Woman in a Sheikh's World(7)

By: Sarah Morgan

Temper held rigidly in control, he strode away from the reception desk and towards the offices and meeting rooms.

Deciding that Avery would choose a corner office with a view, he swiftly calculated the direction of the Thames. There was a large door at the end of the glass atrium and he thrust it open and there, seated behind a large glass desk and talking to another woman was Avery, immaculate as ever, that sheet of shiny blonde hair sliding over a pearl coloured silk shirt.

In those few seconds before she saw him, a tightness gripped his chest.

He felt something he only ever felt around this woman.

As always, the image she presented to the world was impeccable. She projected glamour, efficiency and capability. No one meeting Avery Scott could ever doubt that she would get the job done and that it would be done perfectly. She had an address book that would have made an ambitious socialite sob with envy but few knew the woman beneath the surface.

She’d shut him out. The closer he’d tried to get, the more she’d blocked him.

He almost laughed at the irony. He’d spent his life preventing women from getting too close. With Avery that tactic had proved unnecessary. She was the one who’d erected the barriers. And when he’d pushed up against those barriers too hard, she’d simply walked away.

They’d been lovers for a year, friends for longer, but still there had been days when he’d felt he didn’t know her. But there were some things he did know. Like the way a tiny dimple always appeared in the corner of her mouth when she smiled, and the fact that her mouth was addictive. Remembering that taste stirred up a response he’d thought he had under control.

The first time he’d met her he’d been attracted by her confidence and by the way she squeezed every drop of opportunity from life. He’d admired her drive, her success and her utter belief in herself. But the same qualities that had attracted him were the reasons they’d parted. Avery Scott was fiercely independent and terrified of anything she believed threatened that independence.

And he’d threatened it.

What they’d shared had threatened it. And so she’d ended it. Crushed what they had until there was nothing left but the pain.

People assumed that a man of his position had everything.

They had no idea how wrong they were.

Mal stood for a moment, tasting the unpalatable combination of regret and anger and at that moment she looked up and saw him.

He searched for some evidence that his unexpected appearance affected her, but there was nothing. Outwardly composed, she rose to her feet, elegant and in control and displaying the same unflappable calm she demonstrated even in a crisis. ‘This is a surprise. How can I help you, Mal?’ Cool. Professional. No hint that they’d once been as close as it was possible for two people to be, apart from the fact that she’d called him Mal.

His name had slipped from those glossy lips without thought and yet only a handful of close friends ever called him that. And Avery had once been in that hallowed circle.

She knew his closest friends because she’d been one of them; one of the few people indifferent to his wealth or his status. One of the few people who’d treated him like a man and not like the next ruler of Zubran. For a while, when he’d been with her, he’d forgotten about duty and responsibility.

Mal thrust that thought aside along with the others. Those days were gone. Today’s visit was all about duty and responsibility. He wasn’t going to make this personal. He couldn’t.

He was about to marry another woman.

‘You didn’t pick up your phone.’ He dispensed with formal greetings or pleasantries, considering them unnecessary.

‘I was in a meeting. You, a world leader who is generally considered an expert in the art of diplomacy, will surely understand that I couldn’t interrupt a client.’ She spoke in the same neutral tone he’d heard her use with difficult clients.

Somewhere deep inside him he felt his nerve endings spark and fire and he remembered that their verbal sparring matches had been their second favourite way of passing the time they spent together.

As for the first …

His libido roared to life and Mal turned to the other woman in the room, because privacy was essential for the conversation he was about to have. ‘Leave us, please.’

Responding to that command without question, the woman rose. As the door closed behind her Avery turned on him, blue eyes ice-cold.

‘You just can’t help it, can you? You just can’t help telling people what to do.’

‘This is not a conversation I intend to conduct in public.’

‘This is my office. My business. You are not in charge here. Whatever your reason for being here, nothing justifies you walking in without knocking and breaking up my meeting. I wouldn’t do it to you. I don’t expect you to do it to me.’

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