Collecting her wits, she said coolly, ‘I’m not in the habit of reneging on agreements, Sheikh Al-Noury, and it would be unprofessional in the extreme for me to walk away at this early stage. As for your kind concern about my missing Christmas, I can assure you that I have no particular desire or need to return in time for the holiday. In fact, it suits me perfectly well to be here right now.’
Salim looked at the woman on the other side of his desk—more than a little taken aback. He was used to issuing an order, or, in this case a very polite suggestion—and having it obeyed. But she was not walking out of his office as he’d fully intended—who wouldn’t take pay for nothing?—instead she was sitting opposite him as straight and upright as a haughty ballet dancer, staring at him with eyes the kind of green he’d only ever seen in Scotland, on one of those ethereally misty days. Distracting. Irritating.
She wasn’t remotely his type, so why was he noticing her eyes? Salim preferred his women a lot more deshabillée, accessible and amenable. Everything about her, from her shining cap of neatly bobbed shoulder-length hair to her pristine dark grey suit and light grey blouse, screamed control and order—constraints Salim had rebelled against for so long now that he couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t wanted to upset the status quo.
And yet...much to his irritation...he couldn’t help noticing the fact that her surprisingly lush mouth was at odds with her cool demeanour, making him wonder what other lushness might be hiding under her oh-so-prim and neat exterior.
His gaze dropped to the bow at her throat and he imagined tugging on one silken length—would her whole shirt fall open? As he watched, the silky material moved more rapidly over her chest, as if she was breathing quickly, and when Salim glanced up again her cheeks had a slight telltale flush.
He was well inured to the signs of attraction in women, but it was patently evident that this woman didn’t welcome it. Which was a total novelty.
When he caught her eye again he almost felt the blast of ice along with an accusatory light. She definitely didn’t like being attracted to him.
This intrigued him more than he cared to admit—as did her assertion that she didn’t mind missing Christmas. But he curbed the impulse to ask her why. He avoided asking women searching questions.
Salim cursed himself and shifted in his chair to ease the sudden constriction in his pants. To find himself reacting to a woman who desired him but looked at him as if he was a naughty schoolboy was galling.
He forced his body back under control and stood up. Her gaze lingered around his chest area for a moment before rising. She stood up too—hurriedly. He had a sense that she was usually more composed—if that was possible—than she was now and that thought gave him some perverse pleasure.
‘You’re determined to see out your contract, then?’
She nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘How long did my dear brother hire you for?’
‘Until the coronation takes place. He said that if you require my services after that you can extend the contract yourself.’
Salim thought to himself that as he had no intention of staying in his role as king for long that would be highly unlikely, but he desisted from sharing that information with a complete stranger.
‘As you wish,’ he said. ‘If you really want to stay in this sand-blown place—’
‘Oh, but I think it’s beautiful...’ She stopped, her cheeks going pink. ‘I mean, from what I’ve seen so far. It’s run down, yes, but one can see the potential.’
Salim arched a brow and ignored the pulse in his blood seeing this small glimpse of something like passion. ‘Can one?’
Her green eyes flashed. Once again Salim found himself a little mesmerised by the vivid emotions crossing her face. He couldn’t remember meeting a woman so lacking in artifice. And then something in him hardened. Was he losing his mind? All women wanted something from him—even this one.
Maybe she just wanted the kudos of working for him—it would certainly elevate her professional standing to be the one who had wrangled Sheikh Salim Al-Noury into accepting his crown and toeing the line like a good little king.
He thought of something and folded his arms. ‘Aren’t you worried that by being associated with me you’ll taint your reputation?’
She tipped up her chin. ‘I am here to see that that doesn’t happen, Sheikh Al-Noury, and I’m very good at my job.’
For a second he stood in stunned silence, and then he couldn’t stop a smile—a genuine smile—from curving his mouth upwards. It had been so long since anyone had exhibited such confidence in front of him. And a lack of awe that was as refreshing as it was slightly insulting.
She frowned. ‘If you’re going to make fun of me—’
Salim shook his head. ‘I wouldn’t dare, Miss McQuillan. I’d be afraid you’d put me over your knee and spank me for being naughty.’
The colour deepened in her cheeks, as if she was having trouble controlling her temper and Salim almost, but not quite, regretted goading her like this.
But then she recovered and reached for her case. She avoided his eye. ‘If that’s all for now, Sheikh Al-Noury, I think I’d like to settle in and get acquainted with my surroundings.’
He put out a hand. ‘By all means. Let me show you to your room.’
She preceded him out of the Royal Office. She was taller than he’d initially registered. The top of her head would come to just under his chin. Her body would stand tantalisingly flush against his in heels. But if she wasn’t wearing heels... Once again sexual interest flared in his groin and he scowled. She was buttoned up to within an inch of her life. Since when had he found prim attractive?
Charlotte was burningly aware of Sheikh Al-Noury close behind her, and it made her tense—even though she knew that he wasn’t remotely interested in her in that way. She was sure he didn’t taunt women he found attractive and suggest they might put him over their knee, which had caused all manner of completely inappropriate images to flood her mind.