She hated to think that after all she’d been through she had allowed herself to be treated so cavalierly, that somewhere in this vast crumbling palace Salim was oblivious to her turmoil.
And she hated it that she couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that he was proving to be far more complex than she’d ever have given him credit for: the king who was too selfish to rule his own people and yet had conducted himself like a king for the past week.
He hadn’t made love to her like a reprobate playboy last night. He’d made love to her like a man who cared more for her pleasure than his own. And yet today he’d treated her as if she didn’t exist.
Nothing added up.
Galvanised by something deep inside that wouldn’t rest, Charlotte changed out of the robe she wore and into plain trousers and the loose tribal shirt she’d bought from the women of the Jadar tribe. She looked at herself quickly in the mirror and grimaced at her tousled hair, but left it as it was. She couldn’t remember the last time it had been sleek and neat.
Before she could stop and rationalise what she was doing, Charlotte slipped out of her room and along the long corridor that led up to Salim’s private quarters. She only noticed halfway there that she was in bare feet, but didn’t stop.
The palace was silent, and it was only when she reached Salim’s door that she faltered. A bodyguard stood outside, but he recognised her and said in Arabic, ‘Good evening, Miss McQuillan. You have a meeting with King Al-Noury?’
She nodded, crossing her fingers at the white lie.
He opened the door and let her go inside. Charlotte hadn’t been to Salim’s quarters before, and saw that it was a vast labyrinth of rooms. The decor was masculine and heavy. Dark. Perhaps these had been his grandfather’s rooms.
She walked through the nearest door and found herself in a huge living area, with low couches dotted around coffee tables and a media centre in one corner where world news played on mute in the background.
And then her gaze landed on the tall figure standing by one of the windows. Her heart palpitated. He moved out of the shadows and into the low light of the room. His bone structure looked even more austere. He wore a white shirt and black trousers, once more the urbane Western billionaire. Albeit still with the beard and sexily messy hair.
For a second a sense of déjà-vu hit her as she recalled what that beard had felt like tickling her tender inner thighs. Charlotte wondered a little desperately if a man like Salim could ever be tamed?
He was holding a bulbous crystal glass in one hand and he raised it towards her, the amber liquid catching the light. ‘Can I offer you a drink?’
Charlotte swallowed the dryness in her mouth. She shook her head. The last thing she needed was anything that made her feel dizzier.
‘Was there something you wanted, Charlotte?’
He sounded almost bored, and not remotely surprised to see her. As if he’d been waiting for her because he knew she wouldn’t be able to resist coming to him.
She cursed herself for having ever thought there might be hidden depths to him and felt her emotions bubble over.
She clenched her hands into fists at her sides. ‘It’s true what they say—you really are a bastard, aren’t you?’
A SENSE OF déjà-vu hit Salim like a punch to his gut. The words she’d just uttered were words he was well used to hearing from women, but none had scored along his insides like a serrated knife before.
When he’d turned around just now, to see Charlotte standing just a few feet away, for a second he’d thought that he’d conjured her up out of the desire that was clawing at his insides, making a mockery of his determination to relegate her to a one-night aberration.
Salim couldn’t stop his gaze dipping hungrily to the vee neck of the tribal shirt and the way it clung to her breasts. The material was so fine he could see she wore no bra, and his body responded forcibly to the memory of how those firm swells had felt in his hands. How they’d felt pressed against his chest as she’d arched into him. How they’d tasted under his tongue.
She was real, and he felt exposed.
Irritation at her ability to slide under his skin so effortlessly made him ask curtly, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were a virgin?’
She blanched slightly, some of her bravado slipping. ‘So you did notice?’
Salim felt grim. ‘I may be a bastard but I’m also an experienced lover, and last night was your first time, wasn’t it?’
Charlotte didn’t shy away from his question. She stepped forward and looked him directly in the eye. ‘Yes, it was.’
As direct and forthright as ever. No games there.
‘Then why me? Why now?’
Do you really want to know the answer to that? asked a voice. But it was too late.