The Sultan's Harem Bride(3)

By: Annie West



He should comfort her. But the compulsion to touch sprang as much from the need to know if her creamy skin was as soft as it looked.

Asim scrubbed an unsteady palm over his face, forcing down impulses that could only be dishonourable.

Who was this woman?

What was she doing in the most ancient part of his palace, alone and naked?

Despite the gravity of his royal position some women had gone to inordinate lengths to offer themselves to him.

Was she one of them? Was this her idea of a tantalising new twist on the age-old mating ritual?

His body’s reaction showed she’d succeeded in piquing his interest.

In his wilder youth he might have been tempted by such a tactic. But it was a wife he sought now, not a one-night stand.

Inevitably his gaze was drawn back to her body. She was slim almost to the point of thinness. A model? She was tall enough. Yet she was completely unadorned—not even a ring or gold chain.

He didn’t know a woman who didn’t wear some jewellery, even if just stud earrings.

She was so...bare.

Yet there was no mistaking the powerful tide of desire sweeping him. The dragging weight in his lower body. His heartbeat’s thrum of anticipation. His rapid breathing.

Asim stretched out his arm. He opened his hand a metre above her and imagined he felt the scrape of one pebbled nipple tease his palm. A jolt of electricity rushed from his fingers, up his arm and straight to his groin. He fisted his hand against the urge to reach down and cup her there.

Abruptly she moved, scrabbling at the sides of the bed. Her head twisted. She drew an enormous breath that hollowed her belly and thrust her tip-tilted breasts towards him as a muffled sob broke from her lips.

Asim reared back, shame and disbelief scalding him. He’d been acting the voyeur!

‘It’s time to wake up,’ he said, his voice assuming a familiar tone of firm command.

Asim’s mouth twisted. If only he’d had such command over his own cruder impulses.

He opened his mouth to repeat the order when she gasped, writhed and screamed at the top of her lungs.

* * *

‘It’s time to wake...time to wake.’ The words circled Jacqui’s brain like a half-forgotten mantra. The ground shook again, heaving her up and down, a boneless rag doll. She didn’t run. Where could she escape to? Why should she? She’d led Imran into danger and now he was dead. How could she even think about surviving herself?

Heat suffused her like an embrace, at odds with the chill in her bones. Still she clung to Imran’s hand, wishing she could rewind time. For nothing, she knew, could bring him back from this.

But that voice was insistent, ordering her to pay attention, ordering her to...wake.

The deafening sound stopped abruptly. It took Jacqui a while to realise it was the sound of her own screams. Her throat was raw and her chest heaved. Fear clawed, though the worst panic began to subside.

She’d done this before. She knew what it meant. She’d had one of her dreams. Even as she told herself this was reality, this quiet, peaceful place, her brain buzzed anxiously.

‘That’s better.’ It was the voice again. Low, soothing, so deep it shivered right to the core of her. ‘You’re awake now, aren’t you?’

For a moment longer she could swear she grasped Imran’s still-warm hand. Then the sensation faded.

He was gone. Grief scooped a hollow in her belly.

Tears flooded her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. Stupid, helpless tears that came too easily now. She rubbed her hand across her face, smearing wetness, trying to scrub it away. A choking ball of emotion lodged in her throat and she swallowed clumsily, heedless of the pain.

Something shifted. The heat on her shoulders abated. Belatedly she realised it was the imprint of long fingers, the touch of hard palms.

The shreds of nightmare faded as realisation hit. Jacqui’s eyes snapped open on a pulse of shock.

She wasn’t alone.

Ebony eyes, deep set beneath slashing straight brows, met hers. They were so intent, so piercing, she saw nothing else as she gasped in astonishment.

A frown puckered his broad forehead and tiny lines clustered at the corners of his eyes, giving him the look of a man who spent time outdoors in the sun.

Jacqui blinked, unable to do more than digest the fact she was awake with a total stranger.

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