Undoing her belt, she stood up and felt ridiculously shy. Salim took her hand in his and tugged her towards him until she all but fell into his lap.
‘Salim!’ she hissed, mindful of the staff.
He just smiled wickedly as he curved her body into his much harder one. Charlotte felt hot and breathless and exhilarated. His hands were in her hair, undoing the smooth chignon that Assa had created with such assiduousness earlier.
‘Salim...’ She trailed off weakly as her hair fell down and he ran his hands through it, mussing it up. She’d already gathered that he liked to muss her up as much as possible.
‘Why do you do it?’ His voice rumbled against her breasts, which were pressed against his chest.
‘Do what?’ she asked, feeling dizzy.
His hand was on her back now, shaping her body under her silk shirt, finding where it was tucked into her trousers and sliding underneath to find bare skin.
‘Hide your true nature.’
Instantly Charlotte was tense. Her true nature was to seek order in a chaotic world by any means necessary, and to erect a façade that was becoming increasingly flimsy.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked warily.
He looked at her. ‘You’re a deeply passionate and sensual woman, Charlotte. Yet you hide behind these prim suits. You revelled in the freedom of the desert—you appreciated it in a way that most Western people would never understand. It called to something in you.’
Charlotte felt as if someone had pushed her off a cliff and she was free-falling. How was it that this man could see so much? She’d never thought of herself as passionate before...not until now. Until him. And, as for the desert, she did feel a deep affinity for it and she had no idea where it had come from.
Salim was looking at her.
She shrugged lightly, not really wanting to talk about this but unable to escape. ‘I always saw passion as something selfish...showy. Fickle. My parents were passionate, and then suddenly they weren’t. They detested each other.’ She avoided Salim’s eye, focusing on his shoulder. ‘I never trusted it, or wanted to be like them.’
Salim touched a finger to her chin, forcing her to look at him. ‘Well, it’s too late for that. You have it in spades. Passion and sensuality. I’m amazed you’ve lasted this long without letting anyone see that.’
A sharp poignancy filled Charlotte then, as she wondered what might have happened if she’d never met Salim. Would she have lived her life never knowing the true depth of pleasure a man could give a woman? Never knowing the true depth of her own nature?
She said a little shakily, ‘I could say the same to you. You’re a far less selfish man than you’d have others believe. I think Tabat has called to you, whether you like it or not, and you can’t simply go back to your life...’
She felt the tension in Salim’s body as he reacted to that, but Charlotte knew she was right. He didn’t like it, though. She saw the shutters come down over his expression and his eyes glittered.
‘Don’t let lust infuse everything—including me—with a rose-coloured glow. I’m still the same, and I want the same things. This...what’s between us...will burn out. It always does.’
Charlotte felt a mix of hurt and anger. She tensed and pushed herself away from Salim as much as he would allow. ‘You don’t need to patronise me, I might have been a virgin, but I’m not completely innocent. I do know how these things work. My rose-tinted glasses got broken a long time ago.’
Tension simmered between them for a second, and then it changed into something hotter. The muscles in Salim’s face relaxed and his hand started wandering again, sliding up her bare back under her shirt, finding the clasp of her bra and undoing it expertly before she had a chance to stop him.
And it was too late. Her blood was boiling with lust now, and not anger.
He pressed a kiss to her jaw and said, ‘Good. We both know where we stand, then.’
As his wicked mouth and hands robbed her all too easily of speech and rational thought Charlotte wondered a little hysterically what she’d just agreed to—because it felt very much as if she’d just given Salim licence to toy with her for as long as it suited him.
And as for her confident assertion that her rose-tinted glasses had been broken long ago—that felt dangerously hollow now.
BY THE TIME they’d landed, and Charlotte was walking down the steps of the plane and into the blazing Jandor sunshine, she felt thoroughly mussed and extremely ill-prepared.
Just moments ago, when Charlotte had seen the car outside bearing the king’s flag, she’d rounded on Salim, feeling prickly and off-centre. She’d frantically tried to repair the damage done to her clothes, hair and make-up.
‘You should have warned me your brother and his wife were coming to meet us. What on earth will they think? I haven’t even briefed myself on everything I need to know about them and Jandor.’
For someone who’d always prided herself on her professional decorum, she’d felt very exposed.