The Heartbreaker PrinceBy: Kim Lawrence
HANNAH WAS NOT sleeping when the key turned in the lock. Apart from a few snatched moments she had not slept for forty-eight hours straight but she was lying down, her eyes closed against the fluorescent light above her head, when the sound made her sit bolt upright and swing her legs over the side of the narrow metal bed.
She made a few frantic attempts to smooth her tousled hair back from her face and clasped her shaking hands on her lap. She was able to mould her expression into a mask of composure, but recognised that it was no longer a matter of whether she lost it and cracked wide open, but when. For now at least she cared about maintaining an illusion of dignity.
She blinked against the threat of tears that stung like hot gravel pricking the backs of her eyes. Gouging her teeth into her plump lower lip, she found the pain helped her focus as she lifted her chin and pulled her shoulders back, drawing her narrow back ramrod straight. For the moment at least she was determined she wouldn’t give the bastards the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
This was what happened when you tried to prove...prove...what? And to whom? The tabloids? Your father? Yourself...?
She took a deep breath. Focus on the facts, Hannah. The fact is you messed up big time! You should have accepted what everyone else thinks: you are not meant for serious thoughts or fieldwork. Stick to your safe desk job, and your perfect nails... She curled her fingers to reveal a row of nails bitten below the quick and swallowed a bubble of hysteria.
‘Stiff upper lip, Hannah.’
She had always thought that was an absurd phrase.
About as absurd as thinking working a desk job for a charity qualified you for working in the field in any capacity!
‘I won’t let you down.’
Only she had.
She lowered her eyelids like a shield and tensed in every nerve fibre of her body just before the door swung in. Focusing on the wall, she uttered the words that had become almost a mantra.
‘I’m not hungry, but I require a toothbrush and toothpaste. When can I see the British consul?’
She wasn’t expecting a straight answer. She hadn’t had one to this, or any of the other questions she had asked, since she had been arrested on the wrong side of the border. Geography never had been her strong point. No answers, but there had been questions, many questions, the same questions over and over again. Questions and unbelieving silences.
Humanitarian aid did not translate into Quagani military speak. She told them she was not a spy and she had never belonged to a political party, and when they tried to refute her claim with a picture of her waving a banner at a protest to stop the closure of a local village infant school, she laughed—perhaps ill-advisedly.
When they weren’t calling her a spy they were accusing her of being a drug runner. The evidence they used to illustrate this was boxes of precious vaccines that were now useless because they had clearly not been kept refrigerated.
For the first day she had clung to her belief that she had nothing to worry about if she told the truth. But now she couldn’t believe she had ever been so naïve.
* * *
Thirty-six hours had passed, the news hadn’t even made the headlines, and the diplomatic cogs had not even thought about turning when the King of Surana picked up his phone and dialled his counterpart in a neighbouring country, Sheikh Malek Sa’idi.
Two very different men stood awaiting the outcome of that conversation, and both had a vested interest.
The older was in his early sixties, of moderate height with a straggly beard and shaggy salt-and-pepper hair that curled on his collar and stuck up in tufts around his face. With his tweed jacket and comically mismatched socks, he had the look of a distracted professor.
But his horn-rimmed glasses hid eyes that were sharp and hard, and his unkempt hair covered a brain that, combined with risk-taking inclinations and a liberal measure of ruthlessness, had enabled him to make and lose two fortunes by the time he was fifty.
Right now he stood once more on the brink of either major success or financial ruin, but his mind was not focused on his financial situation. There was one thing in the world that meant more to Charles Latimer and that was his only child. In this room, behind closed doors, his poker face had gone, leaving only a pale and terrified parent.