She stood up abruptly, dropping her napkin. ‘I should go to bed—it’s been a long day. Thank you for dinner.’
She wanted to get out of that decadent and confined space now. And away from those blue eyes. She was burning up from the inside out and it wasn’t just from embarrassment. It was from sitting in such close proximity to Salim’s lazily coiled sexual magnetism.
Salim stood up too, putting down his own napkin. He was watching her warily, which made her feel even more exposed as she stepped away from the table.
She’d turned and was almost at the entrance to the tent when her hand was caught in a much bigger one and her heart leapt into her throat. She hadn’t even heard him move, the sound muffled by the sumptuous carpets. She turned around and tried to pull her hand free, but he held it too firmly.
She could feel her pulse fluttering against his finger. ‘What is it?’
Why did she sound so breathless?
Salim looked very tall and dark in the dim golden light. More like a warrior than ever.
‘Don’t go back to your tent, Charlotte, stay here tonight.’
Charlotte didn’t even register what Salim had said for a minute. Without thinking, she responded automatically, ‘But why? That’s where I’m...’
And then she stuttered to a stop as comprehension started to sink in and the heat in his eyes made his meaning very explicit. Everything about his suggestion screamed danger to Charlotte, even as she could feel the betraying evidence of the effect he’d had on her all evening.
His finger moved back and forth on her wrist, over her pulse point. Hypnotising her. All her muscles pulled taut, and at the same time seemed to soften.
And then she thought of spilling her guts with little or no encouragement. She remembered the burn of embarrassment and it burned even more now at the thought that he might have manipulated her into opening up so he could take advantage of her emotional vulnerability.
A little voice mocked her that he wouldn’t have to resort to such crude tactics, but she ignored it.
She pulled her hand free. ‘You think that I’ll just fall into your bed because you ask?’
A muscle ticked in his jaw. ‘You know what there is between us—it’s off the charts.’
She stiffened. ‘We agreed that was a mistake...inappropriate. That it wouldn’t happen again.’
He shook his head. ‘No, you said it wouldn’t happen again. But you’re lying to yourself if you think you can resist this... We have amazing chemistry. We’re both adults. We’re never going to see each other again once the coronation is over. There’s no reason why this can’t happen.’
Yes, there is! A hysterical voice resounded inside Charlotte. And it was because of what he’d just said: ‘We’re never going to see each other again’.
Of course they wouldn’t. A woman like Charlotte would never feature in this man’s life and that shouldn’t matter to her. But already it did. And it shouldn’t. It couldn’t.
A million and one emotions landed in Charlotte’s belly, the strongest of which was an intense feeling of vulnerability. He had no idea how innocent she was. Evidently he thought that telling her he wanted her was enough to have her swooning at his feet in gratitude...
Feeling very defensive, but not wanting him to see how he’d got to her, she said as coolly as she could, ‘I’m afraid I don’t agree with your assessment of the situation. Goodnight, Salim.’
She cringed inwardly. She sounded like an accountant.
Salim looked at her for a long moment, his expression unreadable. And then he just said, ‘Very well. Goodnight, Charlotte.’
He reached past her to pull back the heavy drapes covering the entrance and the cool night-time desert breeze skated over her skin. She hated the treacherous part of her that wasn’t exactly heartened to see this gentlemanly side of him. Where was the stereotypical playboy who wouldn’t take no for an answer because she’d bruised his pride?
She quickly turned and fled, before she could give herself away. Before he could see how conflicted she was. No other person had ever pushed her buttons so effectively, and when she got back to her own tent she paced up and down, sensations and emotions boiling over too much to relax.
She should be feeling triumphant—she’d just turned down one of the sexiest and most arrogant men in the world. She’d stood up to him. But she hated to admit now that it felt like a hollow victory.
Eventually she did sit down on the bed and noticed vaguely that someone—Assa?—had come in and lit some lamps and turned the bed down. A far less lavish version of Salim’s...where, if she’d said yes, they might be entwined right now...
She stood up again and busied herself undressing and getting ready for bed, ignoring the ache that spread through her whole body from her core.
She busied herself to avoid thinking about the real reason she’d turned Salim down: because she was still a virgin.