He took the book and his fingers briefly brushed hers. She jumped back, shocked by the contact. Her body throbbed in a way that made her press her legs together while trying very hard to look unaffected by his nearness.
“I am sorry.” His black gaze probed her own, leaving her even more unsettled.
She shook her head, but could feel that infernal blush crawling along her skin again. “It’s nothing.” Less than nothing. Or at least it should have been.
He flipped open the book and looked at it. She knew she should go, but she couldn’t make her legs move in the direction of the reference desk.
The book shut with a snap and his dark gaze settled on her again. “Do you recommend anything else?”
“Yes.” She spent another ten minutes pointing out different books and suggesting a couple of periodicals he might be interested in ordering.
“Thank you very much, Miss...”
“Benning, but please call me Catherine.”
“I am Hakim.”
“That’s an Arabic name.”
His mouth twitched. “Yes.”
“But your English is perfect.” What an inane thing to say. Lots of Arabic people lived in the Seattle area, many of them second or third generation Americans.
“So it should be,” he drawled in a voice programmed to melt her insides. “The royal tutor would be most displeased if one of his pupils should speak with anything less than complete mastery.”
“Royal?” The word came out sounding choked.
“Forgive me. I am Hakim bin Omar al Kadar, prince in the royal family of Jawhar.”
She was breathing, but her lungs felt starved of oxygen. A prince? She’d been talking to a prince for more than ten minutes. Lusting after him. Heavens. Her half-formed idea of inviting him to attend the next meeting of the Antique Telescope Society died a swift death. Unfortunately, the attraction he held for her did not.
She swallowed. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“I have taken up enough of your time.”
“There’s a society for people interested in Antique telescopes and ancient stargazing in Seattle,” she found herself blurting out, unable to let it go at that. She wouldn’t invite him to meet her there, but she could tell him about the meeting.
“They meet tonight.” She named the time and place.
“Will I see you there?”
“Probably not.” She would be there, but she sat in the back of the room and he was not the sort of man content to enjoy anything from the sidelines.
She wasn’t wholly content either, but she didn’t know how to break a lifetime of conditioning.
“You will not attend?” He actually looked disappointed.
“I always go.”
“Then I shall see you.”
She shrugged. “It’s a big group.”
“I will look for you, Catherine.”
She barely stopped herself from blurting out the question, “Why?” Instead, she smiled. “Then maybe we will run into each other.”
“I do not leave such matters to fate.”
No doubt. He was much too decisive. “Until tonight then.”
She turned to go and was only marginally disappointed he did not call her back. After all, he’d said he would look for her.
He checked the books out she had recommended and left the library a few minutes later.
Catherine watched him go, certain of one thing. The sheikh of her fantasies would no longer be faceless.
He would have the features of Hakim.
Catherine walked into the meeting room in one of Seattle’s posh downtown hotels. Though she was early, over half of the seats were already taken. She scanned the crowd for Hakim while butterflies with hobnail boots danced an Irish jig on the inside of her stomach.
Would he be here?
Would he really be looking for her?
It was hard to believe. Even harder to accept the sensations she felt at the mere thought of his presence.
A scar-riddled face and subsequent laser treatments had meant she’d missed out on dating in both high school and college. Her shyness had been so ingrained by then that the late blooming her parents had expected never materialized. She thought she’d come to terms with the fact she would most likely die a maiden aunt in the vest tradition of little old ladies with white hair and homes filled with other people’s memories. She was too shy to pursue men and too ordinary to be pursued. Yet something about Hakim compelled her to step outside her comfort zone.
And that scared her.
No way would a guy like that return her interest.
“Catherine. You have arrived.”
She knew the owner of the deeply masculine voice, even as she turned. “Good evening, Hakim.”
“Will you sit with me?”