She looked down, clasped her hands together in front of her. “You didn’t need yet another woman falling at your feet. Though it didn’t take long for you to make me do just that, did it?”

Something sharp stabbed him in the chest. He remembered her surrender, remembered the sweetness of it. He’d never once believed it to be because she was weak. “I took your indifference as a challenge.”


“Some challenge,” she said bitterly. “It took you less than a week to succeed in making me forget my resolve.”

“You are angry with yourself for this, yes?” Pain throbbed inside him. Filled him.

She regretted her capitulation. Regretted him.

A burning need to possess her, to make her forget every moment of hurt feelings between them, rose up inside him like a wave.

Why now? Why here? She did not want him any longer, as she’d been only too happy to tell him more than once since her arrival. He should have pursued her when she’d left Paris, should have refused to allow more than a day to go by where they did not speak about her reasons for leaving.

He’d been a fool.

“It would have been better for us both had I shown more restraint. We would not have to endure this time together now.”

Her words stung. Endure. He did not like to think too deeply about that word, or the impact it’d had on his life thus far. There were many things in this life to be endured. It was not altogether pleasant to be one of them.

“And yet we shall.” Sudden weariness washed over him. The evening had been a strain, in more ways than one, and Sydney was still looking at him with a kind of wariness that gutted him. He had no more patience for it. If he did not leave her now, he would scoop her up and take her to bed, prove that she could still be mastered by his touch.

And neither of them would gain anything by such a demonstration.

Malik took a step backward, bowed to her. “It is late, habibti. You need your rest.”

Then he pivoted and strode away from her. Back to his bedroom. Back to his solitude.

Sydney did not sleep well. There were things she wanted to ask Malik, things she’d meant to say when they’d stood on the terrace together. He’d been so approachable for once, so raw in his feelings. It was a side of him she’d never seen before. She’d been drawn to him—a dangerous feeling—and she’d wanted to know more.

But he’d shut down again. Withdrawn. Left her standing there with the wind and lightning and her tangled emotions.

She’d considered following him, but dismissed the thought as foolhardy. He would be angry if she did so. Not only that, but how could she control what might happen if she followed him to his bedroom?

Because she was so weak where he was concerned. She could still feel his chest where she’d pressed her palms against him. The hard contours, the blazing heat of his skin, the crisp hair. She’d ached with want. With memories of bliss.

And when she finally did fall asleep, she was troubled by dreams of him, by the agony in his voice when he’d told her about Dimah. Why had he never told her before? Why, in the weeks they’d been together, had he never told her?

It was another symptom of everything that had been wrong between them. Everything she’d been too blind to see. They’d barely known one another, subsisting instead on reckless passion and heated lovemaking. That could only last so long before it burned itself out.

After a restless night, she awoke early. The sun was just creeping into the sky when she showered and dressed in a fitted mocha sheath and a pair of gladiator sandals. Then she put her hair in a ponytail and applied the barest of lipstick and mascara before making her way to the dining room.

Her heart thudded in her throat as she paused outside the door. She could hear Malik’s smooth voice as he spoke with one of the staff. Sydney sucked in a deep breath and walked into the room.

Two sets of eyes turned to look at her. Malik’s dark gaze was angry, but it was the woman with him who drew Sydney’s attention. She was slender, elegant, expensively dressed—and livid.

Definitely not a staff member.

She turned back to Malik, spewed a tirade of Arabic at him while gesturing to Sydney.

“Mother,” Malik said at last, his voice harder than she’d ever heard it, “we will speak in English for the benefit of my wife.”

His mother? Oh, God.

The other woman glared at her. “Yes, English. And you say this girl is not unsuitable to be an Al Dhakir? She does not even speak Arabic!”

“Language can be learned. As your command of English proves.”

His mother bristled in outrage. “You should have done your duty, Malik. Your father let you off too easily after Dimah died. Adan found you a suitable bride, at my request, but you would not do what you should.” The rings on the princess’s fingers glittered in the morning light as she took a sip of her coffee.

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