A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 27

He said tautly, ‘My parents hated each other. You say you were a pawn—well, so were my brother and I. Born to lead two countries and keep the peace.’
Charlotte’s insides twisted as she imagined growing up in that environment. ‘People have been born for a lot less.’
He smiled, but it was hard. ‘Yes, but they have their freedom.’ And then his smile faded. ‘Maybe we’re not so different after all, hmm?’
Charlotte looked at Salim incredulously, thinking that they couldn’t be more different. He was vital and arrogant, a force to be reckoned with, and she... Who was she? Someone who’d spent her life running from feeling rejected and abandoned, building a persona to protect herself from all that.
It suddenly felt very fragile. She felt exposed and raw, from those memories and from saying too much. Again.
She backed away. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come here.’
‘Wait. Stop.’
There was a note of command in his voice that stopped her in her tracks.
‘Why did you come here this evening, really?’
Charlotte swallowed. Her skin felt tight and hot and her mouth was dry. Her heart was beating like a trapped bird against her chest.
‘Just as I told you—I wanted to make sure you knew that I don’t...don’t have romantic notions.’
Salim moved towards her and she was rooted to the ground. ‘Why is that so important?’
She swallowed again. ‘I didn’t want you to think that I refused you last night because I wanted something more. I don’t want more...’ She stopped, her heart beating too hard and her brain fusing and stopping her words.
Because she was afraid she was lying to herself.
The wind screeched outside. Salim’s eyes were like two blue flames. ‘Believe me, the last thing you inspire is feelings of romance...’
Charlotte felt a pang of hurt. ‘I don’t?’
He shook his head. ‘No. You inspire much earthier things. Dark and decadent things.’
There was still a couple of feet between them, but Charlotte felt as if Salim was touching her. The push and pull inside her was torture.
For a second she almost took a step towards him, giving in to the inexorable pull. But sanity prevailed. She was a virgin. She was no match for this man’s presumably expert and voracious appetites. He would laugh at her, would ridicule her.
Before she could lose her mind completely, Charlotte blurted out, ‘I’m going back to my tent.’
She turned abruptly and blindly felt for the opening of the tent, but nothing happened when she tried to open it. Panic mounted, and then she heard Salim’s voice.
‘We’re in the middle of a sandstorm. The tent has been secured for our safety. If you were to step outside right now you’d be flayed in minutes.’
Charlotte noticed far too belatedly that the entire structure of the tent was swaying alarmingly. She dropped her hands and turned around.
Salim had a suspiciously innocent look on his face. ‘Don’t worry, we’re quite safe. These tents are built to withstand such events.’
Charlotte almost couldn’t articulate words, but she forced them out. ‘So, what does that mean.?’
An unmistakable glint of something wicked in Salim’s eyes replaced any hint of innocence on his handsome face. ‘It means, Charlotte, that you’ll have to spend the night here.’
CHARLOTTE TOOK A deep breath as she looked at herself in the small ornate mirror that hung—swinging precariously now—over the sink in the sectioned off bathing area of the tent. She looked wild. Her hair had been blown
everywhere by the wind.
She tried to drum up a sense of horror seeing herself come so undone, but in truth when Salim had told her she’d have to stay there a very illicit sense of liberation had flowed into her blood, making it race. As if nature itself had colluded to take the angst she was feeling out of her belly and replace it with a sense of fatalism.