She pressed the button on the small black communications box. “I’ll be right down.”

“I’ll be waiting.” His short reply came; his voice even sounded exotic and sexy over the apartment building’s tiny intercom system. She was still finding it difficult to believe that such a gorgeous man had a serious interest in her. Grabbing her hold-all and purse, she left the apartment.

When she got downstairs, she found him waiting in the lobby.

“Good morning, Catherine. Are you ready to go?”

She nodded, while her eyes devoured the sight of him. Wearing a snug-fitting black sweater and tan trousers that managed to emphasize his well-developed muscles, he made her mouth go dry with desire.

She licked her lips and swallowed. “I’ve got everything I need.”

“Then let’s go.” He took her arm and led her outside where a long, black limousine waited.

“I thought you were driving.”

“I wanted to be able to focus my attention on you. There is a privacy window. We will be as scheduled as we desire.”

The way he said it made totally inappropriate images swirl through her head and her nipples tightened almost painfully. It was such an unexpected sensation, she gasped.

“Are you well?”

“F-fine,” she stuttered before practically diving into the backseat of the limousine.

As a tactic to hide her discomposure from him, it was no doubt a dismal failure. Most of his escorts probably waited for him to help them into the car. Of course, the same escorts most likely had a love life outside of their fantasies and could handle the close proximity of such a sexy man with equanimity.

Not so her.

She was in over her head and the man had never even kissed her. When he took the seat opposite her, her breasts swelled at his nearness.

And his smile was positively lethal to her self-control.

“Would you like some refreshments?” He flipped open a small door in the side console of the car to reveal a fully stocked fridge.

“Some juice would be nice.” She was nearly proud of herself when her voice came out fairly normal.

He poured her a glass of cranberry juice and handed it to her. “So, are antique telescopes your only hobby?”

“Oh, no. I’m an avid reader. I guess that makes sense, me working in a library.”

“I think I expected that, yes.”

She returned the droll smile. “Right, but I also love hiking nature trails.”

His brows rose at that and she couldn’t help a rueful shrug of acknowledgment to his surprise.

“Maybe I should have said ambling through the woods.”

“Ah.” He sipped at his mineral water. “And do you daydream as yo walk, I wonder.”

She could not hide her own surprise that he had guessed something so private about her quite accurately.

“Yes. Being outside and away from people is sort of magical.”

“I too like the outdoors, but prefer the desert to the woods.”

“Please tell me about it.”

And he did, but he deftly directed the conversation back to her on several occasions and they spent the long drive talking about subjects she rarely discussed with anyone but her sister. Hakim seemed to understand her shyness and was not bothered by it, which made it easier for her to be open with him.

He also never dismissed her views as her father was so adept at doing. Hakim listened and as he listened, Catherine found herself falling under the spell of his personality.

He took her to lunch at a restaurant that overlooked the Williamette River. The food was superb, the view of the river amazing and his company overwhelming to her heart and her senses. She was very much afraid that she was falling deeply and irrevocably in love with a man that was far out of her league.

When they’d settled into their seats at the theater, Hakim slipped his arm over Catherine’s shoulders, smiling to himself when she stiffened, but did not pull away. She was not used to a man’s touch, but her body gave all the signals of being ready for a sexual awakening. The latent and untapped passion he sensed in her would play to his advantage, making it easy for him to seduce her into marriage and fulfill his duty.

His specialized training had made it possible to save himself from the recent assassination attempt, but his parents had not been so lucky. He had been unable to save them and the knowledge still haunted him.

The fact that he had been ten years old at that time did nothing to assuage his need to protect his family now, whatever the cost.

He could still remember the sound of his mother’s scream as she watched her husband shot before her eyes, a scream cut short by another gunshot. His little sister had whimpered beside him and he’d taken her hand, leading her out of the palace via the secret passage known only to members of the royal family and their most trusted servants.