Sheikh's Desert Duty(11)By: Maisey Yates
“To what end?” He looked at her, and she could see that he was clearly intrigued.
“To the end of positive public opinion. Which I should think for a world leader would be of the utmost importance.” She knew all about playing that game, because in her life presenting a positive front, presenting a polished front, had been imperative.
Most everyone she’d gone to university with were simply accepted, based on their names and connections, but she hadn’t had that. Sophie had been forced to earn respect. She hadn’t been able to afford the mistakes the rest of her friends had been allowed to make. Any slip-up in behavior for them could be perceived as a simple youthful rebellion. For her, it was a revealing window into just how unsophisticated she was. Just how unsuitable she was. It was proof that, as they all expected, she didn’t belong.
For those reasons she’d had to be above reproach, because she was starting at a place of disadvantage.
Yes, Sophie knew all about manipulating public opinion—or in her case, the opinion of university administration and her fellow students—to her advantage.
“It certainly is, but shouldn’t my efforts to improve relations between countries count for something?”
“Certainly, and I’m sure for some it will. But it will be lost on others. And while they might accept your union with a kind of blissful neutrality, or at least a bit of interest in what your bride will be wearing, they would be a lot more interested in romance.”
“Then I give you leave to infer romance to your heart’s content when you write your piece.”
Sophie took another sip of wine. “I promise to read between the lines judiciously.”
“By which you mean you promise to read things that aren’t there?”
“That is a particular specialty of those who report on high-society stories.”
For the first time since he’d pulled her unceremoniously from the alley, the corners of his lips turned upward into a smile. It was not a smile that expressed happiness, but rather one that seemed to be laughing at some kind of perverse amusement. He rubbed his hand across his chin, fingertips grazing his square jaw, and she found herself distracted by the sound of his skin rubbing against the dark stubble. It was a very masculine thing, and she had not been exposed to many masculine things in her life.
An all-female household, female roommates, until she finally got her tiny apartment and lived alone.
Men were something of a foreign animal to her, and as she looked across to the man sitting opposite her, she realized he was an extremely foreign animal indeed.
He was magnetic, his features strong, dark brows, a blade-straight nose, eyes the color of midnight, framed by sooty lashes, the sort of lips that would entice lesser women to compose poetry about them.
Had he any softness to him, he might’ve been called beautiful. But he did not, so she would not. Beautiful wasn’t the right word.
Powerful, that was the word. The kind of power that far exceeded most of the people she’d been exposed to. No matter how influential a society family in New York might be, a sheikh certainly outstripped them.
He was the sort of man with ultimate power, not a man ruled by the laws of this, or any, land, really. Beneath his well-tailored suit, she could sense he was a man who didn’t ascribe to civility in a typical sense. Well, her presence on this plane was proof enough of that.
He was dangerous, she realized with a sudden jolt. And for some reason, she found that more fascinating than repulsing. She couldn’t figure out why.
She would attribute that to the masculine inexperience thing. Because it was easier than having to examine it deeper. This way, she could stick it in the “men are mystery” drawer and close it tight.
She suddenly became very aware of the fact that her heart was beating faster than normal. She would ignore that, too.
“Yes, I am well aware that it is a skill of the press, to imply all kinds of things.” The smile stayed fixed on his face, but there was a darkness to it now. A terrifying emptiness that was reflected in his eyes.
“In this case, perhaps it will benefit you.”
The smile widened, and she felt an answering tightness in her chest, as though he had managed to forge a link between his facial expressions and her insides. As though he had not just kidnapped her body, but had seized control over other parts of her. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
“Perhaps it will benefit both of us in the end.”
NOTHING COULD HAVE prepared her for the overwhelming heat of Surhaadi. The arid wind that had whipped across her face as she made her way down the staircase from the plane into the waiting limo had been dry and hot like an oven. Her pale skin starting to burn the moment she got beneath the sun’s rays.