“I’m not sleeping with you.”
He sauntered toward her, finally halting only inches away. She could feel his heat enveloping her. Her gaze landed on his mouth. That gorgeous, sensual mouth. His lips were full, firm, oh, so kissable.
“Perhaps you should,” he said, his voice a sexy purr. “Perhaps we should explore every nuance of this marriage before ending it permanently.”
“You can’t mean that.” Her heart was pounding, her stomach flipping. Need was pooling in her blood, filling her veins, making her body throb. She could feel the wetness between her thighs, the ache of arousal.
“I might. After this morning’s display, I’m beginning to think I’ve acquiesced far too easily to your demands.”
Sydney blinked. “My demands? You’re the one who forced me to come to Jahfar! I’m simply trying to get through this without a lot of pain for either one of us.”
His eyes narrowed. “You have changed, Sydney. You did not used to be so … cynical.”
She swallowed. “I’m not cynical. I’m just practical.”
“Is that what they call it now?”
“You’re still angry with me because of your mother,” she said after a tense moment of silence in which she wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “I’m sorry if you didn’t agree, but I couldn’t let there be hard feelings between you when there was no need for it.”
His sudden laugh was harsh, startling. “I’m afraid you failed, my dear. There have always been hard feelings between my mother and I, and there will continue to be long after you are gone. Your outburst did nothing to relieve that.”
She hurt for him, for the casual way in which he could say that he and his mother were at odds. But then she remembered what he’d said about his childhood, and all she felt was sadness. He’d been raised in wealth and privilege, but he’d never really known what it was like to have a close-knit family. His was all about duty and tradition—without any consideration for love and connection.
She thought of what his mother had said this morning about finding Malik another bride—and it felt as if a puzzle piece suddenly clicked into place. Of course.
“You married me because you didn’t want to marry the bride they’d picked out, didn’t you?”
“I married you because I wanted to.”
“But doing so got you out of another arranged marriage.”
He hesitated a fraction too long.
“It doesn’t matter.” “It does to me,” she said, her heart throbbing with hurt. She’d been convenient, nothing more. If he’d been dating some other woman at the time, he would no doubt have married her instead. Anything to throw a wrench into his family’s plans.
“Perhaps I married you because I felt something,” he said, his voice dipping. “Did you ever consider that possibility?”
An ache of a different kind vibrated in her heart. “You’re just saying that. Don’t.”
Because she couldn’t take it, not now. Not when she’d spent the last year apart from him, not when he’d failed to contact her even once during their long separation. Those were not the actions of a man who felt anything.
Never mind the conversation she’d overheard with his brother. A conversation he did not deny having.
His eyes gleamed in the darkened tent. “You know me so well, don’t you, Sydney? Always positive that you have my motives pegged. My emotions.”
“You don’t have any emotions,” she flung at him. He stiffened as if she’d hit him, tension rolling from him in waves.
Her heart lurched, her throat constricting against a painful knot. She shouldn’t have said that. This was a man who’d told her, with such anguish, that he’d been responsible for the death of a girl.
Malik felt things. She knew he did.
But she still doubted he’d ever felt much for her. Nevertheless, that did not give her the right.
She dropped her gaze from his, swallowed. There was no moisture in her mouth. “Forgive me,” she said. “I didn’t mean that.”
He sounded stiff, formal. “I think we both know you did.”
You don’t have any emotions.
Malik couldn’t put the words out of his head, no matter how he tried. The sun had sunk behind the dunes hours ago now, and the desert air chilled him. He sat with a group of Bedu who’d gathered around a fire, smoking shishas and drinking coffee. He let their talk wash over him, around him. He spoke when necessary, but always his mind was elsewhere.
You don’t have any emotions.
He had emotions, but he’d learned at an early age to bury them deep. If you didn’t react, no one could hurt you. He’d stopped crying for his mother when he was three, stopped crying for his nanny at six.