“How much time do you need?” he asked, his voice tight.

“At least a week,” she answered automatically, though in fact she knew no such thing. But she wanted to be in control this time. Needed to be in control. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

“Impossible. Two days.”

Sydney bristled. “Really? Is there a timeline, Malik? A celestial clock somewhere that insists we must do this on a specific timetable? I need a week. I have to make arrangements at work.”

And she had to check with her lawyer, just in case she could find some sort of legal loophole that would change everything.

Malik gazed down at her, his dark eyes gleaming hotly. Intensely. She waited almost breathlessly for his answer. Malik was proud, haughty. Aristocratic and used to getting his way. If only she’d told him no when he’d suggested she marry him—but it had never crossed her mind. She’d been too awestruck, and far too much in love with the man she’d thought he was.

Though it was a little late, she would not blindly accept his decrees ever again.

“Fine,” he said, his voice clipped. “One week.”

Sydney nodded her agreement, her heart pounding as if she’d just run a marathon. “Very well. One week then.”

He turned to gaze out at the ocean again. Then he nodded. “I’ll take it.”

She blinked. “Take what?”

“The house.”

“You haven’t really seen it,” she exclaimed. It was a gorgeous house, one that she only wished she could afford in her wildest dreams, with spacious rooms and breathtaking ocean views. It was the kind of house where she could be inspired to paint, she thought wistfully.

But Malik had only seen the exterior, the main living space, and this terrace. For all he knew, the bedrooms were tiny closets, the bathrooms a 1970s throwback with mustard and orange tiles and psychedelic black fixtures.

Malik shrugged. “It is a house. With a view. It will do.”

Inexplicably, a current of anger uncoiled inside her. He was careless when he wanted something. Accustomed to getting whatever he wanted when he wanted it.

Like her.

In Malik’s world, there were no consequences. No price to be paid when things didn’t work out the way you expected. There was only the next house, the next deal.

The next woman.

Dark anger pumped into her. “I’m afraid that’s impossible,” she said. “There’s already an offer.”

Malik was unfazed. “Add twenty-five percent. The owner will not turn that kind of money down.”

“I think they’ve already accepted the offer,” she said primly. But guilt swelled inside her as soon as she voiced the lie. The owners were entitled to the sale. Her anger at Malik was no excuse to deprive them of it. “But if you’ll give me a moment, I can call and see if there’s a chance.”

Malik’s dark eyes burned into her. “Do it.”

Sydney turned away and walked across the terrace. She called the listing broker just to make sure there were no offers, and then strolled back to Malik when she finished. “Good news,” she said, though it galled her to do so. “If you can come up half a million, the property is yours.”

Because he was too smug, too careless, and she couldn’t let him ride roughshod over her. It was a rebellion of a sort to jack up the price. She refused to feel guilty. In fact, she would donate her portion of the commission to charity. At least Malik’s money could do someone some good.

“Fine,” he murmured. “Whatever it requires.”

Bitterness swelled in her veins. “And will you be happy here, Malik? Or will you regret this purchase, too?”

She didn’t say what she was really thinking—that he regretted her—but it was implied.

“I never regret my actions, habibti. If I change my mind later, I will simply get rid of the property.”

“Of course,” she said stiffly, shame pounding through her. “Because that is easiest.”

Malik could discard whatever he wanted, whatever he no longer needed or desired. He’d spent a lifetime doing so.

His expression didn’t change. He looked so haughty, so superior. “Precisely. You will write up the papers, yes?”

“Of course.”

“Get them now and I will sign them.”

“You don’t want to read them first?”

He shrugged. “Why?”

“What if I increase the price another million?”

“Then I would pay it,” he said.

Sydney opened her briefcase and jerked a blank offer form from inside. As much as she despised him in that moment, as much as she despised his arrogance and nonchalance, she couldn’t succumb to the temptation to take him for a spectacular ride. She quickly wrote in the price, and then shoved the papers at him.

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