Leaning against one side of his desk, Raj drawled, “Kady Abrams. That’s her name, isn’t it?”

Slade abruptly swung away from the window and shot his friend a warning glare. “She’s mine, so hands off.”

“That’s not what I heard from the other guys.”

“Yeah, well, they can go fuck themselves for all I care.”

Raj shook his head in amusement. “You obviously have it bad for her,” he commented, “and it’s just as obvious that nothing has yet happened between the two of you.”

Slade didn’t answer.

“We have a saying among our people,” Raj murmured. “When you don’t understand what’s happening in your life, just close your eyes, and take a deep breath and say, ‘Ya Allah, I know this is your plan, just help me through it.’ But I think you have a more prosaic version of this – you do not see the woods for the trees, something like that?”

“Just say what your point is,” Slade said tautly.

“Warrior won’t be booked until after dinner,” the sheikh murmured. “Maybe taking him for a ride can help clear your mind.”

A few seconds passed, then Slade said dryly, “Is there also an Islam saying for people trying to get other people to do their jobs under the guise of friendly advice?” But this only had the sheikh grinning, and with a shake of his own head, Slade muttered, “I might as well give it a try, anyway.” Since nothing else was working.

After flipping the sheikh the bird in farewell, the billionaire wasted no time making his way to the horse’s quarters at the back of The Hartland Stable. Ebony, who had the biggest stall in the lot, neighed in recognition upon seeing him, and in minutes he had the stallion saddled up, and both man and horse were galloping out of the stable.

With one of the back roads leading straight to the nearby canyon, the billionaire was able to immediately enjoy a challenging ride on rocky pathways that zigzagged over Hartland’s breathtaking landscape.

He considered Raj’s words. Was there something he was missing about Kady, something that was preventing her from giving in to what they obviously wanted?

And it was then the truth hit him.

Well, fuck.

The desert prince was right, after all.

Memories of a chillingly polite Slade walking out of the cafe right after breakfast so occupied Kady’s mind that it succeeded in pushing her usual reticence to the back of her mind, and she was able to interact easily – albeit somewhat absently, too – with the locals that came and went. And since the change in Kady’s attitude didn’t go unnoticed either, Farica was very much happy to satisfy everyone’s curiosity about it. Slade’s in love, she told them, but he doesn’t know it yet, and it’s not our business to tell him either.

Kady, whose anxiety grew with every second that passed, noticed none of this, of course. When dinner came and went, and there was still no sign of Slade, she found herself perilously close to tears. Why couldn’t she just say YES? It wasn’t like she could pretend she didn’t find him attractive, and Slade hadn’t been wrong either when he predicted all the undesirable ways Eric, Margaux, and her parents would react, were they to find out about her (unplanned) deception.

So why couldn’t she—

The doors to the cafe suddenly burst open, and everything came to an abrupt halt, the noise level dropping instantly until all there was to hear were the words from Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is…and Kady’s tiny, fearful squeak as a grim-looking Slade came stalking in, piercing blue eyes pinned with laser focus on her face.

He reached her a moment later, and his fingers immediately clamped around her shoulders.

“I finally figured it out,” Slade muttered.

He had?

“Your experience with Humbug and your awareness of my past and thinking I had to be a heartless bastard, to get rid of all those girls whose only mistake was to be attracted to me—” Blue eyes confronted hers in challenge as he asserted, “Those were the things that made you refuse to say yes.”

They were?

“They made you think I’m going to end up hurting you as well, didn’t they?”

They had?

“Well, you’re fucking wrong. I’m not going to hurt you. More specifically, And you know why that is?”

Seeing her chance to finally get a word edgewise, Kady cleared her throat—

“Because we’re friends.”

—but whatever it was she had to say was rendered pointless by his words.

Color burned under the bronze tint of the billionaire’s cheeks at having to say something so pathetic, and when he noticed Farica raising her phone as if to wanting to record the most god-awful conversation of his life, he addressed her while keeping his gaze on Kady. “Just fucking try,” he warned his friend grimly, “and I’ll have March here faster than you can say sorry.”

Farica shoved her phone back into her pocket even as she muttered ‘spoilsport’ under her breath.


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