“I did run. And maybe I was wrong, but you share some of the blame, too.”

“Yes, I know this.” He found the trousers, shoved a leg in first one side and then the other before standing and pulling them up to fasten them.

“That’s it?” she said. “You’re leaving? You’d rather have sex or walk out than talk to me?”

She sounded bitter. And angry.

“Right now, yes.”

She got to her knees in the middle of the bed. He tried not to look at the way the dim light from the lamps limned the silky skin of her breasts. The way it kissed her curves, disappeared in the shadowed cleft between her thighs. She put her hands on her hips, and his gaze shot up to her face, more for self-preservation than anything else.

“You’re unbelievable, you know that? You talk about me running away, but what about you? You can’t face any conversation that might be about the way you feel.”

He stood there, clenching his fists at his sides. Willing himself to be calm and methodic about this. He thought back to his childhood, to those days when he’d longed for someone—anyone—to tell him he was loved, valued. Wanted for more than dynastic reasons. For more than reasons that were only about tradition and duty.

His father was proud. He cared for his children in his own way, but he wasn’t demonstrative. And his mother …

Malik frowned. His mother had no maternal feelings whatsoever. Children were a duty, something one produced before handing them over to be raised accordingly. She only became interested in him when he was old enough to do what he wanted without recourse.

He’d never talked about his feelings because there was nothing to talk about. No one to talk about them with. Since he’d become a man, he’d heard those three words often—I love you—but always from women whose motives he did not trust. Women who wanted to trap him for his wealth and position, not for who he was at heart.

And who was he, really? What great prize was he?

Malik ground his teeth in frustration. “Our relationship didn’t break down overnight. I don’t imagine it can be fixed overnight, either.”

“Relationship? Is that what you call this? I thought it was just sex.”

“What do you want from me, Sydney? We’ve been apart a year. Do you expect a declaration of true love?”

“No,” she cried quickly. Too quickly. “That’s not what I want. Not what I expect.”

And yet he knew she did. She was a woman who was open with her feelings, even when she thought she wasn’t. Her every emotion was written on her face. He couldn’t be like her, even if he wanted to. He was too used to protecting himself, denying himself.

What happened if he tore down the walls between him and the world? “I’m not sure I can be what you expect,” he said. “I can only be what I am.”

“How do you know what you can do,” she said sadly, “if you won’t even talk about it?”

The next morning, Malik announced they were leaving. Sydney looked up from the tray Adara had just brought in for them, her heart sinking into her stomach.

“But we’ve only just arrived. I thought you had business to conduct.”

Malik’s handsome face was studiously blank. “I’ve done what I needed,” he said. “We’re moving on to the city of Al Na’ir. You will be more comfortable there.”

“And by done what you needed, do you mean enticing me into your bed again?” It was the wrong thing to say, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.

His jaw looked harder than granite. “That was so very difficult to do, wasn’t it? No, Sydney, that is not what I mean.”

She lifted her chin. No, it hadn’t been difficult, just like it hadn’t been difficult when she’d met him last year.

“Be ready in an hour,” he said. She thought he looked as if he would say something else, but instead he turned and went back outside. Sydney balled her hand into a fist and punched one of the cushions on the couch.

She had no one to blame but herself. She’d known what being with Malik again would mean, and she’d fallen headlong into hedonism anyway.

Her body was still languorous from their intense lovemaking of yesterday. She’d lost track of how many times they’d awakened from a nap to sink into each other again. It had been a day of excess, of pleasure so intense she’d wanted to weep from it.

It had also been a day in which she’d realized that nothing had changed for her. She was still in love with Malik. She’d pushed him to talk, but it hadn’t quite been fair of her. Only a few days ago, he’d told her about Dimah, about his family and his relationship with them when she’d asked.

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