Saving the Sheikh, Page 5Ruth Cardello
I’m finally free.
The groom’s sister, Nicole, gracefully stood and took Stephan by the hand. “This is where we join them on the dance floor. ”
Maddy and Richard rose from their seats. Both couples turned to look at Zhang and Rachid.
Zhang shook her head quickly and remained seated. “I don’t dance. ”
Maddy said, “Oh, but you have to! Abby will be so disappointed if we don’t all join her. Where is Lil?”
Zhang stood and hastily offered, “I’ll go look for her. ”
Rachid also stood, held out a hand to her and said, “I’m sure she and Jake would rather have a moment alone. ”
An inner battle ensued. She wanted nothing more than to be in Rachid’s arms again, but not like this, not in public – and certainly not while displaying her complete lack of dance experience. “I don’t – ”
Bending to her ear so that his words would be heard only by her, Rachid said, “Tonight you do. ”
His eyes burned with a desire for more than a dance. It held a question she wasn’t prepared to answer yet.
“One dance,” she answered huskily, heat from the pleasure she read in his expression spreading through her abdomen and lower. She took the hand he offered and followed him onto the dance floor, trying to ignore the knowing expressions on the faces of those in their group.
Once on the dance floor, Zhang was careful to keep an acceptable distance between them as they swayed to the slow ballad. Rachid placed a hand on her waist, intending to pull her closer, but when she tensed he relaxed his hold and allowed the space between them to remain.
He bent to once again whisper in her ear. “Where is the bold woman who takes what she wants?”
She smiled sadly up at him, hating that she felt awkward before him. She was certainly that person when it came to business, but in private matters she had closed herself off for so long that she still felt unsure. “If I were that woman, I wouldn’t have needed the dare. ”
“You’re a dangerous combination of everything I like in a woman,” he said. In response to the skeptical expression on her face, he asked, “That surprises you?”
“I would have thought your taste ran more toward submissive women. ”
“And what do you know of my preferences?”
“You’re right. I guess I let your title shape my fantasies,” she admitted, instantly wanting to retract the words. I don’t know why I said that.
If her goal had been to test the level of his interest, she wasn’t disappointed. His hand tightened on her waist. “Fantasies?” The sudden heat in his eyes was everything Zhang would have wished for – if she’d let herself make such wishes.
Passion without love was wrong.
But was it more wrong than spending a lifetime without intimacy? Never feeling the brush of a kiss on your shoulder? Never knowing the warm touch of a lover? A decade of celibacy was a hefty price to pay for success and duty.
One evening. That’s all I ask. A few hours that have nothing to do with the life I must maintain or the one I left behind. Give me the words that will keep this man interested long enough to make a memory that I can savor when I return home alone tonight. She said, “You have to know that many women fantasize about Arab sheikhs. ”
Now he did pull her closer, and this time she didn’t resist. “I don’t care about women in general, but you have this fantasy?”
She studied his chest for a moment, then boldly met his eyes. “Yes. ”
“Tell me. ”
She looked down again, suddenly feeling unsure. She should tell him now that she had no intention of sleeping with him that evening. Continuing the conversation would only lead him to believe that she wanted him.
Not that I don’t want him, but wanting and acting are two completely different things. I must end this now before things get awkward.
She hedged as she sought the strength to walk away. “It’s silly, really. ”
There was nothing silly about the need she saw in his eyes as he raised her chin with one finger. “Tell me. ”
The universe whispered, Prove that you want it, Zhang. Be brave.
Zhang squared her delicate shoulders and said, “The slightly unwilling virgin being swept away to a desert castle by a hot-blooded sheikh and forced to pleasure him. ”
His head tipped to one side. “Forced?”
She shrugged. “It’s a fantasy. No one gets hurt in a fantasy. ”
He massaged her lower back as he contemplated what she had shared. “That’s it?”
In for penny, in for a pound. She smiled wickedly and added, “Hardly. There is something about those harem outfits and silk pillows. ” She shuddered in response to a wave of sexual excitement coursing through her. “I know it’s outdated and a Hollywood stereotype, but it doesn’t change how fun it is to imagine. ”
When Zhang glanced up at Rachid’s face she expected to see him laughing, but he wasn’t. His serious expression worried her.
I hope I didn’t offend him.
“Are you a virgin?” he asked softly.
She gulped and met his eyes proudly. “No. ”
His smile was completely unexpected – and devastatingly sexy. He spun her around, catching her fully against him, and growled into her ear, “Good. ”
Well, that could be taken a thousand ways, and not many of them flattering. Never one to play coy, Zhang demanded, “What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“I have no respect for men who take advantage of innocence, but I want to be with you tonight, Zhang. ” Their dance came to a sudden halt and he simply stared down at her. A playful but oh-so-sexually charged fire lit his eyes. “And I have a desert castle. ”
Zhang would have slid to the floor if Rachid hadn’t caught her.
Nothing about being with Zhang was a good idea.
And yet, she was all that mattered to Rachid when he held her in his arms.
Many women had thrown themselves at him over the years – money and a title tended to do that for a man. Some had been subtle, some obvious, and a few had even played hard to get. He liked to think that their time together had been mutually satisfying, if not earth-shattering. History was stained with wars born from lust for a woman. He’d always scoffed at the feasibility of any woman having such power over a man.
Until Zhang had shared her fantasy with him and lit a need in him that swelled and choked out all reason. Tonight he didn’t want to be a successful businessman or dutiful son. He didn’t want to carry the weight of his people or the expectations of his family.
Tonight he wanted to lose himself in this woman and her fantasy.
She knew he couldn’t offer her more than that.
If she accepted his offer, he would savor every moment of it.
Rather than pretending to eat the meal that had been served shortly after they returned to their table, Rachid excused himself and stepped out of the tent. He needed a private area to prepare for the possibility that Zhang might say yes.
He took out his cell phone and called the main number of the castle at the Salnyra Oasis. The once-abandoned ancient building had been lovingly restored by his grandfather and was now a mixture of history and modern luxury. Generators provided electricity for rooms that had once been occupied by Roman soldiers. Faded frescos that had been drawn for nomadic Bedouin sheikhs of the past covered the walls of a castle that was now more a vacation home than a defensive structure. When one of the manservants answered, Rachid said, “I will be flying in late tonight. Please have the airfield lights on. ” He realized too late that he’d issued the order in English.
The man responded in Arabic, even though he spoke English. “As you wish, Your Highness. ”
It was difficult to imagine being able to rule his country when he hadn’t yet successfully won over the house staff. Another problem that could wait one more day.
“Also, I need you to prepare the old harem quarters for me. ”
“It will be done. ”
Rachid hesitated, then charged on. “I’d like most of the furniture removed from the rooms and replaced with as many silk pillows as will cover the floor. ”
He took a moment to consider what Zhang might have imagined, then instructed, “Hang tapestries from the ceiling to mimic the inside of a Bedouin tent. Tie them back with silk scarves. ”
A thought came to him and he snapped his fingers in the air. “Yes, I need a harem outfit. Something expensive, but similar to what a belly dancer might wear. And a dress that would be appropriate for daywear. ”
“For you, Your Highness?”
“No,” Rachid said impatiently. “For a woman. A small woman. ”
“Of course, Your Highness. ”
“And no one is to disturb me until noon tomorrow. ”
“It will be as you ask. ”
Yes, it will be.
For one night, at least.
Inside of every man there’s a hunter who hides beneath layers of learned civilized behavior. Returning to the dining tent and discovering that Zhang hadn’t waited at the table for him, something primal woke within Rachid. He scanned the room and adrenaline coursed through him when he realized that she wasn’t there.
She wasn’t going to make it easy for him.
He hardened instantly.
I like the way this woman thinks.
She wasn’t in any of the other tents, nor was she in the area between them. The more he looked for her, the less he could deny his growing excitement.
I will find you, Zhang, and then I will have you.
When he finally spotted her on the isolated balcony of Dominic’s main house, he had to restrain himself from sprinting to her. Never before had he engaged in such behavior. He met women, dated them, bedded them and moved on.
He didn’t play games.
He couldn’t deny, though, that this particular scenario was extremely pleasurable. He moved through the shadows around the balcony and kept his steps silent as he approached her. Waiting until he was less than a foot behind her, he said softly, “Hiding only delays the inevitable. ”
She turned quickly toward him and snarled, “My father had no right to give me to you! I will not go with you!”
His head pulled back in surprise as he realized that she was playing a role. Then he smiled – an “oh, yes, this is going to be fun” smile. He reached for her waist and pulled her toward him.
She slapped him clear across the face. The sting was surprisingly real and gave an edge to her fantasy. His hands clenched on her sides.
Instantly, her expression filled with concern and she touched the red mark she’d left on his face. “Oh, my God, I didn’t mean to hit you so hard. I just thought that if you really were here to kidnap me, I wouldn’t fall willingly into your arms. ”
Rachid threw his head back and laughed, the tension of his daily life falling away temporarily. He covered her hand on his cheek with his and said, “How about we make a deal to keep actual pain to a minimum. ”
She laughed up into his eyes. “You must think I’m insane. ”