Malik would keep tabs on him, though. If he tried to harm another woman, he would find himself in the bottom of a cell. Because the country he was going to was a lot more intolerant than this one.

Sydney looked up and caught his eye. Her smile made him ache. It was only for him, he realized, that soft curve of the lips that said how much she wanted him. Needed him.


Loved him.

God, he was a lucky man.

She gave her sister a squeeze and then made her way over to him. He worked to smooth his expression, his emotions roiling inside as if he were a green boy who’d never been with a woman. He wanted her desperately, and he wanted her to know what he’d done to protect her sister. Thinking of Alicia made him angry all over again.

“What’s wrong, Malik? You look as if you could chew nails.”

He slipped an arm around her, anchored her to him as he dipped his head to kiss her. He would never tire of showing off his beautiful wife. “It is nothing. A business deal.”

He wouldn’t spoil the atmosphere of their party, but he would tell her later when they were alone. He didn’t think she would be angry at what he’d done, but he couldn’t be sure. And yet he would do the same thing again. No man should treat a woman the way Jeffrey Orr had treated Alicia. If he’d been Jahfaran, the punishment would have been infinitely swifter.

“You were very sneaky,” she said, smiling up at him. “I had no idea you were even in town. Alicia and my parents kept the secret quite well.”

“They love you very much. They are proud of you.”

“For what? For getting a rich and handsome husband?” She was teasing him, but he was deadly serious.

“No. For being who you are, Sydney.”

He could tell she didn’t quite believe it, but he would have a lifetime to convince her of how amazing she was. She would believe it eventually, just as he’d learned to believe he was deserving of love.

Her eyes sparkled in the soft light and he knew she was holding back tears. “I tried to call you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “By the time I realized I’d missed your calls, I was here and the plans were in motion.”

“You could have called me,” she said.

He squeezed her to him. “No, I could not. I don’t do well over the phone, as you very well know.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Malik, you have to learn sometime. It’s not all that hard.”

“Maybe it is,” he murmured in her ear. “Maybe it’s very hard.”

Her breath drew in sharply. “Do you think it would be scandalous if we left now?”

He made a show of checking his watch. As if he weren’t dying to get her alone as well. As if he had all the time in the world.

“I think we can safely go home now,” he said.

She grinned up at him, and his breath caught. How had he ever allowed her to leave him? How had he lived even a moment without her?

He lowered his head and kissed her. He intended it to be brief, but the instant their mouths touched, it was like setting a match to a fuse. She was soft, warm, delicious. His tongue delved into the recesses of her mouth, claimed her boldly and completely. She was his. Forever.

The sound of cheering and clapping brought him back to reality. He broke the kiss, more annoyed than anything.

Sydney ducked her head against him, her cheeks turning scarlet. “I think we should go now.”

Malik laughed. “And so we shall.”

He bade everyone a good night before leading Sydney to the waiting limo. They were suddenly very quiet as the limo pulled away from the hotel. She moved to the other side of the car and he kept his place near the door. If he touched her in the darkened interior, they would go up in flame.

And he wanted to do this right. He wanted a bed, flowers, candles, champagne. He wanted everything to be perfect for her.

“I’d ask why you’re staying over there,” she said, her soft voice cutting into the night. “But I think I know.”

“I’m only a man, Sydney. I can only handle so much before I snap.”

She purred in the darkness, and he hardened instantly. “I can’t wait for you to snap.”

When they finally reached their destination, she looked at him wonderingly. The Malibu house gleamed in the moonlight as the limo came to a stop in the circular drive, its engine still humming quietly.

“It seemed appropriate,” he said with a shrug. “It is where we began this journey the second time. I am quite fond of it.”

They didn’t make it to the bedroom. As soon as the front door closed behind them, they were in each other’s arms, kissing, touching, removing clothes, revealing their bodies as they revealed their souls to one another.

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