A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 12

‘Thank you,’ she said tightly. ‘But it was completely unnecessary.’ She picked up her bag, avoiding his eye, and made her way out from under the shade of the tented structure. Staff appeared, bowing to their future king.
Little did they know, Charlotte thought to herself.
The man who had taken the horse away reappeared now, leading the huge animal. Instinctively Charlotte moved away—but then she felt a hand on her lower back and stopped dead. Salim was beside her, wicked devilry dancing in his eyes.
‘I could offer you a ride back to the palace, if you like? It’s a beautiful way to see the country.’
Charlotte imagined sitting in front of him on this horse, with his hand splayed across her belly, her bottom tucked far too close between his legs, and a tsunami of fresh awareness sizzled through her body.
She moved aside jerkily, out of his reach. ‘No, thank you. I’m sure Kdal isn’t far away, and he will take me back.’
‘As you wish, Miss McQuillan. If you change your mind about the party do let me know. I’m sure we can find something suitable for you to wear.’
Inexplicably—because right then Charlotte was telling herself that one of his parties was the last place she’d ever want to be seen—she found herself yearning to be the kind of woman who could walk into a crowded room and have this man stop in his tracks because he was so captivated by her...
She cursed herself. What was wrong with her today?
Salim did something with the stirrups on his horse, adjusting them, and then with enviably athletic ease vaulted onto the horse’s back. He wound the turban back onto his head, covering all that dark hair, and just before he pulled a piece back over his mouth he said, ‘See you soon, Miss McQuillan.’
And then, with a flash of those blue eyes that seared right into her, he and the horse turned in one graceful fluid motion and he was gone, leaving nothing behind but swirling dust. Just to add to Charlotte’s general feeling of dishevelment and inadequacy.
It got worse when she found her way to the small but functional toilet behind the catering area and looked at herself in the cracked mirror. She groaned out loud. Her hair was frizzy from the humidity and her nose was suspiciously red.
She’d just sat through lunch with that man looking like a scarecrow. A sun-burned scarecrow.
Damn him anyway.
‘CASSIDY IS FAR too beautiful for you, my friend.’ But even as Salim said the words they rang hollow. Even though they were true.
His cousin’s lover stood a few feet away, talking to a small group. She was tall and striking, with dark red hair piled high on her head. A black sheath of a dress set off her pale skin and thoroughbred curves. She was one of the world’s most sought after supermodels.
Riad Arnaud, who Salim had invited to the party in a somewhat futile attempt to entice his friend to reconsider his decision regarding becoming king, responded with a distinct bite to his voice, ‘She’s not available.’
Salim turned to the other man, who was dressed in a classic black tuxedo, as he was, and whistled softly. ‘It’s not like you to be possessive. Maybe there’s another reason you don’t relish the thought of leaving your life in France behind to become a king. Is she different, then? Are you going to succumb to a life of domesticity, like my brother and everyone else we know?’
He couldn’t quite keep his voice as light as he’d intended.
Riad made a snorting sound. ‘I’ve paid my domestic penance, as you well know, and the only good thing to come out of that situation was my beautiful daughter. She’s all I need. I will never let another woman close enough to cause havoc in my life again—they can’t be trusted.’
They both heard a small sound and turned to see Riad’s lover, Cassidy, with her hand to her mouth. Clearly she’d heard everything. Her eyes were huge and very blue. She turned abruptly and walked away.
Riad cursed colourfully and Salim watched him stride after his mistress. Salim shook his head at his cousin’s folly—clearly the man was more involved than he wanted to admit.
Something twisted in his gut as he took in the ceremonial ballroom where he would be crowned in two weeks. The scene before him was a glittering, sumptuous exercise in promoting Tabat as a desirable kingdom.
His staff had worked tirelessly to bring the palace up to a standard it hadn’t seen in a long time. Rafa had been so pleased and excited, seeing it as proof that Salim was about to turn the country’s fortunes around.
The twisting in Salim’s gut intensified as his conscience bit hard and a pair of familiar green eyes came into his mind. Eyes that he couldn’t get out of his mind.
He turned around, irritation and frustration making his skin prickle. Would she turn up? Would she wear the dress he’d sent to her room after he’d heard nothing from her?
The prickling intensified and he looked towards the main door just in time to see her arrive. As if he’d conjured her up with his sheer will to see her.
Adrenaline surged in his blood as his far too avid gaze swept her from head to toe. And, even though she’d defied him, he couldn’t stop the smile curling his mouth upwards or the raging heat in his body as he stalked to where she stood, willing that green gaze that had been haunting him to meet his...
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