Show time.

She took a deep breath before marching to the door and pasting a giant smile on her face. Always greet the client with warm enthusiasm. Her mother’s first rule of engagement. Sydney might not be the best salesperson the Reed Team had, but she worked the hardest at it. She had to.


Sydney was the odd duck in the Reed family of swans, the disappointing daughter. The one who made her parents shake their heads and smile politely when what they really wanted to do was ask her why she couldn’t be more like her perfect sister.

The only thing she’d ever done that had made them so proud they’d nearly popped was to marry a prince. But she’d failed at that, too, hadn’t she? They didn’t say anything, but she knew they were disappointed in her.

Sydney pulled the door open, her smile cracking apart the instant her gaze collided with the man’s standing on the threshold.

“Hello, Sydney.”

For a minute she couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. Couldn’t breathe. She was mesmerized by the dark glitter of those burning, burning eyes. A bird sang in a nearby tree, the sound oddly distorted as all her attention focused on the man standing before her.

The man she hadn’t seen, other than in photos in the papers or video clips on television, in over a year.

He was still spectacular, damn him. He was the desert. He was harsh and hard and beautiful. He’d been hers once.

No, he had not. It had been nothing more than an illusion. Malik belonged to no one but himself.

“What are you doing here?” she forced herself to ask.

“Isn’t that obvious?” Malik responded, one dark brow lifting sardonically. “I’m looking for a house.”

“You have a house,” she said inanely. “I sold it to you last year.”

“Yes, but I’ve never liked it.”

“Then why did you buy it?” she snapped, her pulse roaring in her veins.

His dark eyes glittered hotly. She almost took a step back, but held her ground beneath the onslaught of his gaze. My God, Malik was all man. There had never been anyone like him in her life. So tall and dark and powerful. Malik walked into a room and owned it. There was never any question who was in charge when Malik was around.

And she had been just as vulnerable to his power as anyone.

He’d owned her. He would own her still, had she not realized how destructive a life with him would be. Had she not decided she couldn’t give herself so utterly and completely to a man and still mean so little to him.

Pain rolled into a hard knot in her belly.

One corner of his mouth lifted in a grin, though there was no humor in his expression. “I bought it because you wanted me to, habibti.”

Sydney’s feet were stuck to the floor. Her stomach churned with emotion, and her eyes stung. So much pain and anger in seeing him again. She’d tried to inure herself to his presence in the world by reading every article about him she could find, even when they stabbed her in the heart with tales of his latest conquests. She’d told herself it would only be a matter of time before he returned to L.A. and that if she ran into him again, she would sniff haughtily and act like an ice princess.

And wasn’t she doing a fine job of that now?

Sydney stepped away from the door, determined to cloak herself in disdain. She did not need him. She’d never needed him. She’d only thought she had.

Riiight …

Inside, she was a mess. Outside, she was cool. As cool as he was. “And you always do what people want you to do, don’t you?” she said.

Malik walked inside and shut the door behind him. “Only if it amuses me.”

He took up all the space in the foyer, made it seem far too intimate. She could smell his soap, that special blend he had made in Paris. Her eyes skimmed over him. His suit was custom made, of course. Pale grey. The powder blue shirt beneath his jacket was unbuttoned just enough to show the hollow of his throat.

She knew what that spot tasted like, how it felt beneath her tongue.

Sydney pivoted, moved toward the floor to ceiling windows across the room. Her heart beat triple time. Her pulse throbbed. Her skin felt tight. “Then perhaps it would amuse you to buy a house with such a gorgeous view. I could use the commission.”

“If you need money, Sydney, you only have to ask.” He sounded so cool, so logical, so detached, as if he were telling his valet that he didn’t care whether it was the red tie or the maroon today.

Bitterness flooded her. So typical of him. Nothing engaged Malik’s emotions, not really. Her mistake had been in thinking she was different somehow.

Ha. Joke’s on you, girlfriend.

She turned back to him. “I don’t want your money, Malik. Now why don’t you get out before my real client arrives? If you have anything to say to me, you can say it through my lawyer.”

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