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Determining that the woman would benefit far more with respite than immediate exertion, Grief - despite his concussion fears - allowed Isabelle to sleep. Her head rested on his shoulder for a few hours. He had time. No one was going to come for her until morning and the sheik's other wives were hidden in a large room on the other side of the palace.

Isabelle's right eye, still slightly puffy and turning an alarming shade of purple, opened first and she regarded the reclined Grief with curiosity. His own eyes were closed, unaware of the woman's conscious stare, he seemed at peace in some way, despite the situation. "David?" she finally broke the silence.

He started ever so slightly but appeared pleased she was awake. "Yes, Isabelle."

She gaped up at him for a moment, "What am I wearing?"

Grief was well aware Isabelle was going to ask something else but he smiled slightly as she looked down at herself, at the considerable amount of lovely flesh that was being displayed by the lavender harem costume. "A uniform?" he hazard, nearly teasing.

"Fit for a courtesan." Isabelle murmured, somewhat unnerved.

"Do you remember being kidnapped by Niven?" Grief asked, sitting up with Isabelle on the bed.

She nodded, regretfully. "And the sheik's surly wife." Isabelle also recalled being drugged, once aboard Niven's yacht, and beaten. But she'd forgotten pretty much everything after that. "I don't recall being brought in here or actually putting on this outfit ... or you. When did you get here?" She then paused and arched an eyebrow, "And what the hell took so long?"

Grief nearly grinned. Isabelle was recovering nicely. Still, a small part of him missed that childlike vulnerability earlier displayed. Also, he was aware that whatever had passed between them last night, his confession of concern, was forgotten. He didn't know whether to be comforted or disappointed. "Can you stand?"

"Of course." Slowly, Isabelle sat up and carefully placed her feet on the cool tile floor. She then stood, took a few paces, looking down at the thin gold sandals she wore, and promptly felt dizzy. She raised a hand to her head and swooned. It was only a moment but her reaction was enough to make Grief nervous. Isabelle felt his hands on her bare back and shoulder and couldn't deny, even to herself, feeling soothed. He had a lovely, reassuring touch..

"I wish I could let you take it easy, Isabelle, but Mo will be showing up shortly. We're going to take you out the back. He knows a man ..."

"Where are we?" Isabelle abruptly asked.

"An island outside of Toutira."

"We're that close to Matavai?"

He nodded, "What? Did you think you'd been taken to Arabia?" Grief teased.

Isabelle looked up and about at the eastern furnishings enhancing her surroundings. She had, in fact, wondered about that. "I was unconscious aboard ship for what seemed like a long while ... and I thought no one would ever find me." The memory of her drugging, thinking that Rupert Niven's yacht had been ambushed by Arabian pirates, made Isabelle grimace. How could she, the woman of the world she professed to be, have been so na´ve? With a gentle toss of her dark hair, Isabelle looked up at Grief and mildly smiled, "I should have known you'd be on top of things, David. You're always coming to my rescue." Her expression then grew serious when recalling something that must have been a dream. Only a few hours ago had he said ... or had he seemed ...? No. That must have been a fantasy, a remnant from the drug she had been tricked into taking. Still, truth was truth. "You really are an extraordinary man, Captain Grief."

David gently slid fingers down her bare arm then took both of Isabelle's hands in his own. Something she said earlier, while still delirious, echoed in his mind. "And you, Miss Reed, are more than worthy of my continued rescue efforts."

Isabelle returned his smile. She was sure this was just chitchat but it was still a lovely thing to say.

The couple gazed at one another for awhile, coming to terms with some new and old emotions, both unaware of Mauriri who was easing his way through the mass of veils, cushions and sensuous fabrics about the palace to where they stood .

"Isabelle, are you all right?" Mauriri called gently, interrupting the moment. He came up behind her, caught David's attention, and turned her away from Grief. Carefully, the Polynesian looked at her swollen eye.

"I'm fine." she said, nearly annoyed, feeling Grief's hands fall away from her own.

"There's a boat waiting." Mauriri told Grief, "And we need to hurry."

"My clothes." Isabelle said, again looking down at her lavender harem costume.

"No time to get self-conscious on us, Isabelle." Grief said as he and the woman followed Mauriri. He took her arm as they walked to the back entrance that led out into a small hall then to another exit that directed them to the beach where the boat awaited. "We'll get you into something warmer once were safe on The Rattler."


She sat looking thoughtfully out to the sky and sea, her knees drawn up to her chin, with the wind blowing through her sun tinged hair. She had been given a warm drink when first boarding The Rattler and Isabelle now hugged a large blanket around herself against the cold of the whipping wind as they sailed back to Matavai.

Grief, at the ship's wheel, with Mauriri by his side, watched Isabelle. They had been at sea for half a day but she had said very little the entire time. Grief wasn't certain if it was the after effects of the abuse she had suffered through, her drugging, or if Isabelle merely needed quiet time now that she was safe and heading home.

Initially, she had shown a great deal of concern about the nameless women in the sheik's south seas harem, asking Grief, whilst they rowed in the long boat to his ship, if they would receive justice. Had they all been brought there like she, kidnapped and possibly tortured to comply with the wishes of their masters, or were they with him voluntarily? Isabelle had heard stories of eastern families breeding and selling their female children for the sole purpose of the child reaching her teen years and becoming one of the sheik's mistresses.

David assured Isabelle, whatever the case, they would notify the authorities and get the women back to their families. "Rupert Niven will also be arrested." he told her with certainty.

"And the sheik?" Isabelle asked, looking at Grief steadily, knowing the answer when he could not instantly reply.

"That's a bit more complicated." Mauriri had voiced, hesitantly.

A slap on the hands and a stern warning were the best they could hope for in his case. Oh certainly the sheik would probably be transported back to where he came from, to the luxury of his Arabian palace and the beds of his beautiful Arabian wives, but no real punishment would ever be dispensed. When you had money and power, no matter what it was you had done, you were set free.

That was when Isabelle had grown quiet. She was alone and no one, particularly a man, could ever understand what it was she was feeling.

"I'm going to talk with her." Grief said.

"Be careful, David." Mauriri warned. Being a husband and father, the Polynesian felt he had a slightly better perception on the fairer sex than his sometimes brash partner. "Isabelle's hurting and she may not want you prying, even if you are trying to help her."

Grief nodded and left the wheel to his friend.

The sheik had been looking for a rarity in the south seas. He wanted a white woman to adorn his island palace. A fair-skinned beauty to add contrast to all the gorgeous, dark skinned island exquisiteness he'd enslaved through Niven and other employees.

Grief, as he watched the sunlight gently caress Isabelle's hair, causing a golden hallow to radiate from her lustrous brunette curls, could easily understand why Niven thought she might be the perfect woman for his highness. Isabelle's fair features, with those captivating green-gray eyes and a sensuous mouth that, Grief was sure, had driven more than one fervent man to distraction, were more than merely appealing.
She certainly had cast a spell over him, Grief recalled, when he saw Isabelle Reed for the first time, in chains, and she smiled so beguilingly at him on her way to Captain Morlais jailhouse.

"David, do you remember what I was like when you first met me?"

Startled for a moment, afraid she had read his mind, Grief said, "You were confident and ambitious."

"You're being kind. I was devious and greedy."

Chuckling slightly, Grief sat beside Isabelle on the level and crossed his legs. Like the troubled woman beside him he stared out into the sea. Earlier, watching Isabelle while he stood at the wheel of his ship, Grief scrutinized her as she hugged the blanket around slim, tense shoulders. Grief never considered himself an overly deep man yet he wondered if Isabelle was really cold, do to her lack of clothing, or if the blanket symbolized something significant. It didn't just protect from the cold but also hid the harem attire, thus shielding her defenselessness as well? What type of struggle was going on in that lovely head right now and just how much of what she was currently feeling would Isabelle be willing to reveal?

"Isabelle, you were confused." he said, "And desperate. We all make mistakes and yours was in thinking gold would make you happy."

'Maybe not gold ..." she whispered, "but I want enough wealth, even now, to show people I am a person to be reckoned with. I want to be successful, David."

And with success often comes respect -- and loneliness. Was it this third facet that made Isabelle seek out men who clearly were not worthy of her? Grief looked down at the deck and smiled, "You will be successful," he said, "in time. If you're willing to wait and work hard I'm sure you'll eventually get everything you want out of life, Isabelle."

Slowly, Miss Reed turned her head and glimpse at the man sitting beside her. He seemed taut and slightly bemused but, as always, honest. "I'm not afraid of hard work." Isabelle murmured then turned her head once again to look out at the horizon. "You know, I've been with every form of man from the lowliest street scoundrel to Frenchmen with high military positions." she bitterly chuckled, "I've even dated a prince or two."

Grief glanced at Isabelle, unsure if she was joking.

"But I don't think they cared to be with me for any reason other than the way I look. They wanted me there to warm their beds or have me on their arm as a trophy when they walked down the street. A pretty girl to show off to the masses. But the minute I said anything, tried to join into conversations, no one wanted to hear me. I have opinions, you know, and I'm not all together stupid. I have a good head for business."

"That you certainly do." Grief concurred and saw a small smile upturn her lips for the first time in hours.

"Marcel was one of the few men who believed in me." Isabelle sighed, "I just wish I could have loved him." There was respectful silence for a moment. "On Matavai I feel safe." Isabelle continued, lifting a finger to touch her bruised and still slightly puffy eye. "I'm working for something and the people there - once they got to know me - understand that I'm more than an ex thief or an exonerated convict. They trust me and some might even admire me. It's not my face or figure that has gotten me as far as I have here in the south seas, David, it's talent and - as you said - hard work." Shivering, Isabelle drew the blanket tighter around her shoulders, "So when Rupert came to me, telling me such sweet stories, and how he felt deep reverence for my achievements ..." The words faded as Isabelle closed her eyes.

He had done more than kidnap Isabelle. Niven had splintered her spirit. Suddenly she wasn't thought of as a well respected lady of business, someone to be treasured for her mind as well as her beauty, but merely just another woman, a prostitute to be used by men then abandoned for another when used up.

"If things would have been different," Grief began, unsure if he should even ask - "if he had turned out to be exactly what he said he was, do you think you *could* have fallen in love with Rupert Niven?"

Isabelle opened her eyes and they narrowed slightly. "When he was pretending to be interested in me, when he asked all those questions - before I realized what type of information he was really after - I almost did fall in love. Or rather," she cleared her throat slightly, "I fell in love with the idea of a man being interested in my opinion and my brain and my words -- not just my body. So," Isabelle's expression grew slightly stiff, "if your thinking I was only after Rupert for his money, David, you're wrong. I'd like to think I have evolved a bit beyond that." but then she smiled ever so gently in confession, "But it would have been nice to have money too."

Grief nodded while listening. It made sense now. Niven had been checking out Isabelle's background, making certain she wouldn't be too terribly missed by family, a brother she hadn't heard from in months, and friends. He quickly came to the erroneous conclusion that if Isabelle had suddenly decided to up and leave with him, a rich man, deserting her business, the people of Matavai wouldn't be surprised.

Clare, Niven's original victim, proved to be too dangerous a package to deliver. She had position and family ties in England and, not to mention, the British beauty also faithfully released the island's newspaper every week. If Clare had turned up missing there would definitely be talk.

"If it'll put your fears to rest, Isabelle, understand that everyone on Matavai considers you more than a pretty face." Grief spoke gently, "As a matter of fact, the longer we get to know you the more invaluable you become. I can't count the number of times you've pulled my fat out of the fire -- and I'm not talking about just The Rattler either. You're remarkable. If the day were to ever arrive that you'd leave us I'd truly miss you -- and so would so many others."

The hands that were tightly holding the blanket around her shoulder eased somewhat as Isabelle once again turned to the man beside her. She stared at him, her mouth ever so slightly open, as if seeing Captain Grief for the first time. On anyone less beautiful it might have looked silly. "David, I think that's one of the nicest things you've ever said to me."