This book was given to JOANNA Rączkowska on Instafreebie. www.instafreebie.com
The Sheikh’s Ransom Billionaire Bachelors Club By: Kylie Knight
The Sheikh’s Ransom Mal was regretting this party already. He’d made his entrance just past eight and was immediately assailed by waves of people, talking at him, demanding his attention and not one of them actually gave a flying…he took a deep breath. Calm down and talk to them one at a time, he told himself, after all, this is your grand opening, your hotel, your investment. He smothered a sigh. A room full of A-list models, actresses, sportswomen and he couldn’t find the enthusiasm to talk to any of them. Yes, they were all gorgeous and beautiful but they all looked at him the same way, with the same thing on their minds. Money. Opportunity. Status. Sheikh Malik al-Riaz, number one on Forbes list of eligible billionaires. The title made him smirk humorlessly. If the Forbes readers believed he had any say in who his future wife was, they were fools. One of the vultures drifted over to him now. She was undeniably stunning, a tall, willowy redhead with a thousand watt smile, if a little on the scrawny side. She was friendly, open but behind her eyes, all he could see was appraisal and calculation. Her words were carefully chosen, picked to flatter him. Ugh. Mal slipped out of the main reception room and onto a balcony. What had he been thinking? He wanted the launch of Seattle’s newest waterfront hotel to be an event —it wasn’t about him, it was to celebrate this beautiful
city, his home from home. When he, inevitably, had to relocate back to Kumar, take over running the country from his father, he would miss this wonderful, rainy, exciting place. Now the reality was this cattle call of available—or willing to be available—potential wives and Mal felt a little sick to the stomach. He was sure this was Adham’s doing: his chief advisor—his ambitious college roommate—was showing him who had been deemed suitable, who was permitted. Mal sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. He knew he couldn’t just ditch the party, however; Adham had made sure that plenty of press were there and they too watched his every move, every relationship, and every interaction. He shrugged his shoulders in irritation. The Armani suit he was wearing fit him perfectly, but he felt itchy, impatient wearing it. His weekends were sacrosanct— jeans and tee-shirt, reading, good coffee and chilling out. Why hadn’t he scheduled this party for a weeknight? He smirked to himself. First world problems, Maly-boy. He glanced around at the designer clothes, the perfectly turned out gathering and felt loneliness pounding at his chest. When he could, he slipped out and headed up to the room he’d booked to change his clothes. If he was going to have to go through with this then, dammit, he was going to be comfortable. Pulling his suit off, he quickly changed but then sat on the corner of the bed, looking regretfully at the silent television set and full mini-bar.
Stand up, get down there and socialize. He stood, cast a last longing look at the quiet room and left. *** Eva balanced the tray of drinks on one hand and pushed open the door. Glancing around the vast ballroom, she tried not to roll her eyes at the people inside. Rich muckety-mucks with too much time on their hands. Who are paying your wages, she chided herself silently. She drifted around the room, not meeting anyone’s eyes, but smiling pleasantly when they thanked her for the drinks. Those who did; most people didn’t even acknowledge her —not that she cared. She glanced at her watch. Another couple of hours and she could leave. She had a whole night’s studying to do—her Ph.D. thesis was due in a couple of months and what with work and her Fellowship, she’d hardly had any time to work on it. She edged the tray onto a side table and sneaked out onto one of the hotel balconies. The Seattle evening was cool, fresh and she sucked in a huge lungful of air, letting it out slowly, feeling her body relax. She closed her eyes and thought about what she’d rather be doing: drawing, sketching, listening to music on her ancient much-loved turntable. A solitary life, yes but one she had fought for all of her twenty-four years. Eva knew what it was like to have other people—bad people—decide how her life should be and she’d never let that happen again. ‘As long as I can pay the bills,’ she murmured with a sigh,
casting a glance back inside the ballroom. Maybe she could get away with five more minutes alone…she leaned her elbows on the wide balustrade and, dropping her face into her palms, allowed herself to space out for a long moment. She didn’t even hear it when the door behind her opened. *** Mal had seen her flitting from person to person as she served them drinks, had noticed her almost immediately he’d returned to the ballroom. After seeing Adham’s disapproving look at his new attire, he’d smirked at his friend then turned to snag a drink from the passing waitress and had almost lost his balance. She hadn’t met his eye as he thanked her for the flute of champagne but he’d seen the honey-color of her skin, the thick eyelashes sweeping down over pink flushed cheeks and his stomach had dropped with desire. Even when he’d been corralled by a predatory model, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes from the girl. When he’d seen her creep out onto the balcony, he set about extracting himself from the boring-as-hell model. Now, he pushed opened the door quietly and slipped out. She was leaning on the stone balcony, looking down at the street below. He grinned to himself then coughed quietly. She started, cursed and spun around all in one fluid movement and stared at him. ‘Hey…’ He couldn’t help from chuckling at her pained
expression. ‘Um….hi.’ She had a low voice, almost a purr and it made his pulse quicken and his groin tighten. She was gorgeous: big brown eyes, long dark hair, and curvy figure—something none of the other women back in the reception had. But it wasn’t that which drew Nick to this young stranger. It was her otherness; the feeling that she felt as out of the place amongst the painted and panting statues in the other room as he did. He was aware he was staring and her face was becoming redder and redder from his intense scrutiny. ‘Sorry, I’m…sorry.’ She moved towards the door. Adrenaline coursed through his veins then and he touched her arm. ‘No…don’t go.’ To his surprise, she stopped but still had the doe-in-headlights look on her face. Her flushed skin was so soft and smooth he wanted to touch it, press his lips against the rosebud mouth. Get a grip. He held out his hand. ‘I’m Mal.’ She stared at his hand and took it reluctantly. Her little hand fit perfectly in his and it was all he could do not to pull her into his arms. She pulled her hand away. ‘And I’m in the wrong place.’ She turned to leave and
Mal, suddenly panicked she’d disappear and he lose the moment, made up his mind and stopped her. ‘You know what? So am I. What do you say we escape this nightmare and go have a drink somewhere quiet?’ She looked at him, questioningly. ‘Why?’ He grinned good-naturedly; he liked that she appeared to mistrust him, his motives. ‘Because I like you.’ She looked at him askance but—he noted with satisfaction—her gaze had dropped to his mouth and her deep brown eyes had widened. He touched his fingertips to the beautiful blush on her cheeks and—he didn’t imagine it—she leaned into his touch for the briefest second before backing away. ‘I should get back to work.’ ‘Wait—at least, tell me your name.’ She hesitated at the door. ‘Eva. My name is Eva.’ And then she was gone. Eva. Mal grinned to himself. She may have gotten away from him now but this was his hotel. She worked for him. And he had no hesitation in exploiting that fact. He’d find
her again and when he did, she wouldn’t find it so easy to run away. *** Eva darted back into the kitchen, ignoring the glare of the maître d’, and reloaded her tray. ‘Eva…’ The maître d’, Bill, was actually quite fond of her, she knew, but he also took his job really seriously. She shot him an apologetic look. ‘I know, I’m sorry. I’ll get back in there, just let me restock my tray.’ Billy sighed, glanced at the clock. ‘No, don’t bother. The party’s only scheduled to last until midnight and it’s a quarter of now. Clara has to get back to her sitter—I don’t suppose you’d help clear up in here?’ Eva sighed inwardly but smiled at him. She needed this job if she wanted to eat. ‘No problem.’ She grabbed an apron and tied it around her waist. Bill smiled and pecked her on the cheek. ‘You’re a good girl, Eva.’ A quarter hour later and Eva had been abandoned by the
rest of the staff—either on their way home or outside sneaking a smoke. Bill came back from checking in with the head honchos with a smile on his face. He grinned at Eva. ‘They’re very pleased.’ She gave a genuine sigh of relief. ‘Good.’ Bill looked around the kitchen. ‘Where’d everyone go?’ Eva shrugged, not wanting to spoil his mood. ‘I’ve got this, I’m nearly done.’ Bill patted her shoulder. ‘Thanks, sweetheart. Hey,’ he leaned in conspiratorially, ‘there’s three trays of untouched food back there. Take them home, you deserve it.’ Eva smiled, blushing. Bill knew she struggled for money sometimes and although it was humiliating, she was grateful for his thoughtfulness. When he’d gone, she got back to cleaning and found her mind drifting back to the encounter on the balcony. She couldn’t deny the fact the guy—Mal—was gorgeous. Gorgeous. Her whole body had started to tremble when he’d touched her. She hadn’t had that feeling in….forever? She couldn’t remember ever having that overwhelming desire for anybody before. He had towered over her, tall, dark and with an edge she couldn’t identify but found intoxicating.
She gave a snort of laughter. Get a grip. But the way he looked at her…Eva knew that some men found her attractive—the whole pocket Venus thing, she supposed —but this dude had been way, way out of her league. When he’d asked her out, something in her had dismissed the idea immediately. He was asking for a bet, someone had put him up to it, he was bored and looking for a quick lay. She knew the type. The idea made her heart pound with loneliness. At one a.m. she finally made it out of the door. She was checking in her bag for her keys when she heard him speak. Mal was leaning against the door of a limo, a casual, easy-going smile on his face. ‘There’s no way I’m letting you walk home alone.’ She stared back at him, lust mixed with irritation. ‘So you think I should get into a car with a stranger instead?’ Mal nodded towards the limo driver, sitting discreetly at the wheel. ‘George can be our chaperone if you need one. ‘ Eva tried to ignore the frantic pounding of her heart as Mal strolled towards her, smiling down at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners. ‘Give me an hour, Eva. I meant what I said. I like you, I’d
like to know you. What do you say?’ His eyes were merry, full of fun and Eva couldn’t help the smile that started to form and to her own surprise—shock, really—she nodded. ‘Okay then.’ *** The local bar was quiet for a Saturday night. Low jazz played in the background, sensual low light, and the long, battered leather couches were grouped so that small groups of people could enjoy some privacy. Mal and Eva had set up camp in a corner, the pitcher of Margaritas between them already half gone. Eva tucked her legs up under her as she chatted to Mal, relaxed now, their conversation flowing easier than she would have ever imagined. Mal might look like a mythical god, but he had a goofy sense of humor that she found infectious. The couch was huge but, Eva suddenly noticed, Mal had moved closer to her as they talked so that now she could feel the heat from his body; see into his warm dark eyes despite the dimly lit room. She could smell his fresh, woody scent; see the way the black hair curled around his ears, the merriment in his kind eyes. The three small moles on his right cheek. His wide, full mouth that she could imagine on hers. His hard body and those long,
long legs. She cleared her throat, convinced she was actually drooling now. She was relieved that Mal had leaned forward to empty the rest of the pitcher into their glasses and was waving the waitress over. The easy way he dealt with the wait staff, with everyone, made he wonder how she could have mistaken him for a waiter, but then, he was so easy-going. Maybe he’d been the guest of a guest, she pondered. He didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the high-powered party elite. As he asked the waitress to refill the jug, she watched the other women’s reaction to the man beside her. Mal was courteous and friendly; the waitress winked and made a face of appreciation at Eva as she was leaving, Eva grinned back. Yes, Mal was definitely one of those guys. Mal shifted his weight back into the couch and studied her. ‘So, what’s your story?’ Eva waited to feel the same prickling sense of unease she always felt when someone asked her about her life but here, now, it didn’t come and she found herself wanting to tell this man anything he wanted to know. ‘Well,’ she began slowly, ‘potted version. Father in the wind before I was born. Mom died when I was five, cancer. Kid’s home until I was sixteen then I left, lived in
abandoned cars or on the streets until I managed to get into a school program. College on a scholarship. Now I’m a Ph.D. research fellow.’ ‘Subject?’ ‘Art. One of my great loves.’ ‘As well as?’ She sat back, thinking. ‘Music. Books. Dogs. Cats. All animals really. Except spiders.’ She shuddered dramatically and Mal laughed. ‘Understandable. Continue.’ He genuinely seemed to be interested in her, Eva realised with a pang. She smiled at him gratefully. ‘Washington State. The mountains, the ocean. The islands. This glorious, rainy, busy, grungy city and its streets. Sorry, that’s so melodramatic but the truth. The kindness of Seattle strangers.’ Mal picked up his glass and raised it to her. ‘Respect. It takes a strong will to get through all of that.’
Eva glanced at his clothes, his watch. His vintage t-shirt was artfully distressed as were the designer jeans— obviously expensive. She grinned. ‘You’d know about that, of course.’ Mal laughed good-naturedly. ‘Fair enough. But just because I had money growing up—and I know how that sounds—doesn’t mean I don’t know hardship. Sometimes it’s not about how much you have but the important things you are missing out because of it.’ Eva nodded and grinned cheekily. ‘Poor little rich boy.’ He laughed but pulled a face, pretending hurt. ‘Ouch.’ She leaned over and touched his arm. ‘Hey, I’m just kidding.’ He put his hand over hers. ‘I know.’ The atmosphere between them shifted. He reached out and smoothed a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear. ‘I wanted to kiss you the minute I saw you, Eva. The way your hair fell across your face. The way your body moved, the curves of you. Your smile.’ Eva realised she had been holding her breath. She felt the warm of his fingers as they entwined with hers, couldn’t look away from the intensity of his gaze, his
bracken-colored eyes soft. Mal leaned in and brushed his lips against hers quickly, drew back to study her response. Eva felt the swirling warmth of desire flood through her and Mal touched his hand to her flushed cheek before leaning in to kiss her again. Eva sank into the kiss, soft, growing in intensity now as Mal slid his hands into her hair, his big thumbs stroking her cheeks as he kissed her. Pleasure exploded in every part of her as she kissed him. His hand slid around to the back of her neck and she leaned into the sudden warmth. He kneaded the muscles there, gently and, God, that felt so good. Eva hesitated before placing her hand on his leg, feeling the hard muscles of his thigh through his jeans. Mal slid closer to her and kissed her again, one hand on her neck, the other sliding onto her stomach. She couldn’t help the small moan of desire that escaped at the feel of his strong fingers on her body. She’d never known such a strong attraction to someone in her life, wasn’t aware of anyone else in the room as they kissed. ‘What do you want?’ She whispered against his mouth, felt him smile at her question. ‘To be inside you,’ he said, his eyes on hers, studying her reaction.
Eva shook her head, trying to convince herself that this was wrong but her body was almost painful in its desire for him. ‘We shouldn’t…’ He smiled and she knew she was lost, that he knew he had her and now, tonight, she didn’t care. Screw the consequences. Without another word, she stood and held her hand out to him. *** In the elevator to her apartment, Mal slid his hands under her t-shirt, dropping to his knees so he could kiss her belly, She smiled down at him as she ran her fingers through his dark curls. He stood and kissed her again, slowly at first then as their breath quickened, pulled her hard against his chest, his hand fisting her hair at the nape of her neck. Eva moaned softly as his lips moved on hers, their soft coolness heavenly and intoxicating. In her apartment, their need for each other became almost unbearable as Mal lifted her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. The weight of his body on hers as they collapsed onto the bed thrilled her; he was such a big man, wide shoulders, arms thick and banded with muscles that she felt tiny in comparison. She pulled his tie off, undid the buttons on his shirt,
desperate now to see if he lived up to the promise. It was all she could do not to sigh with delight when, shirtless, his chest rippled with strength, his olive skin smooth and soft. She gazed into his eyes and he smiled down at her before moving down the bed. She gasped at the feel of his tongue circling her navel and relaxed back as she felt his fingers slide under her panties. He pulled them off and sat up, admiring her body as he took his pants off. When they were both naked, he gathered her to him, covering her mouth with his, hitching her legs around his hips. She could feel his sex, thick and long, laying against her stomach and she reached down to stroke the hot length of it, smiling when she heard his intake of breath. He nuzzled her neck, kissed her throat and then his lips were at her ear. ‘Eva….beautiful Eva, tonight you’re mine.’ His hand moved between her legs and began to caress her. Eva moaned as he slipped two fingers inside of her making his smile widen. ‘Does that feel good, my love?’ She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, gasping as his fingers quickened. God, she wanted him in her now…she told him that, in short gasps of breath and felt him push her legs further apart. Mal clamped her hands above her head as he slid deep, so deep, into her that she cried out
at the quick pain. He was so huge she felt every inch of him as he moved inside her, his eyes locking onto hers. She lost herself in them, forgetting everything except for the feel of his skin on hers, his fingers interlinked with hers, her belly against his, tilting her hips to take him in deeper. Mal released one of his hands and swept it under her buttocks, lifting her so he could thrust deeper as his pace quickened. Eva wanted more, wanting him to thrust harder, possess her completely, her fevered brain almost delirious with abandon. Her orgasm built and built until, she wasn’t sure that she would survive the explosion of pleasure that ripped through her body, her limbs shuddering and quivering. Mal buried his face in her neck. ‘Oh…god…Eva….Eva…..’ She felt him come, groaning her name over and over, his magnificent sex throbbing inside her with the force of his climax. She tightened her legs around his waist as he clutched her to him, breathing hard, wanting to sink into each other. After he caught his breath, he pressed his mouth to hers, his hands cradling her face gently. ‘That was incredible,’ he breathed, trailing his lips across her cheekbones, down to her neck, pressing them against her throat. ‘You’re incredible….’
Eva felt a little thrill go through her. He was calling her incredible? She stroked her face, grinning slightly to cover her shyness. ‘Right back at ya, big boy.’ Mal chuckled. He was still inside her and she could feel him stiffen again as she ran her fingertips up and down his spine. ‘Oh god, that feels so good…’ He responded to her touch as she reached down to caress him gently. They made love again, slowly, intent on the other’s pleasure. Mal’s hands were on her breasts, the big thumbs rubbing back and forth over her nipples, Eva’s hips began to rock against him as they moved, her stomach contracting with the effort to ride his big body. Mal bit down on her shoulder suddenly and she gave a shocked giggle, urging him on. Mal grabbed her hands and pinned them to the bed as he began to thrust hard, so hard the force shifted her up the bed until she was pressed hard against the bedframe, gasping and crying out as Mal became rougher and rougher. ‘Look at me,’ he growled breathlessly and she did, the burning desire in his eyes taking her breath away. This incredible, gorgeous, virile man wanted her. Her. The
look in his eyes told her everything she needed to know. ‘Mal…’ ‘Yes….say my name…tell me you want me….’ ‘God, I want you so much…Mal….Mal…oh!’ They came together, shuddering and trembling, wrapping themselves around the other, sweat-drenched and panting. After a few minutes, Mal, with a regretful look in his eyes, pulled away from her and excuse himself to use the bathroom. Eva lay on her bed, her hand flat on her belly, feeling its fevered rise and fall as she tried to catch her breath. Wow, just wow. She had never ever experienced sex like that, the connection, the way her body responded to his, her willingness to give herself to him completely. Everything about him made her weak with desire, his handsome almost mythical god-like face, his outrageously toned body, his wonderful clean smell. That voice, deep, throaty, resonant. She closed her eyes for a second, immersing herself in thinking about him. ‘You’re so beautiful.’ She opened her eyes to see him standing in the doorway, smiling down at her. He came back to bed, stretching his
long body out beside her. Eva suddenly felt dumbstruck. Just look at him, she thought to herself, how the hell did a girl like you get with that? She giggled suddenly at the thought, making him look adorably confused. She told him what she had been thinking and he laughed softly, bending to kiss her. ‘I am the lucky one, Eva…do you have any idea how lovely you are?’ Eva flushed bright crimson then, embarrassment and pleasure mingling. ‘Aww shucks.’ Mal stroked her face, his eyes taking in every feature. His hand drifted down her body until his long fingers splayed across her belly. He glanced around her bedroom as if for the first time and suddenly she was shy. Her tiny apartment may not have looked much but she loved it. Book-lined walls and a coffee table overflowing with art supplies, paper and yet more books. A tiny kitchenette where she loved to cook. And this small bedroom, sheer white cotton drapes billowing in at the window, a queensized bed with pristine white sheets that looked so good next to his dusky skin. ‘It’s a lovely place,’ Mal said now and she smiled at his kindness but he carried on. ‘A haven, someplace you’ve made your own.’ She frowned slightly. He didn’t look like the kind of guy
who wouldn’t have control over how he lived, where he lived and yet he sounded…wistful? Envious, maybe? ‘I bet it’s nothing to your place,’ she joked but then seeing his eyes darken, she realised she’d hit a nerve. ‘Hey,’ she said gently, using her finger to turn his face to hers. ‘You look good here. Like you belong too. As long as you’re here, think of it as your place too if you like.’ She meant to be kind but then realised what that must have sounded like. She flushed but Mal smiled, kissed her. ‘I will, thank you.’ He stroked down the length of her body with his hand making her tremble with delight. ‘Anywhere with you would feel like home.’ Eva shifted her weight so she could look at him evenly. ‘We only just met.’ Mal nodded, unperturbed. ‘Yep.’ She shook her head, laughing. ‘Then how….’ Mal grinned then. ‘I know it sounds crazy but it’s weird. I saw you and I felt a kinship, something I couldn’t explain but I had to know you better. It felt like an imperative, you were something that could just as easily slip from my grasp and…okay, you’re looking at me like I’m crazy now.’ Eva laughed and kissed him. ‘You are crazy. But I kind of
get it.’ He leaned his forehead against his. ‘Will you spend what’s left of the weekend with me?’ She didn’t hesitate. ‘Oh yes…’ He moved his body on top of hers, pushing her down onto the mattress. ‘Right answer.’ he murmured, moving down and taking her nipples into his mouth one at a time and sucking gently on them, flicking his tongue around the sensitive nubs. Eva sighed, closing her eyes, sinking into the sensations sending electricity through every cell in her body. As he moved down her body, she gasped as she felt his mouth on her sex, his tongue probing, tasting, caressing. He already knew how to make her react, to feel. His hands gripped her hips, his fingers digging into the soft flesh. Eva gasped and shivered to an orgasm under his touch and when, grinning triumphantly, he plunged deep into her, making her scream with pleasure until, gasping, laughing, dizzy with love, they collapsed together, their bodies sweat-drenched and sated. *** Eva stood under the water, letting the sharp spikes hit
her body, soothing her pleasantly aching muscles. Mal’s hands slid around her waist and he bent his head to kiss her shoulder. ‘Good morning, beautiful.’ She smiled up at him then leaned into his big body as he kissed her. She ran her hands over his rock-hard chest, still not quite believing he was here, in her shower. Mal’s dark eyes were amused as he gazed down at her, the water streaming through his dark curls, down the fine angles of his face. She’d woken, an hour ago, wrapped in his arms, his lips against her temple and such a happiness had flooded through her she hadn’t wanted to move. Soon, though, her stomach had growled so loudly that he’d opened his eyes and chuckled and she knew he’d been awake and holding her for goodness how long. The thought made her smile now and she reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him. After, they went to a diner at the end of her block and ate breakfast. Mal held her hand the entire time and she felt almost giddy, like a schoolgirl holding hands with the Prom King. Mal, searching her face, asked her what she was thinking. She told him and he laughed, but, she noticed him wince slightly and wondered what was bothering him. He didn’t expand and she was about to ask him when he suddenly spoke.
‘Hey, I’d like to take you to my place on Bainbridge Island.’ She raised her eyebrows. ‘Out on the island? Sounds good to me.’ She glanced at her raggedy t-shirt and jeans then at his designer suit. ‘Yeah, maybe I’d better change first.’ Mal grinned. ‘If it were up to me, you wouldn’t be wearing anything.’ Eva flushed, smiled and leaned over to whisper ‘I don’t think they’d let me on the ferry boat.’ Mal leaned closer and brushed her lips with his. ‘Trust me,’ he murmured, his eyes alive with desire, ‘they would.’ *** Eva looked around the huge room and nodded. ‘Yep. Yep. Exactly like mine.’ She intoned in a sarcastic tone and grinned at Mal as they stood in the living room of what Eva could only describe as a mansion (‘It’s not a mansion.’ ‘Is too’ ‘Is not.’), Like her place, the walls were lined with overstuffed bookshelves but that’s where the resemblance ended. Huge, expensive, wonderfully tempting leather couches
were arranged around an open fireplace; a massive television with a myriad of gadgets below it—Blu-ray players, games consoles. A beautifully built desk with Mal’s laptop open on it. A ton of other stuff she’d only ever seen in interior design magazines—the kind of stuff that won awards. ‘I think my apartment would fit into a corner of this one room,’ Eva said admiringly but she couldn’t help feeling a little awed. She’d known he was rich and successful— that much was obvious—but the chasm between their two lives was glaringly obvious. A tiny lump formed in her chest. As close as they had been last night—close as two people could be—Mal was the world away from her. He was watching her, his eyes watchful, anxious. ‘You okay, snooks?’ Eva smiled. ‘Snooks?’ He grinned. ‘I haven’t settled on a nickname yet, I’m trying them out.’ She laughed softly and he came to her, his arms snaking around her waist. He studied her face, her eyes. ‘Are you okay?’ She nodded. ‘Yeah, yeah, of course…’
‘But—?’ He could read her discomfort and Eva shrugged. ‘It’s lovely, it really is, just a little…much to take in, is all. No offense.’ He smiled and kissed her lightly. ‘None taken. And hey… it’s just wood and brick and plaster, same as any other. Would you like some lunch, maybe?’ He led her into the kitchen where a middle-aged woman was forking out dog food into two huge bowls—the two slavering golden retrievers who sat at her side were watching her with such focused intensity that Eva laughed. The woman looked up and smiled at her. ‘Eva, Cathy. Cathy helps me out here.’ Cathy rolled her eyes and shook Eva’s hand. ‘If by helps out, he means, tidies up his mess and makes sure he eats right. Hi, Eva, good to meet you.’ She grabbed the bowls and gave them to the now slathering dogs. They fell on the food with abandon. Mal started to protest. ‘Hey, I cook.’ ‘Microwave popcorn and ramen are not food,’ Cathy said archly. Mal gave a good-natured shrug and looked to Eva, who gave him a reassuring nod and mouthed ‘They
are.’ Cathy tried to look disapproving. ‘Oh my, I can already tell you’re going to be a bad influence on this one, young lady.’ Eva curtseyed and grinned at the woman who chuckled. Mal clapped his hands together. ‘I’m going to make Eva one of my world-famous UberSandwiches—trademark me,’ he said as an aside to Eva who grinned. Cathy huffed and looked at Eva’s tiny frame. ‘I hope you can eat, young lady.’ Mal, who was pulling every meat, cheese and salad vegetable he could find out of the refrigerator, sniggered and nodded. ‘Oh, she can eat, believe me.’ Eva cuffed him playfully but ten minutes later when Cathy had left and Mal put the sandwich in front of her, she stared at it in disbelief. ‘That thing is bigger than me,’ she said somewhat weakly. Mal grinned, chowing down on his half. The sandwich was, at least, six inches high, stuffed with meats, cheeses, tomatoes…Eva prodded at it cautiously.
‘Chicken?’ Mal was clearly amused at her. She raised her eyebrow. ‘Never.’ She picked it up and managed to get the corner of the sandwich in her mouth. Tomato juice and mayo ran down her fingers. ‘God, this is good.’ They ate in silence for a few moments before she grinned at him. ‘You have staff.’ She giggled at the face he pulled. ‘Cathy’s not staff, she just helps me out,’ Mal explained, good-naturedly taking her ribbing. ‘She was a friend of my mom’s and when Mom died, she didn’t want me to, well, be the helpless male. I wasn’t, of course, but I think it made her feel closer to Mom to help me.’ Eva nodded, her eyes soft. ‘I’m sorry about your Mom. When did she die?’ ‘Five years ago.’ He didn’t meet her eyes and for the first time, she saw the sadness inside him, then, and putting down the remains of her food, came around the table to hug him. He rested his head on her shoulder. ‘Sorry. Still miss her,’ he said, his voice muffled by her tshirt. Eva tightened her arms around him and soon he raised his head and kissed her on the mouth, tasting of cool cucumber and fresh bread. ‘I’m good. You finished?’
*** After lunch, they strolled around the grounds, the beautifully trimmed lawns, the little grove of apple trees. They sat on the porch swing, her head in his lap, watching the dogs playing. The rain had stopped finally and the late afternoon sun sent golden rays across the grass. Mal’s hand was stroking her hair and she turned to look into his face. He smiled at her scrutiny. ‘What is it?’ Eva gave a small nod. ‘I can’t make you out.’ His eyebrows shot up. ‘Oh?’ ‘Yeah.’ She sat up and studied him carefully. ‘That party. You, this place, it’s a million miles away from that… ostentatiousness. Who are you, Mal?’ He grinned, his eyes soft. ‘Just me, Eva.’ The way he said it made her stomach flutter with desire. She kissed him then took his hand, leading him back inside, to his huge bedroom. She undressed him slowly, pressing her lips against his skin as she did. He smiled
down at her as she unzipped his pants, drew in a sharp breath as she cupped his sex through his underwear, feeling it respond to her touch. She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled him to her, sliding his underwear down. Mal caught her chin, tipped her face up to him. ‘Eva…’ ‘Ssssh.’ And she took him in her mouth, gently sucking, flicking her tongue along the length, as her hands massaged m gently. Mal felt himself harden almost immediately, blood rushing to fill the delicate veins she was so gently tracing with her tongue. The feeling of her warm, wet mouth on him was like a rush of the strongest drug and he wanted to plunge into her. She clamped her hands on his buttocks, though, keeping him in her mouth until he reached climax, shuddering and groaning. When she released him, he didn’t hesitate, scooping her body up onto the bed and pushing her soft thighs apart, his mouth eager to be on her. Her gasps of pleasure made his stomach contract with desire, with a love so overwhelming he could barely contain it. His tongue dipped into the sweet honey of her hollows but soon she was tugging on his shoulders and he moved up her body, pressing his lips against her belly, her stomach, catching her nipples in his mouth, tracing a line up her throat. As he stared into her eyes, she said, simply, ‘I need you inside me now.’ and he plunged so deeply inside her that she screamed with pleasure. Watching her face as he thrust harder and harder inside her made him harden beyond anything he’d experienced
before, driving him deeper into the velvety softness of her. Eva cried out as she came and he loved the sound of her moans, her utter submission to him. He kissed her fiercely as he too reached orgasm with a hot rush, his entire body shuddering and vibrating, and as he felt her tighten her legs around him, he stared down into her eyes and smiled. ‘I could fall in love with you so easily, my beautiful Eva.’ And at that moment, she knew she had found her other half. *** Mal woke to the sound of his television set in the other room, and an empty bed beside him. He glanced at the clock and saw it was still early, before dawn. He rubbed his face, trying to wake himself up then slid from the bed, pulling on his pants as he went. Eva was sitting in the main suite of the room, her back to him, watching the television. Mal frowned as he noticed the tense set of her back and glanced at what she was watching. Damn.
His picture was up on the screen with the words ‘Kumari Prince reported missing in Seattle…Royal Family concerned for safety of heir to Kingdom.’ Eva turned to him, her face pale, her eyes scared and hostile. She asked the question even though Mal could see she needed no convincing. ‘Is that you, your Highness?’ Her voice was hard, mistrustful, and, to his dismay, heartbroken. Oh, damn it… *** ‘God damn it, Adham!’ Mal was beyond angry. He stood in the penthouse of the Seattle hotel raging at his advisor who stood stone-faced and unrepentant in front of him. ‘Your majesty…’ ‘Don’t call me that.’ ‘Your majesty,’ Adham’s voice was as hard as his employer’s, ‘someone in your position should know better than to be out of touch for too long. Of course we were concerned, of course, we were going to use every resource to find you. Your father’s enemies have every
reason to abduct you or one of your siblings. Luckily for us, your brother and sister have better sense than you but sir, you are the heir to the Kumari throne and you were missing.’ Mal stared at Adham. He’d known the man for—god, twenty odd years now—knew he took his job seriously. He’d always taken everything seriously, Mal realised. When they were at Harvard together, Adham was the one staying up all night studying, getting perfect test scores and grades. When he’d hired Adham as his advisor his father had been overjoyed—the serious man would rein in some of his eldest son’s wilder habits; wild by his father’s standards anyway. Mal had never been a party animal, had always studied hard but some of the outdated traditions of his family had never sat well with the freethinking prince. But this—this was ridiculous. Mal sucked in a deep breath to calm himself. ‘Look, I was at a friend’s home for one night and my place on Bainbridge last night. It’s hardly going missing. I had my cell phone.’ ‘Which you refused to answer.’ Yup. Adham had him there. Mal shrugged. ‘I was with…a new friend.’ Adham sighed. ‘Who was it this time?’
Mal chuckled then. ‘This time? It’s not like I do this every day. Eva is…special.’ If she ever spoke to him again. ‘Eva who?’ Dammit. Mal changed tactic. ‘Look, just drop it, I’m here okay? And I promise I’ll call next time.’ Adham sighed and sat down, crossing his legs and gestured to the chair opposite. Mal, irritation making his shoulders ache, hesitated and then sat. Let’s get the lecture over and done with then you can call her… Adham leaned forward in his chair, his expression one of resigned understanding. ‘Mal, friend to friend, whoever this woman is, however special she is, you know this can’t go anywhere, don’t you? Traditionally, the heir apparent has always married within our circle, to a princess of another country. This thing with this girl cannot go further than a one-night stand, you know this, right?’ Mal’s head lifted in defiance. ‘Adham…this is the twentyfirst century. Do you know what Mother said to me before she died—the very last thing? She told me to marry for love.’ Adham went very still and his mouth twitched up in a cruel, disdainful smirk. ‘Oh okay, so this girl…you’re in love with her? After two days?’
Yes. ‘I like her a lot, she’s smart, funny and beautiful.’ ‘And apparently world class—or should I say high class— in the sack,’ muttered Adham, getting up from his chair, his tone dripping with sarcasm and double-meaning. Mal’s temper flared and he shot across the room, grabbing his advisor’s jacket and slamming him against the wall. ‘Don’t ever let me hear you talk about her like that, do you understand?’ Adham, unfazed, waited until Mal had calmed down and released him, smoothing his jacket. ‘In any case, she’ll have to be vetted. Give me her details and…’ ‘You will leave her alone, Adham. You will not vet her, or even contact her without my express permission.’ Mal’s voice was low, angry and rigid. Adham’s eyes narrowed then he gave one tight nod and left the room. Mal slumped back into his chair and sank his head into his hands. Jeez. He didn’t care about traditions or about Adham’s ridiculous attachment to the proper way of doing things, he just cared about Eva…the way she had looked at him when she found out who he was. Her boss, for one thing, and a Sheikh to boot. Her utter confusion, her
hurt as it dawned on her what he’d done—lied by omission. He should have known she would have serious, serious rules about sleeping with the management—okay, he had known but he’d wanted her so badly… Idiot. He pulled out his cell phone and called her. Her voicemail picked up. ‘Eva…I don’t know what to say. I should have told you who I was at the start, I know that. Please know that… god…I need to come see you, put this right. I can’t even think of not seeing you again, it would kill me. Please call me back, Eva. Please.’ *** Eva lay on her bed, staring up at the damp patches on the ceiling. She’d listened to Mal’s voicemail message ten times now, each time, straining to hear the nuances in his words, his tone, analyzing every inflection. She wanted to believe he was sorry…but what difference did it make now? He was her boss and heir to one of the most oil-rich countries in Arabia. He wasn’t Mr Millionaire, he was His Royal Highness Sheikh Billionaire. She swore softly under her breath—mostly because she could stop remembering the way he had kissed her,
touched her, moved inside of her. The way he had cradled her in his arms as she slept, his warm, dark eyes. The feel of his hips against her thighs as she straddled him, the taste of him. He was just Mal. Just Mal. Her Mal. Eva could feel hot tears prickle in her eyes. I can’t even think of not seeing you again, it would kill me. She knew how he felt. The thought of never touching him again… Come see me. I’ll be home tonight. E. Her finger hovered over the Send button for a second then pressed it. Less than half a moment passed before the reply. On my way now. Eva rolled off the bed, straightened it out and headed for the shower, putting every thought out of her mind. Just go with it. Forget everything else but you and him. That’s all that matters. It was raining by the time she heard the knock at her door. Mal stood in her doorway, dripping water and all she could do was stare dumbly into his beautiful eyes as he held his hands up in a pleading gesture. ‘Please forgive me, Eva…my beautiful, wonderful Eva.’
You are weak, woman, her feminist sensibilities told her but she pulled him inside and, not caring that he was soaked through, she curved her body around his and pulled his mouth down her hers. The kiss went on…and on…and on… Finally, they broke apart, gasping for air but Mal didn’t let her go, staring down at her with wide, joyous eyes. ‘Eva…I’m in love with you…I am so in love with you…’ *** ‘So,’ Eva stole a French fry from his take-out box ‘how’s this going to work?’ Mal smiled. ‘Honestly, I have no idea. The only thing I’m certain of is you and me and how we are together no matter what. No matter what.’ She smiled and kissed him. Sitting at her breakfast counter, shirtless and golden-skinned, he looked the part of any other regular guy. Regular drop-dead-gorgeous guy, she amended to herself. She loved his confidence that they could overcome the huge elephant in the room; he was royalty and she was a grad student with student loan debt she would weep about if she ever let herself think about it. She zoned out for a moment thinking of all the possible reactions to their romance, humming to herself as she did.
Mal grinned. ‘Are you seriously humming ‘Gold Digger’?’ She giggled. ‘Are you shocked?’ ‘Only that you’re singing a Kanye West song. But, Eva,’ he pulled her onto his lap, ‘is that something you’re concerned about? Because nothing could be farther from the truth.’ ‘I admire your sangfroid but it’s the obvious go-to for the tabloids in this situation. How many women do you know who have gone from rags-to-riches without that name-tag being attached?’ ‘That’s…’ ‘Sexist, misogynistic, so very 1800’s? Yup, welcome to my world.’ Eva stopped, grinned sheepishly. ‘Sorry. Sore topic. But seriously, Mal, we have to make a plan, discuss where we go from here. I don’t want to be all over the press, it’s not me. I’m a private person.’ She sighed and rested her head against his. ‘But I’m not naïve either.’ Mal kissed her temple. ‘You sound like such an old soul.’ ‘Had to be.’
‘I know.’ They sat in silence for a while just holding each other, then Mal ran his hand down her back soothingly. ‘Look, the way I see it, this is what we do. We enjoy it while it’s still ours, still somewhat of a secret. When it does get out, we tackle the problem then. The upside to being who I am is we have a certain amount of control. Adham is excellent at spin. As for my family, well, when you’re ready, I’d like to take you to my country and introduce you.’ Eva was studying him, appreciating his calmness. ‘And how do you think they’ll take to the idea of you being with an American woman?’ ‘If they have any taste, they’ll love you as much as I do.’ But they both knew that was a bridge neither of them was ready to cross. *** Adham apologized profusely to the King. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I just thought you should know.’ There was a silence at the other end of the line.
Thousands of miles away, Sheik Zamar al Riaz sighed. ‘Who is this girl, do we know?’ ‘Not yet. I’ll try and persuade your son to introduce us but you know Malik, sir.’ The Sheikh made a frustrated sound. His first born had always been headstrong, determined to forge his own path. Dammit. ‘Sir?’ ‘Adham, I’m counting on you to solve this problem. I will be displeased if this woman is…a serious attachment. Malik must marry as we have always done. He knows that. It’s your job to remind him in whatever way necessary.’ ‘Yes, sir.’ The King hung up. Next to him, his wife of nearly two years slept soundly. The King had no concerns about Adham taking care of this; he knew the man craved his approval, had a Machiavellian streak a mile wide. He almost pitied this girl, whoever she was. ***
‘Don’t ever move from this place,’ Mal said smiling, dragging air into his exhausted lungs. They were lying in his bed, a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, wrapped around each other. Eva was as breathless as he was, her lovely face flushed and glowing. He loved the feel of her chest rising and falling, her breasts pressing into his chest as she caught her breath. ‘If wishing made it so,’ she smiled. Mal stroked the damp hair away from her face. ‘Do you have to be in work tomorrow?’ She was silent for a moment then shook her head. ‘I could get the day off, I’m certain of it.’ He kissed her. ‘Good. Then stay.’ ‘Okay. But you know we’ll have to deal with real life sooner than later. We both have commitments.’ She slid out from under him. ‘Have to pee, be right back.’ Mal lay back on the bed, thinking about what she had said. It was true—he could keep asking her to take more and more days off but eventually, this little bubble of theirs would burst and they’d have to go back to their lives. The simple version, he thought, was that she would move in with him and they would spend the week in the
city then come back here at the weekends. He could help her complete her research—fund the whole thing if she wanted then…he stopped himself. You’ve known this girl less than twenty-four hours, are you crazy? Mal laughed to himself, a short humorless noise. Crazy? Yes. About her. She was back, gloriously naked and he pulled her back into his arms. She smiled and sighed happily as he ran his hand down her body, splaying his long fingers over her soft belly. ‘That feels so good.’ He kissed her and, for a moment, just stared into her eyes. She frowned slightly. ‘What is it?’ Mal smiled. ‘It’s just…is it really only a few days we’ve known each other?’ She stroked his face, her eyes soft. ‘I know. I’ve never felt this connection with anyone before. Not once. The cynical part of me wants to tell me that I’m just in a fog of lust and rose-colored glasses. But my gut tells me otherwise. this really is something else. He pressed his lips to hers. ‘I think so too, D….snooks.’
She laughed. ‘We may have to work on that nickname.’ ‘Fair enough,’ he grinned then sighed. ‘What?’ ‘This bubble we are in? I don’t want it to burst.’ She smiled gently. ‘I know. But this is real life and we have responsibilities. We’re not kids anymore. Good thing or else I couldn’t do this…’ She reached for him and Mal shifted his weight so he could slide into her and they made love slowly and languorously, enjoying every single sensation of their skin, their bodies touching. They kissed tenderly, eyes locked on the others, hands exploring the other’s body as they together built to a crescendo of pleasure. Mal wanted to pull her closer, absorb every part of her, never let her go. At the back of his mind though was the ever-present Adham and his less than subtle admonitions. Maybe it was time to face the real world. Later, when Eva was asleep, her lustrous nut brown hair clouded on the pillow, her dark lashes sweeping down her cheeks, Mal stroked the soft skin of her back then got up, taking his cell phone into the living room. His two retrievers, Doll and Max, were snoring gently in their
baskets. He slumped onto the sofa and called Adham. ‘We need to talk.’ ‘At last.’ Mal sighed. ‘Don’t give me a hard time, Ads. You don’t know what this feels like. Eva’s…well, she’s very special to me so we need to start acknowledging that to the family. You need to get used to it.’ There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. ‘Don’t you think I should meet her?’ God, no. ‘Yes, that would be a start. Then we can discuss bringing her back to Kumar to meet—’ ‘Are you insane?’ Adham’s voice took on a slightly hysterical tone. ‘Since when do you bring your whores to court?’ Mal ground his teeth. ‘Adham, you will speak about Eva with respect or not at all. Do you understand me?’ ‘Fine. But taking her to Kumar? Your father would never allow it.’
Mal rubbed his hand over his eyes. ‘Adham…I’m nearly forty years old and regardless of my father’s opinion, I will date whomever I please. This isn’t up for debate.’ ‘You’re living in a dream world, pal. But look, going along with this for a second, when will I meet her?’ Mal thought quickly. ‘Tomorrow. Dinner at the hotel. Make the arrangements.’ He ended the call and shook his head. Adham overstepped constantly in his mission to please his father —apparently the friendship they’d built at Harvard meant little to him compared to personal advancement. Mal shook his head in frustration. He couldn’t fault Adham’s ambition, it was just annoying when it worked against him. He went back into the bedroom and the sight that greeted him made every tension in his body disappear. Doll and Max had somehow snuck past him and were stretched out on the bed next to Eva. She looked so peaceful, so content with her arm slung across one of the big dogs that he didn’t have the heart to shoo them away. He stretched out beside them and thought how much he’d like to do this every night from now on—just him, his love and his beloved dogs. He couldn’t imagine anything better.
*** Eva blew out her cheeks, trying to quell rising nausea inside. They were in his limo on the way to the hotel and she was almost certain she would throw up at any minute. Not only was she about to meet Mal’s best friend but, for the love of God, she was about to be waited on by her friends. She’d said as much to Mal, who shrugged it off. ‘So?’ ‘A few days ago, I would have been waiting on me. It’s…’ she searched around for the right word, ‘weird.’ He’d managed to talk her down from that one, only to look askance at her chosen wardrobe. ‘You look like a Maryknoll nun,’ he’d said after she’d shown him the simple navy dress with the white collar she’d bought. She’d scowled at his chuckles but now she was wearing a dark turquoise silk shift that clung to her curves. Mal’s appreciative and lust-filled reaction made her wonder if it was too much—but it was too late now, the limo was pulling up to the sidewalk outside the hotel. Adham was waiting for them as the maître d’ Stefan (who winked at Eva, grinning) led them to their table.
Mal, his voice proud, introduced them before pulling out her chair for her. Eva sat down and Mal took her hand, squeezing it reassuringly. Adham and Mal chatted for a while then Adham smiled at her. ‘Malik tells me you’re a grad student, Eva.’ She nodded, searching the man’s face for his reaction. Adham returned her look, his eyes narrowed, challenging. She looked away, her stomach giving a small lurch. He hates me, she realised, this man hates me. Don’t be ridiculous he doesn’t even know you. Adham was staring at her, at them. She studied him as he took in Mal’s fingers interlaced with hers, the way Mal’s eyes were soft with love. Adham was shorter than Mal’s, his face less structured, almost doughy. His mouth was a hard thin line, his eyes quick and suspicious. His hair was cropped close to his head, a dark flat brown. His gaze travelled up and down her body in a way that made her want to pull her coat tightly around her. A knot of tension settled in her chest. Her throat closed up and when their meal arrived, she could barely eat anything. The bubble had burst. Once again she felt out of her depth, her confidence gone and — ‘Hey, sweetheart, you feeling okay?’
Mal’s hand was stroking up and down her back, soothing her. She tried to smile. ‘Fine, honestly.’ She decided to try with Adham again. He was still watching her with those snaky eyes and she gave an involuntary shiver. She managed to smile at him. ‘So, Adham, do you live in Seattle full time?’ He shrugged dismissively. ‘Wherever Malik is, I am. It’s not my favourite city but it’s fine.’ That annoyed her immediately; no-one spoke badly of her beloved city. Her tone hardened. ‘Mal seems to like it.’ Mal chuckled, unaware of the tension in the room. ‘I like the scenery,’ he murmured his lips against her temple and she smiled, leaning into him. Adham watched them silently. The dinner limped on with Adham directing most of his questions at Mal as if Eva wasn’t there. Even Mal seemed to notice, at last, and when he stood to leave and offered her his hand, Eva could have shouted her relief. Mal addressed Adham, his voice hard. ‘Thanks for meeting us. I’ll speak to you tomorrow about making the arrangements for Kumar. Goodnight.’
Eva didn’t bother to say goodbye but as they walked out of the restaurant, she looked back at Adham. He raised his glass to her, smirking nastily. *** Mal looked over at Eva, frowning. She had been quiet since they had left the restaurant and now he felt a ribbon of anxiety in his stomach. The meeting with Adham had been awkward and he wondered if she was okay. He touched his hand to her cheek. ‘Sweetheart? I’m sorry about Adham. He can take getting used to.’ She smiled wanly and leaned into his touch. ‘‘S okay. It’s just….what are we doing here, Mal? For the last week, we’ve pretended that nothing can get in the way of you and me, that the vast chasm of differences between our world is nothing. Your best friend made his mind up about me before we even met.’ She sighed and he was horrified to see tears in her eyes. She brushed them away with an impatient hand and he wrapped his arms around her. ‘This isn’t going to work, is it?’ Her mumbled words made his heart freeze and he moved so he could look into her eyes.
‘Eva, we need to work on your self-confidence if nothing else. I couldn’t give a crap what Adham thinks. If he thinks being an ass to you is going to make me fall out of love with you or end things between us—he should go back to kindergarten where he belongs. He works for me. He either adjusts his attitude or he’s out. ‘ ‘What about your family?’ She said in a low voice. ‘What if they have the same reaction?’ He sighed. ‘I told you, I don’t care what other people think, no matter who they are. The only person I care about is you.’ *** Back home—Mal realised he thought of it as their home already—they shared a bath and Mal was gratified to see Eva chilled out again. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head and she lay back against him as he trailed his fingertips over her stomach. He pressed his lips to her temple, feeling her body relax against him. She turned her head so she could kiss his mouth. ‘Feel better, sweetheart?’ ‘Much. You’re right, you know. This is what’s real.’ Later, as they made love, Eva’s legs wrapped around his
waist, Mal looked down at her.. Her wide brown eyes were sparkling, her cheeks pink flushed, her soft lips parted, waiting for him to press his own against them. He covered her mouth with his and kissed her deeply, pouring every ounce of his desire for the beautiful woman in his arms into the kiss. He hitched her legs around her hips and pushed into the sweet wet honey of her sex. ‘Eva…’ he moaned, losing himself inside her completely. This, this was all he wanted, this woman, this love, this joy, this feeling. He couldn’t quite believe now that how he’d found her, how he’d convinced her he was more than just a spoiled rich kid who thought he could buy his way into her affections. Her legs tightened around him and he kissed her fiercely, thrusting harder as her breaths became quicker. Her dark hair clouded around her head, her eyes closed as she neared the peak. Her hands were on his face, curving softly around the contours of his face, tender, loving. They came together and then lay, panting, still joined, kissing, sinking into the other. ‘Eva…come to Kumar with me. Come see my beautiful country. When you see it, you’ll love it, I know but then what I want is for you to think about whether you would consider living there. If you can’t, I’ll renounce the throne to my younger brother and we’ll live wherever you want. All I’ll ever need is you, lovely Eva, forever.’
She stroked his face, her eyes shining with love, and nodded. ‘I will. I will come to your country. I want to do everything to make you happy, my love, everything.’ Delighted, he gathered her to him and they made love late into the night. *** A week later, in the depths of the University’s art department, Eva moved the Q-tip gently over the corner of the painting she was restoring, trying not to think about what she was about to do. Mal had arranged everything and now she was on the verge of flying half a world away with a man she’d known less than a month. For now, her work was keeping her grounded and not freaking out. Except…now she was thinking about it again—she tried to quell the swirling mass of nervousness in her stomach at what she was doing, tried to block out the immensity of it all. Her cell-phone rang just then and she stepped away from the painting to take the call. ‘Hey, sweetcheeks.’ She smiled. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in a meeting?’ ‘The only meeting I’m interested in is…’ His voice was
low, rich with humor and meaning. ‘Your Highness, you have a one-track mind.’ But she joined in as he laughed, loved that he sounded so relaxed. ‘I was wondering, may I take you out tonight? My treat?’ Her stomach warmed at his words, his question, his respect for her wishes. She dropped her voice, then, playful. ‘The only treat I want is in your pants,’ and giggled. He gave a bark of laughter. ‘And you call me dirty? What time do you get off—let me rephrase that, what time do you finish work?’ Eva glanced up at the clock. It was just after two p.m. now. ‘Not until around six then I have to pick up my stuff from the apartment…what do you have in mind?’ ‘Well, seeing as you can’t keep your hands off me, how about I pick up some food and we have a picnic in bed. My place for a change? Entirely up to you.’ She knew him so well now, that she could hear the slight hesitation in his voice, the self-doubt. ‘Your place sounds good. Those Egyptian cotton sheets won’t get mussed up on their own.’
‘Hey, did you get those visa’s arranged? Adham’s been on my case about them, he’ll need them as soon as possible.’ Eva rolled her eyes. She still wasn’t Adham’s biggest fan but he’d become less…what was the word? Combative, lately? Eva hoped the détente would last. ‘Look, I’ll drop them off to him after work. He’s working from his place, yes?’ ‘You sure?’ ‘Definitely. You know how much I love to spend time with your college roommate.’ Eva kept her tone light to show him she was kidding. He laughed. ‘Oh, by the way, we’ve gone public. We made the front page of the News.’ She frowned. ‘Really?’ She sighed. ‘Oh well, we knew that was coming. Are you okay with it?’ There was a pause. ‘You want to know what I think?’ Her stomach tensed a little. ‘What?’ she asked nervously. ‘I think….god, that’s a beautiful photo of you and god, I’m a lucky man.’
Eva laughed, relieved. ‘Yes, you are.’ He laughed with her. ‘I’ll see you later, baby. I love you.’ *** At a quarter of six, she snagged her purse from the cloakroom and headed out to the truck she’d borrowed for the afternoon from one of her colleagues. Adham had rented a home across the city and she enjoyed the drive in the sun, windows rolled down, the radio joyous with music, hair flying. Days like this made her feel like a kid again and she was still grinning to herself when she pulled into Adham’s driveway. Parking the truck, she swung her legs out of the cab and jumped the small distance to the sandy ground. Adham’s rented house was large, a wood-framed building with large windows on the second floor. Eva ran up the steps that lead to his front door and rang the bell. ‘I’m out back, come on round.’ Adham’s voice was muffled by the heavily wooded surroundings. Eva walked along the side of the house and out onto the deck, taking a deep breath in. She’d decided in her good mood that she and Adham should start again, try to be friends. Adham was on a lounger, his back to her.
She walked toward him. ‘Hi Adham, how…’ She stopped. Adham was naked. His legs were splayed out, his skin shone with sweat. His penis lay across his thigh—a grotesque display of sexuality. A deliberate display. Eva felt a wave of embarrassment sweep over her. She turned her head away, her mouth setting with distaste. ‘Adham.’ Her voice broke and she silently cursed herself. Careful, she told herself, Careful. Do not show him any weakness. Adham uncurled himself slowly from the lounger. He stood and turned to face her, the arrogant smirk on his face, acknowledging her discomfort. Irritation flared in her. She held out the papers, her expression cold. ‘I just came to bring you these,’ she said. He ignored her and wandered past her toward the house. ‘Come and have a drink.’ An order not a question. He had disappeared through the door before she could think to answer. She took a deep breath, rubbing her forehead to ease
the tension. A cloud passed over the sun. Looking up, she noticed how black it was—a storm was coming, she could smell it, the faint crackle of electricity in the air made her skin prickle. ‘Come in. Eva.’ His tone was relaxed and friendly enough and he’d wrapped a towel around his hips. She walked unwillingly into the house, following the sound of clinking glass into the kitchen. He was staring into the refrigerator. ‘What can I get you? Iced tea, juice?’ ‘Nothing, thank you.’ He turned and smiled at her. ‘Be nice, Eva. Have some iced tea.’ ‘No. Thank you.’ He poured some tea into a glass, adding lemon and ice. He walked over to her and offered it to her. ‘Have some.’ He was still smiling but in his eyes, she couldn’t see….anything. Blank. Dead. Fear began to pinch her stomach. She could smell his skin, sweat and a sour-milky taint, a faint odor of male genitals. He stood
too close to her and reluctantly she took the glass and sipped. Despite herself, the tea was good, easing her stomach. He smiled at her capitulation. She put the glass down and again offered the envelope of papers. ‘You wanted these?’ Again, he ignored her, just stood there, watching her, reading her. Exasperated, she threw the envelope onto the table and turned to leave. In an instant he was beside her, his hand gripping her arm, the other hand pushing the door shut. She gasped, startled and turned to find his face inches from hers. She caught the smell then—liquor. She backed up…into the door, the handle pressing uncomfortably into her kidney. As he stared down at her, she noticed he didn’t blink…at all. She was reminded of a…reptile—that was it—he was reptilian. She didn’t like where this was going at all. ‘Adham…’ Again, the voice barely above a whisper. ‘Shh.’ He cupped her face with his hand, his thumb stroked her cheek gently. ‘Sshhhhh.’ He seemed mesmerized. ‘So pretty,’ he cooed, ‘…pretty, pretty…’ Eva swallowed the hard ball of alarm in her throat. The
air was thick with a tension, a violence. ‘So pretty…oh!’ He exclaimed and smiled down at her. ‘Look what you’ve done.’ He looked down at himself. Eva didn’t need to look. She could feel it nudging against her thigh. She started to struggle. His hands clamped around her shoulders and he slammed her against the door, the handle smashing into her back. She groaned at the sharp pain. His face lit up. ‘Don’t be a little bitch,’ Calm, firm. ‘Look at it.’ Eva was terrified but her face set in defiance. She stared at a spot over his shoulder. ‘Look at it!’ He screamed in her face; she felt his spittle fleck her face. He grabbed the back of her neck and forced her head down, wrenching the muscles. In the instant before she closed her eyes, she caught a glimpse of his erection, curving up toward her, a weapon, a threat. Adham laughed. ‘Just know, little girl, you mean nothing. Not in our world. Imagine if they found out you’d come over to my place and made a play for me—the power behind the throne, you could say. Okay, so Mal might not believe it, but the rest of his family?’
He let her go. Tears started to stream down her face. ‘Adham, stop this, please.’ He smiled pleasantly at her. ‘Whore.’ Her head shot up and she stared at him, horrified, her whole body shaking with humiliation. ‘Dirty little whore.’ His face was filled with his contempt for her. Her temper broke through. ‘You son-of-a-bitch!’ Her hand flew out and she slapped him hard, hard enough to make his head snap to the side. He turned his head slowly back to her. Rage. Rage. ‘You don’t hit me. You don’t ever, ever hit me, little girl. ‘ She groaned in terror as he rammed his body against hers, burying his head in her hair. ‘Leave me alone,’ she moaned and he laughed, victorious.
He nuzzled her ear. ‘Remember this day, little girl, remember the day I showed you what you really are… ‘ he pressed his mouth against her ear, kissed it softly, ‘… just a pretty little whore.’ She cringed away from him. He pressed his groin against her, laughed and let her go. ‘Ssh, ssh little girl,’ he said, still with that sugary tone. ‘Don’t screw with me. It would be very, very bad for you. If I let you go, will you scream?’ Tears started to fall down her cheeks as she shook her head. He released his grip, wiping his damp hand on her t-shirt, a disgusted look on his face. Humiliation rushed through her veins. He pinched her chin between his fingers, tilting her face to his. ‘Now. Listen. I wouldn’t say anything to anybody about our little…’ He smiled to himself. ‘Assignation. Because I don’t think you like the consequences, Eva, I really don’t.’ He leaned his face against hers so that his mouth was next to her ear. ‘Mal’s got one thing right, though…Christ, you’re beautiful.’ He breathed heavily, a lust-filled sigh. She was shaking all over, petrified but when his hand slipped between her legs, suddenly adrenalin kicked in. She pushed him away angrily. ‘You piece of crap,’ she growled at him, ‘who the hell do you think you are threatening me?’
She was ready for a fight, no doubt about that but then Adham started to laugh and waved his hand dismissively. ‘I’m done with you now.’ Shock and humiliation froze her where she stood. He looked at her with disdain then stepped towards her, menace and malevolence in his eyes. ‘I said get out—or would you like me to throw you out?’ *** Eva wrenched the door open and ran. Outside, she skidded to a stop as nausea overtook her and she bent double, she threw up and up and up. As the vomiting subsided, her body was racked with great sobs of humiliation. She felt someone watching and turned. Adham stood at the window, a blank expression on his face. He looked through her as if she didn’t exist. She staggered away, half running, half stumbling over to her truck. Once inside the cab, she banged the locks down and roared out of his driveway. She paid no attention to where she was going and, after a few minutes, she stopped the cab at the side of the road. She calmed her breathing down, slow, deep rhythmic breaths but the tears kept falling, unchecked. She
glanced at herself in the rear-view mirror. Stricken, red eyes looked back. She couldn’t go home like this. She checked the time. Six-thirty. The whole assault had taken less than a half hour. Eva wiped her face with the back of her hand, cracked the window to get some air—cool with the ever present rain. She stuck her face out of the window and let the rain spatter her face. It felt good, clearing her thoughts. She started the engine and pulled away. The sky had darkened to a fierce grey by the time she’d pulled off the ferry and driven to Mal’s home. As she pulled up in front of the house, she was surprised to see lights, not expecting Mal to beat her home. Damn it. She hadn’t had enough time…she looked at her face again, tear stained, wan. She poked around in the glove compartment, finding some baby wipes, she scrubbed at her skin. It worked; the scrubbing motion made her cheeks pink up. Her red eyes she couldn’t do anything about or the slight puffiness under them. She caught movement in one of the windows; Mal had seen her and was coming down the porch steps with a concerned look on his face. With a deep breath in, she stepped from the truck to face him. *** Mal stepped out onto the porch, a frown clouding his
handsome features. He took the few steps down as Eva got out of the pick-up. She was pale, trembling and wouldn’t meet his eyes. ‘Hey beautiful,’ he said carefully. She smiled ruefully and leaned back against the truck. He stepped over to her, searching her face, noting the reddened eyes, the pain behind them. ‘Are you okay? He stroked her face, and just for a millisecond, felt her freeze beneath his touch. ‘What’s wrong?’ She relaxed into him and smiled. ‘Nothing. Sorry. It’s just a migraine.’ He wrapped his arms around her, relief flooding through him. He rocked her gently from side to side. ‘You had me worried.’ As if in answer, lightning flashed and the rain, which had slowed to a patter, starting to pour down in earnest. ‘Let’s get you in,’ he said. He swept her up in his arms and carried her into the house. ‘I’ve got a surprise for you. Close your eyes.’ She obeyed and he carried her into the living room and set her on her feet. ‘Okay.’ She opened her eyes and gasped. Mal grinned. Candles
flickered on the beautifully set dining table. Along the wall he had strung tiny white lights—because he knew she loved them—and the scent of lilies and peonies was heady, sensual. She turned to him, and he smiled as her eyes shone with love for him. ‘Oh, Mal,’ she said softly, ‘Thank you. Thank you. What’s this in aid of?’ Suddenly Mal was nervous. He’d planned this evening for a while but now it was here, he was terrified she would say what he wanted was crazy, ridiculous, way, way too fast. Eva touched his face. ‘What is it?’ He looked up into her lovely face, her warm dark eyes, the blush pink of her cheeks. He traced the shape of her lips with his finger then pressed his own to them. ‘All I want in this world is you.’ She smiled. ‘And I, you.’ He nodded then fixed his gaze on hers intently as if to convey his utter need, his longing for her. ‘Eva…my beautiful, wonderful Eva…be mine for all time.
Marry me ….’ Heart thudding, Eva stared at him in shock and found herself unable to speak. *** It had been a week since she’d turned down Mal’s marriage proposal and now, as Eva boarded the plane to fly to his country, she wondered if she shouldn’t have made the break complete. The thought of never seeing him again made pain rip through her and she knew that she had to try to make this work. Mal had been so accepting, so unreproachful when she’d explained that she loved him but she just wasn’t ready, that it had just made her feel worse. Mal kissed her cheek now as she settled into the luxurious first class section with him. Mal explained he never used his father’s private jets; he had grown up in the time of environmental concern and this was something he could do to reduce his footprint. He smiled sheepishly at her. ‘Considering my country is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, it probably won’t be much compensation.’ But he had insisted on first class so that they could travel in comfort. Eva glanced up as Adham passed by her, her stomach contracting with dread. He settled in a couple of rows ahead of them but turned and smirked nastily in her
direction. She looked away, trying not to let the panic rise in her chest. After Mal had proposed and she’d turned him down, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him about the assault. She regretted that now, knowing that Adham would be watching her constantly on this trip. The last thing she needed when she was so twisted up inside about meeting Mal’s family—especially his father. Mal had avoided answering when she’d asked how his father might react to her. Eva knew she had an uphill battle to convince the King she wasn’t a gold-digger, that she loved Mal despite his position, his wealth. If Eva had any regrets about this relationship, it was that Mal wasn’t a stockbroker, or an art dealer, or a cop. Something normal, something easy. She sighed and felt Mal squeeze her hand. She turned to smile at him, saw him watching her with concerned eyes. ‘You okay?’ His voice was a deep rumble, a warm tone and she leaned her head on his shoulder. ‘I’m fine, just tired.’ She felt him kiss the top of her head. ‘Maybe we should have used my father’s jet,’ Mal continued then lowered his voice. ‘It had a very private bedroom.’ She sniggered. ‘You have a one-tracked mind.’ ‘No-one would blame me.’
*** She fell asleep eventually and when she awoke, they were flying over Kumar. She looked out onto the desert landscape, oil fields, cities and towns of her love’s home country. Mal pointed out some of the rivers that snaked through the land. ‘I was born in America,’ he explained, ‘but spent most of my childhood here. Even though I think of Washington as my home, I still feel a pull here. When my father passes on, I’ll be its King, and as such will be expected to live here a great deal of the time.’ The plane landed smoothly and before she knew it, Eva was being ushered into an air-conditioned limo and they set off for the Royal Palace. Adham was seated opposite them in the car and Eva felt sick with nerves as they got closer. Adham kept smiling at her—he really was a creep, she thought. His smile was lascivious, fake and his mean eyes were beady and squinty. Eva almost giggled to herself at the description of him and for a second, her body relaxed. ‘Eva, look there.’ Mal was indicating a huge, beautiful building in front of them. Its sumptuous, gleaming white domes and minarets were bathed in the white hot of the desert sun and as they drove into the wide courtyard, Eva could see
a riot of colors: clothes, flags, art. She drew in a shaky breath as the car stopped and Mal offered her his hand. She stepped out into a wall of humidity and for a second, she couldn’t breathe. ‘Sweetheart>‘ Mal’s lips were next to her ear. ‘Just remember I love you and that we’re in this together.’ Ml meant well, Eva told herself, but that really didn’t help. They walked into the cool shade of the palace and Eva was grateful for the relief. Mal and his entourage led her through the hallways. Various security men and bodyguards drifted until it was only her, Mal and Adham. She didn’t look at Mal’s old friend as they stopped in front of an ornate door. ‘This is your room, darling.’ Mal flung the heavy wooden doors open and Eva gasped. A huge beautifully draped bed was the focal point of the lush room which had arched doors leading out onto a balcony. The fabrics, the drapes were rich in golds and crimsons and Eva couldn’t help but be overawed. It was something out of a dream. She turned to Mal, eyes shining. ‘This is our room?’ Mal looked at Adham, who nodded and drifted away. Mal
closed the door and went to her, taking her in his arms. ‘Technically, it’s your room. For appearances sake, you understand.’ For a second Eva looked downcast and Mal laughed. ‘My room is next door—and look there…’ He pointed to a connecting door and Eva smiled. ‘Sneaky.’ Mal grinned. ‘You bet. And anyway…’ He turned and locked the door Adham had just closed behind him. ‘I think it’s time for a post-flight shower…don’t you think?’ *** In the vast wet room, under a cool shower, Mal ran his fingers through the long, damp strands of her hair. Eva, her own fingers covered with soapy gel, was running her hands all over his wide chest, across those huge shoulders, onto the hard muscles of his back. She couldn’t get enough of his dark skin, the way his powerful arms would curl around her protectively, his soft lips against hers. Even now, he was kissing the hollow of her throat and it was so delicious she almost purred. Afterwards, they made love slowly in the large, whitesheeted bed and Eva fell asleep in his arms.
The room was dim when she awoke in the early evening, except for a few candles that sputtered and guttered in the wall alcoves. Eva breathed in the sensual scent of incense and oils that drafted through the wind. She slid from the bed, wrapping a sheet around herself and went to the balcony, shielding herself from view with the wooden-slatted doors. The balcony overlooked a small, quiet courtyard, that had a tiny fountain at the centre. Noone was around, but a myriad of multicoloured lamps and candles lit the area. It was so beautiful, Eva sighed happily. ‘I take it you like what you see?’ Mal slid his arms around her waist and kissed the back of her neck. Eva leaned back into him. He smelled of soap and fresh linen and she breathed him, feeling her body relax. How could she not be relaxed in a setting such as this? ‘It’s like a dream,’ she murmured and heard him chuckle. She turned in his arms so she could kiss his mouth and saw to her surprise he was dressed in a long white tunic —a thawb—traditional dress for Mal and his countrymen. Her eyes widened. ‘Wow.’ Mal grinned. ‘Seeing as I’m bringing him my very nonArabic girlfriend, it won’t hurt to suck up to my father by
dressing like him.’ He was joking but suddenly Eva felt the tension returning. She turned away from him. ‘Is he very traditional?’ Mal didn’t seem to notice the tremble in her voice. ‘In some ways, yes. In other ways he’s a very progressive leader; you won’t find another leader in this region who has done so much for women’s rights, for instance. But some things, like the dress, the presentation, the appearance of impropriety if not the actual policing of couples…well, you’ll see.’ Eva was still unsure. ‘Should I be wearing something less…Western?’ Mal grinned at her. ‘Probably best to wear actual clothes.’ Eva glanced down and grinned. The thin sheet didn’t do much to protect her modesty. ‘Good call.’ She showered again and dressed in a simple pale pink shift dress. Mal nodded approvingly and held out his arm. ‘Time to meet the old man, beautiful.’ ***
The dining room of the palace was more like a concert hall than a cozy eatery. Filled with court advisors and servicing staff, Eva could only gape at the majesty of it all as Mal led her to the head of the table. A tall man, handsome, elegant, dressed as his son was, stood and shook her hand as Mal introduced Eva to his father. ‘Come, sit by me.’ The King indicated the chair next to his. Eva sat nervously but Mal, seeing her trembling, squeezed her hand. ‘Dad, Eva’s fallen in love with our little corner of the world already.’ It was strange to hear the King called Dad, comical even, and then there was more commotion as Mal’s younger sister arrived. Eva knew she was called Jasmine but she hadn’t expected this fireball of energy—complete with a British accent. Mal rolled his eyes at his sister. ‘Jas has spent three years at Cambridge and now thinks she’s a Brit. Please excuse her madness.’ Jasmine punched Mal’s shoulder—none too lightly—then looked Eva up and down. ‘Well, you’re bloody gorgeous. ‘Ello, I’m Jasmine, you can call me Jas. Welcome to the pleasure dome. Hello Dad, still breathing then?’
The King smiled fondly at his daughter and Eva couldn’t help but laugh at the new arrival’s spirit. The cramp muscles in her neck started to ease as she talked with Jasmine, discovering the girl had graduated with the highest honors in Political Science and was planning to move to the States soon. ‘Probably Washington D.C. but I’ll hop on over to the other Washington frequently if you’ll have me,’ Jas was pulling some chicken apart and cramming it into her mouth. She nodded at Eva. ‘Be fun to have some girl time too. What do you do?’ Eva told her and the King about the college art department, her Ph.D. The King stayed silent but she could tell he was forming an opinion in his mind and couldn’t read his serene manner at all. Jasmine was the opposite of her father, Eva decided, open and welcoming, able to look past the weight of responsibility and tradition. ‘Is your family alive?’ Finally the King spoke and Eva flushed, shaking her head. ‘No, your majesty. I grew up in a children’s home just outside of Seattle.’ ‘You weren’t adopted?’ Pride made her chin lift and she looked the King in the eye. ‘No, sir. I put myself through high school by working
in the evenings, got good grades, managed to find a scholarship to put myself through college.’ The King nodded. ‘A hard life, then?’ ‘I knew no different way. It was what it was.’ ‘Eva’s an amazing woman, a wonderful role model for others who don’t have the best start in life.’ Mal’s voice was warm, even if Eva thought he was laying it on a bit thick. She kicked him gently under the table and he snickered into her ear. The King watched as his son kissed Eva’s cheek tenderly. ‘Yes, you have done well, my dear.’ The King gave her a serene smile and Eva tentatively smiled back. ‘Forget that, she clearly friggin’ rocks!’ Even the King had to chuckle at Jasmine’s outburst. ‘You could say it’s about she found herself someone to make her life more comfortable than she dreamed it ever would be.’ Adham. Anger flashed through Eva at his insinuation and Mal glared at his oldest friend who put his hands up and gave a snaky smile. ‘Excuse me, I meant that you
deserve to enjoy some luxury, Eva.’ But the moment was ruined. The dinner limped on with Jasmine casting anxious glances between her father, her brother and Eva, Adham smirking to himself and Mal suddenly looking exhausted. The King excused himself after dinner and all of the guests drifted away. Jasmine bore Eva away to the courtyard. Mal kissed her cheek. ‘I’ll be there soon, darling.’ *** Jasmine led Eva to a bench and as they sat, she glanced around her before pulling out a cigarette from her pocket. She offered one to Eva who declined. ‘Don’t mind me.’ Jas lit the cigarette and took a deep inhale, blowing the smoke away from Eva. It didn’t smell like normal tobacco or even pot, but a heady mix of rose petals and incense. She sighed and closed her eyes, rubbing the point between them which had started to hurt. She felt Jas’s hand slip into hers. ‘Adham is a jerk,’ her young friend said in a hard tone. ‘All he cares about is sucking up to my dad and moving up the ladder. I’ve always hated him; he gives me the creeps but Mal is so friggin’ loyal…’ She turned and smiled at Eva. ‘I like you. I’ve met a few of Mal’s
girlfriends—if you can call them that—but he’s never been like this. He calls me, you know, tells me all about you, what you’ve done, he’s like a proud mama. That’s weird,’ Jas laughed and coughed on the smoke, ‘what I mean is—he’s crazy about you.’ Warm pleasure flooded through Eva. ‘And I about him.’ She hesitated for a second the lowered her voice. ‘He proposed to me.’ Jas’s eyes widened. ‘Woah.’ ‘I said no.’ But she kept her tone light, winked at Jas. Jas shrugged. ‘Good, keep him hanging. We can’t let the sisterhood be that easily conquered.’ Eva burst out laughing and Jasmine grinned. Mal walked through the archway at the end of the courtyard, smiling at their laughter. Jasmine stubbed her cigarette out and hid the butt in some plants. Mal, who had clearly seen her smoking, gave her a fond glare. ‘Subtle.’ ‘Shut it,’ Jas told her brother bossily then grabbed Eva in a bear hug. ‘Don’t worry about Adham,’ she whispered into her ear, ‘Mal’s the only one who matters. And me, of course.’
Eva chuckled as the girl kissed her brother’s cheek and disappeared into the palace. Mal sat down next to Eva and took her hand. ‘You like her then?’ Eva grinned. ‘I’m leaving you for her. We’re running away together.’ Mal pretended to admit defeat then laughed. ‘I knew you two would get on.’ There was a long silence, an unspoken question and finally Eva gave in. ‘And the King?’ Mal sighed. ‘He likes you—but then what’s not to like? Or love? Thing is, apart from ravishing you right in front of him, I don’t know how to convince him that this is it. You are ‘the one’. It’s all very well to keep telling someone something but if they never take you seriously…’ Eva smoothed the hair away from his face. The night was sultry and the heat had settled on them like a blanket. Mal bent his head and kissed her slowly, softly, taking his time to taste her lips, her skin. Eva sighed with pleasure as his mouth found her throat, trailed along her collarbone.
‘Come to bed…’ She murmured and Mal took her hand and led her upstairs. *** The King stood at the window watching his son and his American love as they kissed. He too had loved like that once—and once only—Mal’s mother, Yeemina. When she’d died, something in him had died too and he’d closed it off, forgot that part of him. He wanted his children to marry for love in an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter to the political world who married whom but… The King studied Eva. She was certainly beautiful, and smart and a good person—she even resembled Yeemina a little with her long dark hair, honey-colored skin and large doe eyes. If it were only a matter of smart and beautiful… ‘Your Highness?’ Adham appeared next to him, looking down to see Mal and Eva together. A sneer came across his face. ‘She won’t last long,’ he said dismissively. ‘The American woman is nothing to be concerned about.’ The King turned to study him. He had been glad of Adham’s steadying, responsible influence on his son but
the blatant ambition of him had always turned him off. Adham craved power more than anything, convinced that his intelligence meant he was owed it. The King trusted Adham to do the right thing for his country—as long as there was something in it for him. The King turned back to the window and watched his son lead Eva into the palace. ‘They’re sleeping together,’ Adham commented. ‘I’m sure.’ Adham glanced at the King. ‘She’s a whore. Before we came here, she came to me and offered herself. I turned her down of course but it speaks to her charac…’ ‘Is this true?’ The King was shocked, his eyes raking Adham’s. Adham smiled somberly and nodded. ‘Every word, sir. She knows I have your ear. I believe she planned to sleep with me to curry favor so that I would…’put in a good word for her.’ Her ambition knows no limits.’ The King had to laugh at that. ‘You’re one to talk, Adham.’ Adham nodded his head. ‘Touché. But that is exactly why I recognised what she was up to. Don’t trust her, your
Majesty.’ *** Eva couldn’t believe their trip was nearly at an end. It had been a mad whirlwind of a week; parties and lunches and sight-seeing. Jasmine had commandeered her as much as Mal and the two of them had become good friends. She hadn’t seen too much of the King but a day before they left for America, there was a knock at her door and when Eva opened it, she was surprised to see him, alone and smiling at her. ‘Come walk with me, would you, Eva?’ They strolled around the cool hallways of the palace and Eva sighed. ‘It really is beautiful here, your Highness.’ The King nodded. ‘Thank you. Eva…’ He stopped and turned to her, holding her elbows, and gazing into her eyes. ‘Eva, do you love my son?’
She was taken aback by his bluntness but nodded. ‘Very much, sir.’ He studied her and then nodded, seemingly convinced but then he sighed. ‘Eva, it would make things difficult for my country if Malik were to marry outside of his circle.’ ‘Sir…’ ‘Please let me finish. Difficult but not impossible. More than anything I want my children to marry for love.’ A small bud of hope began to flower in her chest and Eva smiled but the King’s expression made her wonder. ‘Is there something…’ ‘Adham came to me. He told me of your…meeting with him before the trip.’ Eva stopped walking and went still. She could feel the blood draining from her face. ‘He did?’ ‘Yes. He told me you offered yourself to him in return for smoothing your transition to the throne.’ Eva was speechless, angered and above all, shattered.
Why hadn’t she seen this coming? Why hadn’t she seen through Adham’s plan? Suddenly the weight of all this grandeur seemed a burden too hard to bear and she closed her eyes. What the hell was she doing here? Mal. His face flashed in her mind and she crumbled. She opened her eyes, met the King’s gaze. ‘Sir…that is not what happened. That is not what happened at all. If you will let me, I will tell you everything but please allow me to do it in front of Malik and to Adham’s face. Then you can judge which one of us is telling the truth.’ *** She nearly lost her nerve but a half hour later, in the King’s private study with Mal and Adham looking on, she repeated word-for-word what had happened that terrible day. When she was finished, she finally looked at Mal. His eyes were shocked, his expression devastated. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ He said softly and in a flash, she knew he believed her. It made her stronger. ‘I didn’t know how,’ she whispered then drawing a deep breath, she looked at Adham. His face was a mask of
rage. He might have been a master manipulator but he was a terrible, terrible actor. It was obvious by the expressions on the faces of Malik and his father who they believed. The King stood up, walked around his desk and took Eva’s hands in his. ‘My dear, I am truly, truly sorry for the pain this has caused you. I wish you nothing but the best for your future—whether it is with my son or not. You are quite a remarkable young woman. Now, Eva, Malik, I’d like to talk to Adham privately please.’ They left the study hand-in-hand and walked slowly outside into the heat. The sun was low in the sky, a cooling breeze skimmed over their skin. Mal pulled Eva into his arms. ‘I wish you had told me,’ he said, his lips against her temple. ‘I would have made it better for you, I swear I would have.’ She smiled up at him. ‘You always do, Mal. But I promise I’ll never keep anything from you again.’ He kissed her deeply and tenderly. ‘When we get back to the States, I’m going to ask you that question again. No pressure but…’ ‘I know. I love you, Malik al-Riaz. My very own Valentino.’
Mal grinned. ‘I like that. How about we go enjoy our last night here…for this trip anyways?’ Her fingers tangled with his, they walked back into the palace as the night began to fall. *** Eva sighed as she opened the door of her apartment. The air seemed stale and it felt it had a million years since she’d been in here. The difference between the opulence of the royal palace and her tiny studio apartment was almost comical. She went into the bathroom and stripped off, standing under the hot spray of the shower. She was dog-tired but her mind wouldn’t settle. Kumar was beautiful; that much was a given but was she really ready to become a princess and leave her beloved Seattle behind? Mal had said he wouldn’t put any pressure on her but she couldn’t imagine either losing him or leaving America. She’d asked him to give her an evening to collect her thoughts and he’s happily agreed, kissing her thoroughly before she got out of the limo. ‘Goodnight sweetheart. I’ll call you later.’ Yesterday morning, before they had left Kumar, the King had told them that Adham was gone, dismissed in disgrace. He’d been angry but accepting of the King’s
decision—at least on the surface. .Eva shivered despite the heat of the shower. It wasn’t over, she was sure of that. He’d seek revenge somehow and Eva hoped against hope that Mal wasn’t the focus of his rage. She ignored the small voice in her head telling her that it wasn’t Mal who was in danger… She cranked the faucet off and stepped out of the shower, drying quickly, then dressed, a simple white cotton dress—her newly tanned skin glowed against the cool white. In her bedroom, she glanced at the clock. Mal would be calling in a half hour. Eva smiled to herself; she hoped she never lost that feeling of excitement at talking to him. She switched on her hair dryer and started to brush out her long dark hair. Idly, as she bent over to dry the roots, she wondered if she should get it cut. It hung down past her waist now and took an age to dry. But Mal loves it this way, she thought and grinned. She stood… The masked man behind her clamped his large hand over her mouth before she could scream. She struggled frantically with the assailant, scratching and biting at him until eventually, when she’d clamped down on his fingers with her teeth as hard as she could, he threw her against the wall. Stunned, she slipped to the floor and he was on top of her. She felt blood drip from her forehead into her hairline. She started to struggle again when she saw the knife.
‘Shut your mouth or I’ll run you through, beautiful.’ She froze as he reached into his pocket and came out with a hypodermic needle. He jabbed the needle into her neck and she winced, whimpering in terror then as the drug swirled in her system, dark spots swam in her eyes and her chest constricted in panic as she lost consciousness. The last thing Eva saw was the second man appear behind the attacker, a familiar figure. ‘Don’t hurt her too bad. We need her alive for now. I’ll kill her myself when the time’s right.’ Oh god, no… Adham. Eva gasped then all was darkness. *** Mal let the phone ring out and frowned. Usually, Eva would pick up on the first ring but tonight he’d called three times, leaving her time if she was in the shower or had her dryer running. No answer. He sat in his car at the ferry terminal and checked his watch. Half past midnight. The last ferry to Bainbridge Island would be leaving in a half hour.
Tension cramped up his shoulders, gnawed at his gut. Mal rubbed his face, fatigue, stress making him irritable. Someone tapped at his window. Deke, the night porter, smiled at him. Mal rolled down the window. ‘Hey, man.’ ‘Hey there Chief, you our last customer?’ Mal glanced around the empty car lot. ‘Looks like.’ ‘Well, boat’s gonna be early for you.’ Deke waved at him and walked over to the dock. Mal stared at the approaching ferry. ‘You’re out of time to make a decision, pal,’ he muttered to himself, ‘out of time.’ He started the car. She’s running out of time. The thought hit him and he drew in a sharp breath. Yanking the gear into reverse, he caught a glimpse of Deke’s shocked face as the car screeched out of the lot and back towards the city. Every sense in Mal’s body was alive with certainty, with the primal fear of knowing, believing, without a doubt, Eva was in serious trouble. It took him less than ten minutes to get to her apartment
and he sprinted up the two flights to her apartment. The open door made his heart thump hard against his ribs and less than a minute later…the sight of her blood made his heart stop. Why didn’t I see this coming? He dropped to his knees, fumbling to pull his phone from his pocket and call the cops. Adham. Adham had her. Adham had taken Eva. *** She had enough cognition to hide it when she came around. She kept still listening for anything that would help her out of this, would save her life. Eva opened her eyes a crack to see she was in a dingy motel room. There was a clock on the desk that told her it had been four hours since her abduction. That meant they hadn’t taken her far, maybe not even out of state. There was an armed man she didn’t recognize sitting on the bed. He seemed to be asleep so she risked moving her head. Everything hurt. She was tied to a chair but
she wasn’t gagged. She could call for help…but the guy could shoot her in a second. She shivered—the thin cotton dress giving no protection against the cool evening. Adham was nowhere. Eva sucked a deep breath. He was going to kill her, she was sure of that, but she pushed that thought away. It was time now to try and get away, not panic. ‘I wouldn’t make any sudden moves, beautiful.’ The man on the bed opened his eyes and smiled at her. He waves his pistol. ‘I got permission to put this entire clip into you if you try anything.’ Eva’s heart thumped heavily and she looked away from him. Despair ripped through her. What the hell do I do? Help me, Mal, please help me… *** Crazed with worry, Malik called in every favor with the FBI and the local cops. CCTV feeds and highways were monitored and in the midst of this, Mal’s heart was breaking. He had no doubt Adham wanted revenge and there would be nothing more devastating than to kill Eva, his love, his life. He could not help but imagine her terror, her pain, the light leaving her eyes as she died alone and in agony.
No. No. Mal sat in the interview room of the Seattle Police department and almost screamed. He couldn’t just sit here. He had to get to her, to save her. He had no idea how but he needed to get out there and look. HE stood—and the door flew open. The police captain, his stern face, alive with hope nodded to him. ‘They’re in a motel on the 101. We’ve got them.’ *** When Adham opened the door to the room, she looked him directly in the eye. He smirked and turned to her guard. ‘You can all pack up and shift out. I’ll follow you when she’s dead.’ Me. He’s talking about me. Eva raised her head and looked straight at the man who was coming to kill her. Adham closed the door, turned and smiled when he saw her watching him. ‘Well, Eva. I have to say, I’ve been looking forward to this.’ He pulled up a chair opposite hers and sat down. In his hand, a blade, thin and lethal.
Eva tensed but raised a defiant face to him. ‘Do you think Mal will let you get away with this? He’ll come after you, he’ll hunt you down.’ Adham laughed. ‘Maybe.’ He pushed his face close to hers. ‘But you’ll still be dead, lovely Eva.’ Eva closed her eyes. This was it. Oh god, Mal…Mal…I love you… As the door flew open, Adham plunged the knife into her. *** Mal’s blood ran cold when he saw them and in a blur, he dragged Adham from Eva and threw the smaller man across the room. He went to his stricken love, his heart thumping at the terrified expression on her lovely face. He freed her from the chair and she pressed her hand to the stab wound as he picked her up but then Adham launched himself into them. Eva was thrown from his arms and Mal slammed into the wall. Adham was a feral whirlwind of rage, raining blows down on him. His fist caught Mal a glancing blow across the temple and he reeled, black spots crowding into his sight. Adham reached for Eva and adrenalin coursed through Mal and he grabbed Adham, throwing him into the other room. ‘You’ll never ever touch her again,’ he growled, following his quarry. Adham, clambering to his feet, sneering.
‘She needs to die, Malik, for your sake, for your country’s sake.’ ‘You mean to further your ambition, you son-of-a-bitch…’ Mal charged at him and grabbed him throwing him across the room. Eva, bleeding heavily, collapsed, clutching at her deep wound as she bled out. ‘No, Eva, no!’ She moved her head to gaze at him and it was as if she were saying goodbye with that look. ‘Don’t you dare die on me, Eva. He doesn’t get to win. We get our fairy-tale. We get our fairy-tale!’ The pain roared from him and Mal’s heart faltered as he clambered to reach her. Behind him, Adham reached into his pocket and drew out a pistol. Eva screamed. ‘Mal, watch out!.’ Mal turned a second too late, Adham brought the butt of the gun down on his head and he collapsed to the ground, stunned. He heard Eva’s horrified gasp then to his utter horror, he watched as Adham levelled the gun at
the woman he loved. ‘NO!’ Mal’s fevered brain could not comprehend what had just happened. ‘Leave her alone…’ Mal choked out the words. Tasting blood in his mouth. Adham looked back at him, his expression clearing, hardening. He flicked off the safety and stared coolly at Mal. His lips twisted into a cruel smile. ‘I told you what would happen if you fell in love with her.’ He pulled the trigger…and the gun jammed. Mal’s heart stuttered, the adrenalin rushed through him and he rushed Adham, knocking the pistol from his hand and crashing the other man against the wall. For a second he stared into Adham’s eyes, trying to see anything of his old friend in him. All he saw was hatred. ‘Look what you’ve become,’ Mal hissed, ‘look what you’ve become.’ He threw Adham out of the door, into the waiting arms of the police. Mal dragged himself over to Eva. Eva…stay with me She had fainted and Mal realised how badly hurt she was. Adham had actually stabbed her. Jesus. Jesus. Mal pressed his free hand down on her wound, trying to stop
her life from draining from her. Eva’s honey skin had turned a ghostly pale lilac, her normally rose-pink lips white, her breathing shallow and faint. He couldn’t stop the bleeding. She was dying. No. No. Please, not her…not my Eva, not my love… Seconds, seconds was all it took for his world to collapse. She was his world, his life and now he was losing her… *** Eva woke up three days later in the hospital, broken and bruised and sore—but alive. Adham was dead, Mal told her. He’d fought with the police, grabbed a gun and was shot dead by the FBI agents. ‘It’s over, my Eva’ And she’d cried with relief at his words. Her injuries would take a while to heal, the doctor told her, the knife had grazed her spine and she would need to go through rehab to help her walk properly again, but she should make a full recovery. Mal sat on the hospital bed with her, his arms locked around her, her head against his chest, as she told him everything the medical staff had told her. She saw him wince every time he saw her dressings and reaching up, she smoothed away the crease between his eyes.
‘My turn to remind you,’ she said softly, ‘It’s over. I’m still here.’ Mal stroked her face, his eyes soft with love. ‘We have all the time in the world, my darling, my beautiful Eva. We have forever.’ She nodded, tears in her eyes. ‘Forever.’ Mal gazed at her as if drinking her in, then smiled. ‘There’s someone else who wants to see you.’ He went to the door and opened it and Jasmine rushed in, her deep brown eyes filling with tears. She threw her arms around a stunned Eva, who, despite wincing with pain, hugged her back just as fiercely. An even bigger shock was to come. Mal’s father followed his daughter into the hospital room. Out of his robes and in an exquisitely tailored suit, he looked tired and stressed out. He waited as Jasmine, weeping, finally released Eva then nodded to his son who bore his sister out of the room and closed the door, with a reassuring wink to a bemused Eva. Sheik Zamar al Riaz sat down gently on the bed and took Eva’s hand. For a moment, he seemed to be struggling with what to say then he looked up at her and she saw
the regret in his eyes. ‘Eva…I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. Deeply, truly, I apologize for what Adham did to you. Although I would never sanction anything like that, I am complicit in your kidnapping and your attempted murder. I should have protected you. Eva, it would be an honor for my country to have you as its Queen.’ Eva’s mind could not compute what he was saying and she stared dumbly at him. The corner of the King’s mouth jerked up in a smile which grew wider and then he chuckled. Eva couldn’t help but join in and then they were both laughing. Zamar squeezed her hand tightly as Mal, hearing the laughter, stuck his head back in the door. His father waved him in. ‘I was just telling your fiancé she’ll make a beautiful bride…and a majestic Queen.’ Mal looked at Eva who blinked her own surprise back at him. ‘Did I propose again yet?’ Eva sniggered at Mal’s face and his father clapped him on the back. ‘Well get on with it, boy, now…’ He left them alone but they both heard Jasmine’s excited
squeal from outside and laughed. Mal stroked Eva’s face, his dark eyes soft with love. ‘Be mine,’ he said simply and Eva kissed him, tears dropping down her cheeks. ‘Yes,’ she whispered, ‘yes…’
Eighteen Months Later… She still walked with a slight limp but Mal wouldn’t have noticed anything else at this moment than the smile on her beautiful face. She held onto the King’s arm as he escorted her down the aisle. A beaming and already crying Jasmine walked behind her. Eva wore a simple white cotton dress, her dark hair falling past her shoulders, tiny white flowers nestled in it as she married Malik al-Riaz. The largest reception room in his Bainbridge Island home was covered in twinkle lights as well as a host of heavenly scented blooms. It was exactly how Eva had dreamed. In a month, they would have their official Kumari wedding, a lush, extravagance, international-news kind of day but today, this day, was theirs. To their friends, the day was perfect. To Mal and Eva, it was a miracle. As they spoke the vows that would bind them together, they couldn’t stop smiling, even laughing. As they were pronounced husband and wife, they kissed and their family and friends cheered and clapped. As they walked back down the aisle, eyes only for each other, Mal placed his hand over the tiny but noticeable bump on Eva’s abdomen. Outside, a snowstorm of confetti and they were laughing and hugging their friends. They were passed from friend
to friend, each one delighted for them and wanting to share their joy. Every so often, they would catch each other’s eye and grin, desperate to be at each other’s side but not wanting to be selfish with their time. *** Finally, they were alone, Mal leading her around the side of the house for a moment’s peace. ‘Have I told you how beautiful you look today, your highness?’ She laughed. ‘Only about a million times, husband.’ ‘Say that again.’ ‘Husband.’ He kissed her and she pressed herself against him, smiling against his mouth. She kissed him back so fiercely, they were both gasping for breath when they broke apart. ‘Damn, woman, we have a garden full of people and you do that? How’s a man supposed to control himself?’
Eva grinned and kissed him again. ‘I’m sure we could sneak away for a few minutes. I could tell people I need to change.’ ‘That, wife, is a terrific idea.’ *** Mal looked down at her as he moved his body onto hers. Her wide brown eyes were sparkling, her cheeks pink flushed, her soft lips parted, waiting for him to press his own against them. He covered her mouth with his and kissed her deeply, pouring every ounce of his desire for the beautiful woman in his arms into the kiss. He hitched her legs around her hips and pushed into the sweet honey of her sex. ‘Eva…’ he moaned, losing himself inside her completely. This, this was all he wanted, this woman, this love, this joy, this feeling. He couldn’t quite believe now that how he’d found her, how he’d convinced her he was more than just a spoiled rich kid who thought he could buy his way into her affections. He couldn’t believe the series of circumstances that had brought them to this place, the love tempered by fear, the joy cut through with the horror of her abduction, her horrific near-murder. Her legs tightened around him and he kissed her fiercely, moving his body as her breaths became quicker. Her
dark hair clouded around her head, her eyes closed as she neared the peak. Her hands were on his face, curving softly around the contours of his face, tender, loving. They came together and then lay, panting, still joined, kissing, sinking into the other. Mal looked down at her knowing, at last, she belonged to him as he belonged to her, that they would never again be apart. He splayed his long fingers over the soft rise of her belly, her silky skin, the scars which told the story of her survival. She covered his hand with hers, smiling as they locked their gaze, both thinking about the tiny life growing inside of her. Their daughter. Mal stroked her face, drinking in her beauty, seeing the deep love shining in her eyes. ‘God, I love you. I once made the stupid mistake of thinking I could buy a love like this, like yours. That person no longer exists…because of you. There are so many things I am grateful for in my life but none more than you, Eva You made me a man I can be proud of.’ She kissed him fiercely then, tears dropping down her cheeks at his words. ‘You gave me everything, Malik, everything. This, us…and our family. The only family I have ever known. The only one I could ever need. I love you so much.’
Mal smiled, moving on top of her, and gently wrapping her legs around his waist. ‘Then all we need to promise each other is to tell each other that every day for the rest of our lives. Promise?’ Eva smiled up at the man she loved with all her heart and nodded. ‘I promise…I promise…’ THE END
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: There’s nothing I love more than writing romantic stories that inspire readers to live and enjoy life. From penning those first words to releasing a book into the world, I honestly love what I do. As a hopeless romantic with an overflowing zest for life, I truly believe in the beauty of love and the power it has to overcome challenges and I always try to incorporate that reality into my stories. Stand-alone HEA books like my Billionaire Bachelors Club series are some of my most favorites to write. I am passionate about strong women who fall in love with electrifying alpha males and of course you can’t go wrong a with a happily ever after! When I’m not writing passionate stories, you can find me spending time with my husband and little girl out here in the West. I also love a relaxing massage—who doesn’t? —or reading a great book while curled up on sandy shores as waves crash in the background. Anything romantic or inspiring is pretty much the heart of who I am and what I enjoy writing the most. I invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy reading about your favorite billionaires!