Woman in a Sheikh's World(9)

By: Sarah Morgan

Shock cut through the sickness she felt at seeing him. She needed to think, but that was impossible with him dominating her office in that sleek dark suit that emphasised the width of those shoulders and the muscular strength of his powerful frame. It bothered her that she noticed his body. It bothered her even more to feel the answering response in her own. This office was her personal space. Having it invaded by him felt difficult and she hated the fact that it felt difficult because she so badly wanted to feel nothing. She was used to being in control of herself at all times. Wanted it most of all at this time.

But as that control slipped from her, she felt a buzz of panic. Over the past year she’d turned off news coverage about economic and political stability in his country. Even though her company was responsible for the evening party to follow his wedding, she’d averted her eyes from stories about that event. If she didn’t need to read it, she didn’t read it. When their paths crossed at events she was organizing or attending as a guest, she restricted their contact to a brief nod across a crowded room even though the only man in the room she ever saw was him. She’d avoided it all in an attempt to regain control of her life and her feelings. Everything she did, she did to protect herself. Mal had hurt her. And he’d hurt her so badly that seeing him now brought her right back to the edge.

What frightened her most wasn’t the sense of power and authority that could subdue a room full of people, nor was it his spectacular looks, even though the lethal combination of dark masculinity and perfect musculature was sufficient to make happily married women contemplate infidelity. No, what frightened her—what made her truly vulnerable—was the sensual gleam in those dangerous black eyes.

He was the most sexual man she’d ever met. Or maybe it was just their history that made her think that about him.

The look he gave her was reserved for her and her alone. It was a look that blatantly acknowledged a past she would rather have forgotten. It made every interaction deeply personal and the last thing she wanted was personal. She wanted to forget every intimacy they’d ever shared.

He was marrying another woman.

Remembering that, she kept her tone neutral and refused to let herself respond to that velvety dark gaze that threatened to strip away every defence she’d constructed between them. This wasn’t about her. It was about his bride.

‘Kalila is missing?’ Despite her own tangled emotions and natural instinct for self-preservation, she felt a rush of concern. She’d met Kalila on a few occasions and had found her friendly, if rather shy. The girl had seemed more than a little overwhelmed by the Prince even though they’d reportedly known one another for years. ‘Are you saying she’s been kidnapped or something?’

‘No, not kidnapped.’

‘But if she’s missing, how can you be so sure she hasn’t been kidnapped? I mean, she is a princess. I suppose there are people who—’

‘A note was delivered to me.’

‘A note?’ Her brain wasn’t working properly. All she could think about was him. ‘But—’

‘Not a ransom note. A note from her.’

‘I don’t understand.’ It was a struggle to concentrate. Looking at him sent images chasing into her head. Images that usually only haunted her when she slept.

‘She has run away—’ The words were offered up with obvious reluctance and Avery stared at him in silence. And that silence stretched so long that in the end he broke it with an impatient gesture. ‘Her reasons are irrelevant.’

‘Irrelevant?’ She shook her head to clear it of all the thoughts she shouldn’t be having. What would have driven the shy, compliant Kalila to do something so radical? ‘How can her reasons possibly be irrelevant? How can you dismiss her views like that?’

‘I’m not dismissing her views. But what matters is not the reasons she left, but getting her back.’

‘And you don’t think the two of those things might be linked? Why did she leave? For someone like Kalila to do something so dramatic, she must have had a really good reason.’

‘She doesn’t want this marriage.’ He spoke through his teeth and Avery wondered if the tension she heard in his tone reflected his irritation at the disruption of his plans or his sentiments towards his bride-to-be.

Mal was a man who was relentlessly sure of himself, a skilled negotiator, composed and in control and she knew from personal experience that he didn’t react well to anything that disrupted his plans.

‘Oh dear.’ It was a pathetic commentary on the situation but the best she could come up with. ‘That is inconvenient. Hard to get married without a bride, I do see that.’

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