Once, she would have given anything for Malik to feel that way about her. It was too late now, but she wouldn’t say so to the queen.

“I’ll remember that,” she said, dropping her eyes from the earnest look in Isabella’s. The queen truly believed what she said, and while Sydney was glad it had worked out for them, she knew it was hopeless for her and Malik. You couldn’t put back together what had never been there in the first place.

Isabella squeezed her hand. “Good. Now why don’t we go have that coffee, hmm?”

Thunder woke her in the middle of the night. Sydney sat up in alarm, her heart pounding, certain she hadn’t heard correctly. This was a desert country—they didn’t have thunderstorms. Or did they?

Another crash sounded, and then a flash of lightning. Sydney grabbed her robe and stumbled from the bed. A hot gust of wind rippled her clothing as she opened the doors and stepped onto the terrace in her bare feet. The stones were still warm from the afternoon sun. Another flash of lightning lit the sky, illuminating the sea and the thunderclouds hanging over the water.

It had taken her hours to fall asleep. Jet lag was partly to blame. Malik was the other part of the equation. They’d driven back to his home in silence after dinner with the king and queen. Sydney had wanted to ask him questions about the evening, about his family, but she’d been unable to find her voice.

She’d kept expecting him to speak to her, but beyond a cursory question about how she’d enjoyed the food, he’d said nothing else. When they’d arrived, he’d bid her a good night and left her standing alone in the entry.

Another gust of wind blew her hair across her face. She shoved it to the side and breathed deeply of the rain-scented air. It reminded her of storms back home when she was a kid, of the way she’d made up stories in her head about giant knights slaying fire-breathing dragons in the sky.

Her father had said she was too fanciful. Alicia had always laughed and gone back to playing office with her dolls.

“It looks worse than it is.”

Sydney spun to find Malik sitting at the other end of the terrace. He unfolded his frame from a chair, stalked toward her. Her heart was already hammering from the thunder, but it kicked up several notches as another flash of lightning illuminated the sky.

Dear God, Malik wasn’t wearing a shirt.

Sydney swallowed as he came to halt in front of her.

“Will it actually rain?”

He tilted his head up, exposing his throat as he gazed at the sky. She remembered nibbling that throat. Sucking the skin there. A dart of sensation throbbed between her legs. She could feel herself growing wet, feel the aching heaviness of sexual arousal. His chest was broad, sculpted with muscle. Lightly sprinkled with hair that tapered into a V, leading the eye down, down, down to the waistband of the faded jeans he wore.

Sydney jerked her gaze back up, but not quite in time. Malik was watching her, his dark gaze smoldering with intensity.

“Like what you see?”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder again. Why lie? He’d see right through her anyway. “Yes. But it doesn’t matter if I like it or not, because I’m not traveling that road again.”

His chuckle was a sexy vibration in his throat. “It won’t rain here tonight, but we could quench our thirsts in other ways. I’m sure you remember how good it was between us, Sydney.”

“I don’t care,” she said, her voice catching at the end.

He reached out with one hand, tucked a strand of hair that had blown free behind her ear. A shiver ran the length of her. He was different now. Not as reserved as earlier. After they’d left the palace, he’d been silent, tense. She’d wanted to know why, but she’d been unable to ask.

“You used to care. Very much. I remember that you couldn’t get enough of me.”

“People change, Malik. I’ve changed.”

“Have you?”

“I think we both have.”

“Perhaps these changes will only make it better,” he said, his voice too seductive for comfort.

She was mesmerized. Oh, how she wanted. But it was a bad, bad idea. Once she stumbled down that path, she wouldn’t be able to turn around again. Because he was addictive.

“I doubt that,” she said firmly, as much to him as to herself.

His smirk told her she’d made a mistake. “Yes, perhaps you are right. It could hardly get better. How many ways did you give yourself to me? How many times?”

“More than enough,” she answered, proud of herself for being able to reply when his words called up a wealth of erotic memories in her mind.

“I’m certain we could think of a few more things to try,” he said.

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