Authors: Carol Marinelli
The wind screeched a warning and Ibrahim knew when he was beaten. ‘We will stay till it passes. I think we are here for the night.’
They headed back out to the lounge area and he stood as she roamed, watched her expression as she looked at the wall-hanging, as her little fingers picked up priceless heirlooms and weighed them. He would never have planned this. Would never have brought her here if he’d known they would be alone.
Her cheeks were pink from the sun and her arms just a little bit burnt. Her clothes were grubby and her hair wild from the sand and the wind. And how he wanted her … Though he would not defy the desert. He would follow the rules—but his way.
Ibrahim did not have to chase. All he had was the thrill of the catch. He had never had to want or wait, had never been said no to – except once.
And here she was.
With him tonight.
recently filled in a form where she was asked for her job title and was thrilled, after all these years, to be able to put down her answer as ‘writer’.
Then it asked what Carol did for relaxation and, after chewing her pen for a moment, Carol put down the truth—‘writing’. The third question asked, ‘What are your hobbies?’ Well, not wanting to look obsessed or, worse still, boring, she crossed the fingers on her free hand and answered ‘swimming and tennis’. But, given that the chlorine in the pool does terrible things to her highlights, and the closest she’s got to a tennis racket in the last couple of years is watching the Australian Open, I’m sure you can guess the real answer!
Carol also writes for
Mills & Boon
try somewhere else.’
Georgie had known that there was no chance of getting into the exclusive London club.
She hadn’t even wanted to try.
If the truth be known, Georgie would far rather be home in bed, but it was Abby’s birthday. The rest of their friends had drifted off and Abby didn’t want her special day to end just yet. She seemed quite content to stand in the impossible queue, watching the rich and famous stroll in as the doorman kept them behind a thick red rope.
‘Let’s stay. It’s fun just watching,’ Abby said as a limousine pulled up and a young socialite stepped out. ‘Oh, look at her dress! I’m going to take a photo.’
The paparazzi’s cameras lit up the street as the young woman waited and a middle-aged actor joined her, both posing for the cameras. Georgie shivered in her strappy dress and high-heeled sandals, though she chatted away to her friend, determined
to be a party pooper, because Abby had been so looking forward to this night.
The doorman walked down the line, as he did
occasionally, and Georgie rather hoped he was going to tell them to all just give up and go home. Yet there was more purpose in his step this time and Georgie suddenly realised he was walking directly towards them… Her hands moved to smooth her blonde hair in a nervous gesture as he approached, worried they had done something wrong, that perhaps photos weren’t allowed.
‘Come through, ladies.’ He pulled open the rope and both women glanced at each other, unsure what was happening. ‘I’m so sorry, we didn’t realise you were in the queue.’
As she opened her mouth to speak, to ask just who he thought that they were, Georgie felt the nudge of Abby’s fingers in her ribs. ‘Just walk.’
The whole queue had turned and was now watching them, trying to guess who they were. A camera flashed and when one did, the rest followed, the photographers assuming that they must be
as the heavy glass doors were opened and they entered the exclusive club.
‘This is the best birthday ever!’ Abby was beside herself with excitement but Georgie loathed the spotlight and the scrutiny it placed on her, though it wasn’t only that that had her heart hammering in her chest as they were led through a dark room to a very prominent table. There was a tightening in her throat and a strange sinking feeling in her stomach as she fathomed that this might not be a mistake on the doorman’s part.
Mistakes like this just did not happen.
And there was only one person in the world she could
think of who might be at this place. One person she knew who had the power to open impossible doors. The one person she had tried for months not to think of. One man she would do her utmost to avoid.
‘Again—our apologies, Miss Anderson.’ Her thoughts were confirmed as the waiter used what he thought was her name and a bottle of champagne appeared. Georgie sat down, her cheeks on fire, scared to look up, to look over to the man approaching, because she knew that when she did it would be to him. ‘Ibrahim has asked that we take care of you.’
So now there was no avoiding him. She willed a bland reaction, told her heart to slow down, her body to calm—hoped against hope that she could deliver a cool greeting. Georgie lifted her eyes, and even as she managed a small smile, even if she did appear in control, inside every cell jolted, with nerves and unexpected relief.
Relief because, despite denial, despite insisting to herself otherwise, still she wanted him so.
‘Georgie.’ The sound of his voice after all this time, the hint of an accent despite his well-schooled intonation, made her stomach flip and fold as she stood to greet him—and for a moment she was back there, back in Zaraq, back in his arms. ‘It has been a long time.’ He was clearly just leaving. On his arm a woman as blonde as herself flashed a possessive warning with her eyes, which Georgie heeded.
‘It has been a while.’ Her voice was a touch higher
than the one she would have chosen had she had any say in it. ‘How are you?’
‘Well,’ Ibrahim said, and he looked it. Despite all she had read about him, despite the excesses of his lifestyle. He was taller than she remembered, or was he just a touch thinner? His features a little more savage. His raven hair was longer than she remembered, but even at two a.m. it fell in perfect shape. His black eyes roamed in assessment, just as they had that day, and then he waited for her gaze to meet his and somehow he won the unvoiced race because, just as had happened on that first day, she could not stop looking.
His mouth had not changed. Had she had only one feature to identify him by, if the police somehow formed an identity parade of lips, she could, without hesitation, have walked up and chosen her culprit. For, in contrast to his sculpted features, his mouth was soft, with full lips that a long time ago had spread into a slow, lazy smile, revealing perfectly even teeth, but tonight there would be no smile. It was a mouth that evoked a strange response. As Georgie stood there, forced to maintain this awkward conversation as she met his gaze, it was his mouth that held her mind. As he spoke on, it was his mouth she wanted to watch, and after all this time, in a crowded club with a woman on his arm, it was those lips she wanted to kiss.
‘How are you?’ he asked politely. ‘How is your new business? Are you getting a lot of clients?’ And it told her he remembered, not just that night but the details she had so readily shared back then. She recalled all
the excitement in her voice as she’d told him about her Reiki and healing oils venture, and how interested he had been, and she was glad of the darkness because maybe, just maybe, there were tears in her eyes.
‘It’s going very well, thank you.’ Georgie said.
‘And have you seen your niece recently?’ How wooden and formal he sounded. How she wanted the real Ibrahim to come back, to take her by the hand and drag her out of there, to take her to his car, to his bed, to an alley, to anywhere where it could be just them. Instead he awaited her answer and Georgie shook her head. ‘I haven’t been back since …’ And she stopped because she had to, because her world was divided into two—before and after.
Since a kiss that had changed her for ever.
Since harsh words had been exchanged.
‘I—I haven’t b-been back since the wedding.’ Georgie stammered.
‘I was there last month—Azizah is doing well.’
She knew he had been back, despite swearing she wouldn’t try to find out. She delved just a little when she spoke with her sister, searched out his name in ways she wasn’t proud of. His words were almost lost in the noise of the club, and the only way to continue the conversation would be to move her head just a fraction closer, but that, for her own reasons, Georgie could not do. As his date gave a pointed yawn and the hand on his arm tightened, Georgie thanked him for his help in getting them into the club and for the champagne, and in return Ibrahim wished her goodnight.
There was a hesitation, just the briefest hesitation, because the polite thing to do would be to kiss her on the cheek, to say farewell in the usual way—but as both heads moved a fraction for the familiar ritual, by mutual consent they halted, because even in this setting, even with the clash of perfumes and colognes in the air, the space between them had warmed with a scent that was a subtle combination of them, a sultry, intoxicating scent that was so potent, so thick, so heavy it should come with a government warning.
Georgie gave a wry smile.
It came with a royal warning!
‘Goodnight,’ she said, and as he headed out, she watched the people part, watched heads turn to this beautiful man and then back to her, curious eyes watching, because even that short contact with him, in this superficial setting, rendered her
. Especially, when all of a sudden he changed his mind, when he left his date and strode back towards her. It was almost the same as it had once been, this charge, this pull, that propelled him to her, and she wanted to give in and run, to cross the club and just run to him, but instead she stood there, shivering inside as he came back to her, rare tears in her eyes as he bent his head and offered words she’d neither expected nor sought.
And she couldn’t say anything, because she’d have wept or, worse, she’d have turned to him, to the mouth that she’d craved for so long now.
‘Not for all of it, but for some if the things I said.
You’re not …’ His voice was husky. He did not have to repeat it, the word had been ringing in her ears for months now. ‘I apologise.’
‘Thank you.’ Somehow she found her voice. ‘I’m sorry too.’
She was sorry.
And then he turned away and she could not stand to watch him leave a second time so she took her seat instead.
‘Who,’ Abby demanded as Georgie sat down, ‘was that?’
Georgie didn’t answer. Instead she took a sip of her champagne, except it didn’t quench her thirst, so she took another and then looked over to the man who never usually looked back. But in the early hours of this morning he did—and so potent was his effect, so renewed was her longing that had he even crooked his finger, had he so much as beckoned with his head, she would have gone to him.
It was a relief when the door closed on him but it took a moment for normality to return—to be back in the world without him.
‘Georgie?’ Abby was growing impatient.
‘You know my sister Felicity, who lives in Zaraq?’ Georgie watched Abby’s mouth gape. ‘That’s her husband’s brother.’
‘He’s a prince?’
Georgie attempted nonchalant. ‘Well, as Karim is, I guess he must be.’
‘You never said he was so …’ Abby’s voice trailed off, but Georgie knew what she meant. Even though Georgie’s sister had married into royalty, even though Felicity had gone to Zaraq as a nurse and married a prince, Georgie had played it down to her friends—as if Zaraq was some dot, as if royals were ten a penny there. She had not told them the details of this stunning land, the endless desert she had flown over, the markets and deep traditions in the countryside, contrasting with the glittering, luxurious city, with seven-star resorts and designer boutiques.
And certainly she had not told her friends about him.
‘What happened when you were there?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You were different when you got back. You hardly ever spoke about it.’
‘It was just a wedding.’
‘Oh, come on, Georgie—look at him, I’ve never see a more beautiful man. You didn’t even show me the wedding photos …’
‘Nothing happened,’ Georgie answered, because what had happened between Ibrahim and herself had never been shared, even though she thought about it every day.
‘Three times a bridesmaid!’ Georgie could still hear her mother making the little joke as they stood waiting for
the service to start. ‘It’s a saying we have. If you’re a bridesmaid three times, then you’ll never …’ Her mother had given up trying to explain then. The Zaraquians were not interested in nervous chatter and they certainly did not make small talk—all they were focussed on was the wedding that was about to take place. Despite all the pomp and glamour, it wasn’t even the real wedding—that had taken place a few weeks ago in front of a judge—but now that the king had recovered from a serious operation, and Felicity deemed a suitable bride for Karim, the official celebration was taking place before her pregnancy became too obvious. Still, even if no one was listening, Georgie’s cheeks burnt as her mother chatted on, shame whooshing up inside her. She closed her eyes for a dizzy second, because if her mother only knew the truth … There was no reason for her to know, Georgie told herself, calmed herself, reassured herself, and then her mind was thrown into turmoil again because she opened her eyes to a long, appraising stare from an incredibly imposing man. He was dressed like his father and brothers in military uniform, but surely never had a man worn it so well. She swung between relief and regret because had they been in England she’d have got to dance with the best man.
She expected him to flick his eyes away, to be embarrassed at being caught staring, but, no, he continued to look on till it was Georgie who looked away, embarrassed. She’d had no say whatsoever in her bridesmaid outfit and stood, awkward in apricot, her thick blonde hair tightly braided so it hung over her shoulder and her
make-up, which had been done for her, far too heavy for such pale skin. It was just so not how you wanted to first be seen by a man so divine. She felt his eyes on her all through the wedding and after, even when he wasn’t looking, somehow she was aware of his warm attention.
She’d had no idea what to expect from this wedding and certainly it hadn’t been to have fun, but after the speeches, the formalities, the endless photographs she began to glimpse the real people and place that her sister loved. There was a brief lull in proceedings when the king and the brothers disappeared and returned out of uniform: dark men in dark suits. There was the thud of music and stamping and clapping, a sexy parade dancing the bride and groom down palace stairs to a ballroom that was waiting, lit only by candles, and Georgie watched as Karim stood as his bride danced towards him. She saw her sister dancing, usually so rigid and uptight, now sensual and smiling, and it was a woman Georgie hardly recognised.
As the guests circled the couple the atmosphere was infectious but Georgie was nervous to join in. Then there was a warm hand on her back guiding her, and the scent of Ibrahim close up, his low voice in her ear. ‘You must join in the zeffa.’ She didn’t know how to. Didn’t know how to dance freely, even on the sidelines, but with him beside her, tentatively she tried.
She could feel the beat in her stomach and it moved through her thighs and to her toes, but more than that she could feel the moment, feel the rush and the energy,
taste the love in the air—and it was potent. ‘The zeffa usually takes place before the wedding, but we make our traditions to accommodate the needs of our people ….’ He did not leave her side, even when the music slowed and she found herself dancing with him. ‘Today, yesterday, we do all the formalities expected of royals, but now, amongst friends and family, it is for the couple.’