The Sultan's Harem Bride(6)By: Annie West
‘I’m Jacqui Fletcher.’ She sat straighter, meeting his eyes directly, as few in his kingdom did. His pulse pounded as their gazes meshed. That was unprecedented.
Asim waited but she appeared to be pausing for his response. Was he supposed to know her? Something about the name rang a bell but he was sure they’d never met.
She understood his language, had responded in it, though she’d switched to English once she’d become aware of her nudity. Presumably shock had made her revert to her mother tongue.
‘How do you come to be here?’ His security staff had questions to answer. This section of the palace was well beyond the public audience rooms.
‘I was invited.’ Her head tipped up, though her gaze slid from his. Instantly he sensed she withheld something.
She flushed and Asim watched, fascinated, as colour washed her cheekbones and throat. With her tousled, tawny hair around her shoulders, flushed skin and flimsy covering, she looked alluring yet strangely innocent.
Damn! He needed to focus.
‘I don’t recall issuing any invitation.’
Again that lift of the chin, baring her slender throat. Did she realise how sexually provocative she looked with all that cream and rose flesh on display and her cover slipping low over her pert breasts?
‘It was from the Lady Rania.’
‘My grandmother?’ What was the old schemer up to now, inviting strange women into the palace? Not just into the palace but deep into the long abandoned heart of it that hadn’t been modernised in a century.
Asim sensed intrigue. He had an instinct for it, given the poisonous environment in which he’d grown up.
‘Strange she didn’t mention this invitation to me.’
A shrug drew his attention back to those bare shoulders, milk-white above the embroidered silk. A dart of heat jabbed low but Asim ignored it. He had more important issues to deal with than sexual awareness.
‘Really? I wouldn’t know.’
He told himself the husky, nervous voice proved she hid something. But his wayward body was too busy responding to the eroticism of that rough velvet tone.
Asim stood straighter, infuriated by his inability to focus. His day had turned to disaster because of one unwanted female. His night was rapidly going the same way. He fast lost patience.
‘Why are you here, Ms Jacqui Fletcher?’ A thread of memory tugged in his brain. He knew that name. ‘You should be in a guest apartment near my grandmother.’
Something was going on behind his back and he didn’t like it. He should have known when the old lady had been so uncharacteristically quiet this last week. His beloved grandmother was many things—opinionated, capable and clever—but never meek. He’d begun to worry she was unwell, that age and grief had finally caught up with her. He should have known better.
‘I’m here to research a book. I’m a writer.’
Asim frowned. ‘A writer?’
In a blast of realisation, it came to him. He knew where he’d heard of her. He froze, every nerve and sinew stiffening. Incredulity widened his eyes.
‘Not Jacqui, but Jacqueline Fletcher. Am I right?’ He watched her gulp and knew he wasn’t mistaken. ‘And not a writer, a journalist. Isn’t that so?’
Anger spurted in his veins. What was the old woman thinking, bringing a journalist into their midst? Bad enough at any time but now? Sheer lunacy! They had too much to lose.
And this wasn’t just any journalist. Anger turned to white-hot fury. She’d been there the day Imran died.
Asim drew in a searing breath, forcing back grief. His cousin had been on assignment with this woman. They’d headed out together for an interview. But only one had returned.
* * *
Jacqui clutched the fabric tighter at her chest. The silk kept slipping through her damp palms.
She’d planned to be fully dressed if she met the Sultan. She bit her lip, suppressing an insane urge to giggle. There was nothing remotely funny about this.
Sultan Asim had the power to scupper her project before it got off the ground. How could she convince him of her case, dressed in a bedspread and dazed from her nightmare? He’d never take her seriously.
Instinctively she rose, locking wobbly knees as she pushed the hair from her eyes.