A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 26

As the silence settled around her she realised she’d made a huge mistake, but before she could turn and escape she heard a sound and Salim stepped out from behind a screen on the other side of the tent.
Charlotte couldn’t move.
He was naked.
Or almost naked. A tiny towel was hitched around his slim waist and his skin gleamed like burnished bronze. His hair was wet. He’d obviously just had a shower.
All Charlotte could see was the massive expanse of broad muscled chest and more ridges of muscle that led down to the towel, which did precious little to hide the very healthy bulge underneath, and then down lower to powerful thighs and strong legs.
If she’d thought he looked like a warrior before, now she realised he was a god. She was rooted to the spot, as if she’d never seen a naked man in the flesh before. Because she hadn’t.
That realisation made her whirl around to leave, but in her agitation she couldn’t find the opening of the tent. She was almost crying with frustration when she felt a solid presence behind her, and then a hand wrapped itself over her arm and turned her around.
She closed her eyes. Her heart was thumping so hard she felt light-headed.
‘Open your eyes, Charlotte.’
With the utmost reluctance she did, and then felt a mixture of relief and regret to see that he’d thrown on a tunic. She couldn’t lift her eyes higher, though, not wanting to see the expression on his face. But of course he tipped up her chin and she had no choice.
His face was harder than she’d ever seen it, those blue eyes burning. As if he was angry. When she was the angry one. She’d just forgotten for a moment.
She stepped back, dislodging his hold on her. She felt crowded and moved around him to gain some space.
He turned, watching her. ‘Was there something you wished to discuss, Charlotte?’
She folded her arms, lifted her chin and hoped her voice wouldn’t betray her. ‘There was, actually. For your information, I am most certainly not a romantic. Nothing could be further from the truth.’
Salim folded his arms too, mirroring her defensive stance. ‘So what was that back there? Some dust in your eye?’
He didn’t believe her. She had to make him understand. ‘I was six when my parents divorced. It was ugly and very public.’
He frowned. ‘What do you mean? How public?’
Charlotte gave a short harsh laugh. ‘As public as you can get. My father is Harry Lassiter and my mother is Louise Lassiter—she didn’t change her name after the divorce.’
Salim’s gaze sharpened. ‘The award-winning movie director and the actress?’
Charlotte nodded. They’d both won multiple awards for the film, which had brought them together in the first place.
Salim’s frown deepened. ‘But you’re Charlotte McQuillan.’
Her arms tightened around herself. Already she was regretting opening her mouth. What was it about this man that made him her confessor?
‘I changed my name legally as soon as I turned eighteen. I took my grandmother’s maiden name. I didn’t want to be associated with my parents, or the most infamous divorce in the last couple of decades.’
Salim said, ‘I was too young for it to be on my radar at the time, but I remember reading about it later.’
Charlotte grew hot, thinking of the lurid exposé programme that had been made about it, which was still on endless repeat on the entertainment channels. The memory of the pack of press waiting outside the courtroom was still vivid, and the awful knowledge that she’d wet herself because she’d been so upset after her father had said to her in the courtroom, ‘You’re no longer my daughter,’ because she’d chosen to stay with her mother.
Her tights had been stuck to her legs, damp and clammy, and she’d been sure that everyone would know her shame.
Diverting her mind from too-painful memories, she said, ‘I’m just telling you this so that you’ll understand why I have no illusions about romance or love.’
A sharp pain lanced her as she recalled the wedding ceremony she’d just witnessed and the well of secret emotion it had tapped into. She felt as if she’d just betrayed something precious.
Salim said, ‘I couldn’t agree more. My experiences might not have been the same as yours, but the end result is the same.’
Charlotte blinked at him. Bizarrely, his words didn’t make her feel comforted.