He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled at his boots. “No,” he said, and her heart skipped.

“No? I won’t sleep with you, Malik, and I won’t have sex with you,” she said in a heated rush.


“So you keep saying. But I don’t believe you, Sydney.” He stood, still wearing the loose trousers he’d had on beneath the dishdasha. They hung low on his lean hips, tied at the waist with a drawstring. His hipbones protruded from the waistband, and her mouth went dry.

Oh, dear God. His abdomen was as tight as ever, his chest sculpted with lean muscle. His body was perfect.

Her heart throbbed. And, God help her, her body was responding.

“You won’t force me,” she blurted.

He put his hands on his hips. “No, I won’t. But I won’t have to, will I?”

Before she knew what he was planning, he grabbed her foot and dragged her down until she was lying flat on the bed. And then he was on top of her, his body hovering over hers but not quite touching.

His head dropped, his lips skimming her throat. She splayed her hands against his chest, intending to push him away—except that she didn’t quite manage to do so. Heat seared her, glorious heat.

She arched her neck, bit her lip to stop the moan that threatened.

“You want me,” he said, his voice a sensual rumble against her skin. “You burn for me.” “No,” she replied.

“No …”

“Then push, Sydney,” he urged heatedly. “By God, push me away. Or I won’t be responsible.”

CHAPTER NINE

SYDNEY was frozen, like a small animal trying to hide from a much larger predator. She wanted to be strong, wanted to push him away—and she didn’t. She wanted him with a fierceness that no longer surprised her. She wanted him inside her, his powerful body moving with precision, taking them both to heaven and back.

Her fingers curled, her eyes closing. Oh, how it hurt to want her desert prince so badly. To know that she would never truly have him, even if she offered herself up here and now.

She thought he would kiss her, thought that her inability to move would bring him to her and begin what she wanted oh so desperately.

Instead, he rolled away from her.

Sydney blinked back tears—of frustration, of anger, of sadness? She was no longer certain. Being with Malik again confused things. Confused her.

“Why did you leave, Sydney?” He sounded almost tormented. “We had this—and you left.”

“You know why,” she said, pushing the words past the ache in her throat.

“No, I don’t. I know what you told me—that you overheard my conversation—but why did that make you go? Why didn’t you confront me?”

“Confront you?” she choked out. “How could I do that? You humiliated me!”

“Which should have made you angry.”

“It did make me angry!”

He rolled onto his side to face her. “Then explain to me how you thought leaving would fix the problem.”

Sydney scrambled up to a sitting position. Shame flooded her. How could she say it? How could she explain that she’d always known she wasn’t good enough for him? That she knew it was too good to be true? It had always been a matter of time before he no longer wanted her.

So why did you agree to marry him?

“I was upset,” she said. “Hurt. You didn’t want me, and I wasn’t about to stay and pretend I didn’t know it. And then, then …” She couldn’t finish, couldn’t speak about their last night together when she’d told him how she felt and been met with silence. It was too humiliating, even now.

“When did I say I didn’t want you?”

She thought back. He’d never actually said those words, had he? But what else could he have meant when he said marrying her was a mistake?

She shook her head. He was trying to confuse her, and she wouldn’t allow it. She had to hold onto her anger, her pain. “You told your brother you made a mistake. What was I supposed to think?”

He reached for her hand, took it in one of his. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her. “I did make a mistake, Sydney. Because I married you without giving you a chance to realize what this kind of life entailed. Did you know my mother would despise you? That you would always be an outsider in Jahfar? Did you have any idea what being my wife would entail? I gave you no chance to discover these things.”

Her heart hurt. Her head. Her throat felt like sand. “Are you really trying to tell me that you were only thinking of me when you said it? Because, if so, why didn’t you come after me? Why didn’t you call?”

“You left me, Sydney. No other woman has ever done so.”

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