‘Of course I can handle it. I’ve travelled extensively, and in my experience nomadic tribes often offer better hospitality than some five-star hotels.’
For the first time she thought she saw a flash of humour in his eyes, but he just said, ‘Good. I won’t have to worry that you’ll run screaming from using an outdoor latrine, then.’
‘No,’ Charlotte said tightly, perversely liking the fact that she was so obviously nothing like the women he was used to and yet also irritated by it.
A moment stretched between them, and then Salim moved, walking towards her, back to the door. Charlotte stepped out of his way, her whole body tingling as he got close.
He had his hand on the knob when he looked at her again. ‘About what happened...’
She looked at him and wished she had something to hold on to. She held on to her words. ‘I told you—it shouldn’t have happened.’
‘And yet it did, and we both enjoyed it. And if you know anything about me by now, Charlotte, it’s that I’m not in the habit of denying myself things that make me feel good.’
He’d turned and walked out before Charlotte could come back with some pithy response.
She tried to drum up some sense of outrage at his arrogance, but how could she when only minutes ago she’d been opening up underneath his touch like a flower unfurling for the sun?
She turned from the door and ignored the vivid splash of green silk on the bed in her peripheral vision, reminding her of the man’s ability to get to her. She assured herself that his interest in her was fleeting, at best, and that once they went into the desert she would there in a professional role, on much firmer ground.
She kept assuring herself of this as she finally fell into a fitful sleep that night, beset by dreams of ominous shifting sands.
‘IT SHOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED.’ Salim waited impatiently for Charlotte to appear the following morning as dawn broke over Tabat. Her words, delivered in those cut-glass tones, still reverberated in his head. Irritating him intensely.
He was not used to women expressing regret after sharing intimacies with him. And certainly not after a kiss as explosive as the one they’d shared... But then he couldn’t actually remember such an explosive moment with any woman.
Salim also had to admit—reluctantly—that he really didn’t think it was a game, or a bluff designed to pique his interest. She’d meant it. In spite of the electric current that had sparked between them again as soon as he’d stepped into her room.
Her hair had still been deliciously tousled. Her lips swollen. Her shirt buttons had been done up wrong. He’d caught a glimpse of grey lace and just like that he’d become aroused all over again.
He’d resented the fact that she was the one inducing this crazy lust when he had a room full of beautiful uncomplicated women under his very roof, waiting for his attention.
But when he’d returned to the party, and been surrounded by sycophants and stunning women within minutes, he hadn’t wanted any of them. And when he’d
looked around and seen the elegant sheen on his guests wearing thin, he’d suddenly felt jaded and weary.
His conscience had tugged hard, and so he’d given instructions to his staff to start winding things down. He would have invited his cousin Riad to stay, but when he’d tried to call him he’d found a text message on his phone to say that Riad had already left with his mistress—something had come up at home that he had to attend to urgently.
There was movement in Salim’s peripheral vision and he turned to see Charlotte approaching. His eyes widened as she came closer. She was wearing a long cream kaftan with gold edging that came to just below her knees, and beneath that she wore slim-fitting trousers in the same material. On her feet she wore low-heeled sandals.
He looked up and felt a spurt of something very disturbing when he saw that her hair was covered with a loose scarf, giving only a hint of that strawberry-blonde underneath.
He wanted to rip off the scarf, while at the same time feeling a possessive sense of satisfaction that her bright hair was hidden from other men. Impulses Salim had never ever experienced before.
There was something about her cool reserve and fresh-faced beauty that had sunk a hook inside him from the moment he’d seen her, and he knew it wouldn’t let go until he’d had her.
Suddenly it was quite simple to Salim: he would bed her and she would lose her mystique, like every other woman he’d bedded.
She came to a stop a couple of feet away and put a hand to her head. ‘What is it?’
Salim’s voice was gruff when he said, ‘You don’t have to cover your head here.’
She pulled the scarf back and let it drop to her shoulders. Seeing the shining smooth cap of her hair made him remember what it had looked like after they’d kissed and his blood leapt. He had to restrain himself from perversely demanding that she cover it up again.
‘Assa told me it’s customary among most of the tribes for women to cover their heads.’
‘Yes, and you can do it there.’