The Sultan's Harem Bride(4)By: Annie West
A stranger who transfixed her with his gleaming, dark gaze.
Yet even as she thought it a memory stirred, a hint of recognition. He seemed...familiar.
‘You’re all right now?’ The concern in his voice was echoed in his scrutiny and the line of his compressed lips.
Or was that annoyance?
Muddled and disorientated from the nightmare, she nevertheless felt no fear, sensed no threat. Surely it had been his voice, that warm, deep rumble that had dragged her out of horror and back to reality? Hazily, she registered relief she wasn’t alone in the dark.
Jacqui struggled to breathe deeply, gratefully dragging air into her lungs, anything to dispel the sharp, rusty tang of Imran’s blood from her nostrils.
The man stood so close she inhaled the scent of his skin, like the deep notes of an expensive cologne, only real, not manufactured. It reminded her of exotic spice and hot, desert breezes.
His breath was warm on her brow and parted lips as she sucked in more air. Long lashes veiled his eyes as his gaze dropped to her mouth. Instantly heat shimmered across her skin and her bloodstream traced fire through her body as if someone had set a match to dry kindling. Her skin flushed and her bare breasts tightened.
Her reaction was so sudden, so shockingly unfamiliar, she simply stared back, stunned, her mind grappling to take in what it meant.
‘Yes, thanks. I’m—’ Awareness crashed upon her in a flurry of alarm. ‘Naked!’ she gasped, jack-knifing to sit up.
Dimly she was grateful he stepped back but her focus was on locating the cover she must have flung off. She hoped she’d flung it off. That it hadn’t been dragged off her by a stranger.
Horror skated skeletal fingers down her spine as Jacqui grabbed for the lavishly embroidered throw that had slipped from the bed. She didn’t feel like she’d been groped. She couldn’t remember anything but the solid, calming warmth of broad hands on her shoulders. But how could she be sure?
Seconds later, with the cover wrapped tight around her overheated body, she swung to face him.
Never turn your back on danger.
The stranger was tall, imposingly tall, which was saying something given her lanky height. Few men made her feel petite. The effect of powerful height was emphasised by the breadth of straight shoulders that filled the doorway. Jacqui’s first impression was of hard, lean masculinity. Her second, that he hid something.
His expression was closed, almost stern, yet his gaze belied the sombre attitude. Those eyes looked heavy-lidded and secretive. They remained fixed on her face, thankfully not dropping to where she fumbled, tucking a stray edge of fabric under her arm.
She’d never experienced such an instantaneous physical reaction to any man. That unsettled her almost as much as finding him here, leaning over her.
Jacqui hitched the material higher and set her jaw, trying to control the apprehension tightening her flesh. Even the innocent brush of fabric against her skin seemed evocative, reminding her of her nakedness.
In all her years of travel she’d got packing down to a fine art. It was a sign of her distraction that for the first time ever she’d forgotten to pack her ancient sleep shirt. It hadn’t mattered two hours ago, but then she hadn’t expected to wake and discover a hero from an Arabian Nights fantasy towering over her. Or was he a villain?
‘Who are you?’ Her voice emerged faint and husky. She hated the tremor in it. She cleared her throat. ‘What are you doing here?’
He didn’t move yet she had the impression he stood taller, more imposing, if that were possible.
‘I believe that’s my line.’ He paused, brows raised, as if waiting for her to answer.
But Jacqui had learned never to show weakness or doubt. She had a perfect right to be here and she refused to cower as if she’d done something wrong. He was the one who’d invaded her privacy!
Before she could tell him so, he spoke again.
‘Who are you and what are you doing in my harem?’
Jacqui’s mouth sagged.
No wonder he’d looked familiar. Yet, in the photos she’d seen of Sultan Asim of Jazeer, his head had been covered.
Jacqui took in the thick, black hair that complemented the burnished bronze of his skin and threatened to flop over his brow. The media had dubbed him one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. He had wealth, power and charisma. If the public ever saw him like this, bare-headed and slightly tousled in a way that amplified the potent sexuality of his strong, autocratic features, women would mob him wherever he went.