Sydney Reed—Sydney Al Dhakir, he corrected—was so beautiful, so very luscious, so bad for his control. From the first minute he’d seen her, he’d wanted her. She’d been aloof … but only at first. When he’d finally gotten her into his arms, she’d burned so hot he’d known that once with her wasn’t enough.

She probably wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever known, but he couldn’t actually remember another being more compelling to him. Her skin was as pale as milk, her hair the color of the red dunes of the Jahfaran desert. Her eyes were like a rain-gray sky, the kind of sky one often found hanging over Paris in winter.

While others might find rain depressing, he found it unbearably lovely.

Especially when it was reflected in her eyes.

Malik swore softly. He’d known, when he’d impulsively married her, that it could not last. Because he’d married her for all the wrong reasons, not least the utter dismay it would cause his family. That, and he’d wanted her with a fierceness that had shocked him.

The phone clanged into the stillness, making him jump. Though he could let his secretary get it, he preferred the distraction to his chaotic thoughts.

“Yes?” he barked into the receiver.

“I hear that your wife arrived today,” his brother Adan said.

“That’s correct,” Malik replied somewhat stiffly. “She is here.”

He’d kept her away from Jahfar for a reason. Now that she was here, he had no choice but to share her with his family. Though he’d thought there might be a bit more time before that happened. Malik frowned. His brothers would be polite, but his mother certainly would not.

“And do you plan on bringing her to the palace?”

Malik ground his teeth. He hadn’t told Adan why Sydney was here. He hadn’t told anyone. “Perhaps in a few days. Or not. I have business in Al Na’ir.”

“Surely you can spare an evening. I wish to meet her, Malik.”

“Is that a command?”

There was no pause whatsoever. “It is.”

How very easily Adan had slipped into power. He hadn’t been the heir to the throne, just as Malik had not been a part of the ruling family, until their cousin had died in a boating accident and Adan suddenly found himself the heir to their uncle. When their uncle died a year later, Adan had ascended the throne as king.

He’d been a good king. A just king.

“Then I will bring her. Though not today. She is tired from the journey.”

“Of course,” Adan replied. “We will see you for dinner tomorrow night. Isabella looks forward to it.”

“Tomorrow night then.”

Their goodbyes were stiff, formal, but Malik had expected nothing different. They’d had such a barren childhood, with nannies and a kind of rigid formality that was not conducive to warmth between them. Oh, Malik loved his brothers—and his sister—but theirs was not an easy relationship.

He wasn’t quite sure why. There’d been no huge trauma, no major falling out. Just a quiet distance that seemed impossible to breech. The more time moved on, the wider the chasm.

Perhaps that was why he’d been so drawn to Sydney. She’d made him feel less alone, and he’d been addicted to that feeling. But that was before she’d betrayed him, before she’d proven she was no different than anyone else in his life.

Malik checked his watch. It had been over six hours since he’d brought her here. He debated calling Hala to check on her, but decided he would do so instead. He would not hide from her, would not shrink from the raw emotions still rolling between them like a storm-tossed sea.

He found her on the small terrace off her room, her long hair loose and flowing down her back, the wind from the sea ruffling the auburn strands. She’d put on a fluid cream-colored dress that skimmed her form. It was slightly darker than the milk of her skin, but it made her look ethereal. Like an angel.

She turned her head as he approached, setting down the coffee she’d been cupping in both hands. Her expression went carefully blank, but not before he saw the yearning there.

It gutted him, that yearning.

“Are you feeling refreshed?” he asked.

“I am, thank you,” she replied, glancing away again.

He pulled out the chair opposite her, setting it at an angle so he could view the sea and her face at once if he so chose. “Your luggage is intact, I take it?”

“Yes. Everything arrived.”

She picked up the coffee again, her long fingers shaking as she threaded them on either side of the cup. He did that to her, he realized. Made her as skittish as a newborn foal.

It reminded him of the first time they’d made love. She hadn’t been a virgin, but she hadn’t been terribly experienced, either. Everything he did to her had been a revelation. Soon, she’d been bold and eager for more.