buy the newest and latest, except for the life raft. Its age was jarring in the scheme of everything else that was always so top-of-the-line. She yanked the cord again. Her arm ached and nothing happened.
Her father’s last words seemed to spin in an endless reel through her mind.
Faisal. She had to call Faisal.
It was her last thought before she passed out in a heap in the middle of the dinghy.
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