But she was determined to try.

Sydney grabbed her briefcase and straightened her skirt before walking up the stairs to the door. She’d chosen a long sea-green sundress today and paired it with a white bolero sweater and low-heeled sandals. She would have to change into something a bit warmer for the long flight to Jahfar.

Excitement bubbled in her veins. And fear. What if Malik turned her away? What if he was through dealing with a childish wife? What if he was the one who wanted to move on now?

Sydney shook her head. No, she would not think like that. She would take the frightening leap and let everything happen as it may.

Sydney punched the doorbell, pasting on her best smile as she did so. The door jerked open. A dark-haired man stood in the entry, his presence making her nearly jump out of her skin.

She blinked, certain she wasn’t seeing him right. But no, he looked like Malik. Except he wasn’t Malik. He was tall, golden-skinned. His chiseled features were familiar, and not familiar. Handsome, like an Al Dhakir male.

Her heart began to pound.

“Hello, Sydney,” he said in a distinctly Jahfaran accent. “I am Taj.”

“I …” She swallowed, blinked again. He must have thought she was an idiot. “I’m pleased to meet you,” she said at last, though her throat was as dry as the Maktal Desert.

Taj smiled. He was, of course, breathtaking. “I have heard a lot about you,” he said, golden-voiced, golden-skinned, golden-smiled.

“You have?”

“Naturally. My brother talks of little else.”

She stopped in the spacious entry. Tears of relief pricked the corners of her eyes as her pulse thundered out of control. “Malik? Is he here?”

Taj tucked her hand into his arm and started toward the terrace. “Why don’t you come and see for yourself?”

Taj led her across a cavernous living room decorated all in white and onto the terrace. A profusion of flowers bloomed in containers, their bright colors framing the golden beauty of the man standing near the pool. Behind him, the ocean glistened in the late afternoon sun. Seagulls swooped in the distance, their piercing cries carrying on the currents.

Sydney’s heart turned over. Malik wore a tuxedo, of all things, and his hands were shoved into the pockets of his trousers. She wanted to rush into his arms, and yet she was paralyzed. She’d tried to find him for days, and here he was. Right here. So close to her and yet so far.

“If you will excuse me,” Taj said, “I must change clothes.”

Sydney nodded, but her throat had closed up and she couldn’t speak. Words, how silly. Who needed words? She couldn’t think of anything to say, even if she could manage to force the words out.

Malik’s gaze flickered behind her. He nodded once, and then focused his attention on her again. His dark eyes were hot, intense. She loved the way he looked at her. She loved him.

But did he love her?

And yet she was so relieved he was here, because she hadn’t been sure she would actually see him again. What if he’d turned her away without seeing her first?

But here he was. Her beloved. Her handsome, handsome husband. Emotion welled in her.

He crossed the distance between them and stopped. She’d thought he was going to put his arms around her, but they remained at his side. She ached for him to touch her, to speak. Her skin was so tight, so confining. She wanted to slip into him, become a part of him.

She wanted his heat and his power the way she’d had it in the desert. Her dress suddenly felt too hot, in spite of the breeze coming off the ocean. She wanted to strip. Right here, right now. She wanted so many things, and she had no idea where to start—or if he’d want to hear any of it.

“It’s good to see you again, Sydney,” Malik said, his voice caressing her name so sweetly. The way he’d caressed her body. The way she wanted him to caress her body again.

“I bought a ticket,” she blurted. Oh, God, where did that come from? Why had she said that? But her brain was refusing to function right. He was here, and she wanted to tell him everything, wanted to spill all her secrets and feelings and hope he felt the same.

He looked puzzled. “A ticket?”

She closed her eyes briefly. Clutched her briefcase. She needed something solid, something to remind her this was real. “To Jahfar,” she said, feeling embarrassed and stupid and ridiculous all at once. “I leave tonight.”

“Ah, I see. That will be a shame.”

“A shame?”

He reached out, his fingers ghosting over her cheek. She tried to lean into the caress, but it was too fleeting to do so. “I had hoped you would attend a party with me.”

“A party?” She looked down at her clothes. “I—I’m not dressed for a party.”

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