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'You know why I'm here.'
The man's voice was as deep and dark as his eyes, his hair his heart, for all Clemmie knew. He filled the doorway he stood in, big and broad and dangerously strong. Worryingly so.
She didn't know what put that sense of danger into his appearance. There was nothing in the way he stood, the long body relaxed, his hands pushed deep into the pockets of the well-worn jeans that clung to narrow hips and powerful legs, that spoke of threat or any sort of menace. And his face, although rough-hewn and rugged, did not have the type of features that made her think of black shadowy novels about serial killers or vampires rising from the dead.
Not that serial killers conformed to the myth that evil had to be ugly as well. And this man was definitely not ugly. He was all hunk, if the truth was told. Those deep brown eyes were combined with unbelievably luxuriant black lashes, slashing high cheekbones, surprisingly bronze-toned skin. He was a man for whom the word 'sexy' had been created. A man whose powerfully male impact went straight to everything that was female inside her and resonated there, making her shiver. But once the image of a vampiredark, devastating and dangeroushad settled into her brain there was no way she could shake it loose.
It was something about the eyes. Something about that cold, direct, unflinching stare. Dead-eyed and unyielding. She couldn't understand it. And because she couldn't find a reason for it, it made her shiver all the more though she forced herself not to show it and instead pasted a smile that she hoped was polite but not overly encouraging on to her face.
'I beg your pardon?'
If he caught the note of rejection and dismissal she tried to inject into the words then not a sign of it registered in that enigmatic face. He certainly didn't look discouraged or even concerned but flashed her another of those cold-eyed glances and repeated, with obvious emphasis, 'You know why I'm here.'
'I think not.'
She was expecting someone. Had been dreading his arrival for daysweeks. Ever since the time had approached when she would celebrate her twenty-third birthday. If 'celebrated' was the right word for marking the day that would mean the end of her old life, and the start of the new. The start of the life she had known was coming but had tried to put out of her mind. Without success. The thought of what her future was to be hung over her like a dark storm cloud, blighting each day that crept nearer to the moment her destiny changed.
But she had prayed he wouldn't come so soon. That she would have at least a few more daysjust a month would be perfectbefore the fate that her father had planned for her when she had been too young to understand, let alone object, closed in around her and locked her into a very different existence.
The person she had been expectingdreadingwas very different from this darkly devastating male. He was much older for a start. And would never have appeared so casually dressed, so carelessly indifferent to the demands of protocol and security.
Which was just as well because the sudden and unexpected ring at the doorbell had caught her unawares. She hadn't even brushed her hair properly after washing it and letting it dry naturally, so that it hung in wild disorder around her face. Her mascara was smudged, and although she'd decided that the lipstick she'd been trying on was really too bright and garish, she hadn't had time to take any of it off, or in any way lessen the impact of the vivid colour.
'I have no idea who you are or what you're doing here. If you're selling something, I'm not interested. If you're canvassing, I'll not be voting for your party.'
'I'm not selling anything.'
No, she'd expected that. His clothes, while too obviously casual for a salesman, had a quality and style that contradicted that thought.
'Then in that case '
She'd had enough of this. If he wasn't going to explain just why he was here then she had no intention of wasting her time standing here in the hallway. She had been busy enough before the autocratic and impatient knock had summoned her to the door and if she hung around any longer she was going to be late for Harry's party and he would never forgive her.
'I'd appreciate it if you would just leave.'
She made a move to close the door as she spoke, wanting this over and done with. Hunk or not, he had invaded her world just at the worst possible moment.
She had so little time to spare. Correctionshe had no time to spare. No time at all for herself, no time between her and the future, the fate that had once seemed so far away. She had to finish packing, organise the legal transfer of the cottage and everything else she was leaving behind. And that was always supposing that she could persuade the man she really was waiting for to give her just two days more grace.
Just forty-eight more hours. It would mean so little to him, except as a delay in the mission he'd been sent on, but it would mean the world to herand to Harry. A tiny bubble of tension lurched up into her throat and burst there painfully as she thought about the promise she had made to Harry just the previous evening.
'I'll be there, sweetheart, I promise. I won't let anything stand in my way.'
And she wouldn't, she had vowed. She had just enough time to visit Harry, be with him through this special time, and then make it back home. Back to face the fate she now knew her dreams of escaping would never ever come true. Back to face the prospect of a future that had been signed away from her with the dictates of a peace treaty, the plans of other people so much more powerful than she could ever be. The only thing that made it bearable was the knowledge that Harry would never be trapped as she had been. Her father knew nothing about him, and she would do anything rather than let him find out.
But that had been before she had received the unwelcome news that the visitor she so dreaded seeing would be here much sooner than she had anticipated. Forty-eight hours earlier. The vital forty-eight hours she needed.
And now here was this manthis undeniably gorgeous but totally unwelcome maninvading what little was left of her privacy, and holding her up when she needed to be on her way.
'Leave right now,' she added, the uneasy feelings in her mind giving more emphasis to her words, a hard-voiced stress that she would never have shown under any other circumstances. As she spoke she moved to shut the door, knowing a nervous need to slam it into its frame, right in his face. That feeling was mixed with a creeping, disturbing conviction that if she didn't get rid of him now, once and for all, he was going to ruin her plans completely.
'I think not.'
She only just heard his low-toned words under her own sharp gasp of shock as the door hit against some unexpected blockage at its base. She suddenly became disturbingly aware of the way that he had moved forward, sudden and silent as a striking predator, firmly inserting one booted foot between the wood and its frame. A long, strong fingered hand flashed out to slam into it too, just above her head, holding it back with an ease that denied the brutal force he was employing against her own pathetic attempt at resistance. The shock of the impact ricocheted disturbingly up her arm.
'I think not,' he repeated, low and dangerous. 'I'm not going anywhere.'
'Then you'd better think again!' she tossed at him in open defiance, her head going back, bronze eyes flashing golden sparks of rejection.
He'd expected problems, Karim Al Khalifa acknowledged to himself. The way that this woman had taken herself off from the court, the sort of life she had set up for herself, ignoring all demands of protocol and safety, in a different country, all indicated that this was not going to be the straightforward task his father had led him to believe. Clementina Savanevskior Clemmie Savens, which was the name she was masquerading under in this rural English hideawayknew where her duty lay, or she should do. But the fact that she had run away from that duty, and had been living a carefree life on her own had always indicated that she held her family's promise very lightly. Far too lightly.
And now that he was face to face with her, he felt he understood why.
She had clearly cast off the restraint and the dignity she should be expected to have as a potential Queen of Rhastaan. She had on only a loose, faded tee shirt and shabby denim jeans, the latter so battered that they were actually threadbare in places where they clung to her tall, slender figure. The long dark hair hung wild around her face, tumbling down on to her shoulders and back in a disarray that was as shocking as it was sensual. Her face was marked with dark smudges around her deep amber eyes, a garish crimson lipstick staining her mouth.
And what a mouth.
Unexpectedly, shockingly, his senses seemed to catch on the thought, his heart lurching sharply, making his breath tangle inside his chest so that for a second he felt he would never exhale again. His own mouth burned as if it had made contact with the red-painted fullness of hers, his tongue moving involuntarily to sweep over his lower lip in instinctive response.
'I'll call the police!'
She moved back to her place by the door so that she was blocking his way if he wanted to come towards her.
The movement drew his attention to her feet on the wooden floor. Long, elegant, golden-skinned, they were tipped with an astonishingly bright pink polish on her nails. And the movement had brought a waft of some tantalising perfume stirring on the air. Flowers, but with an unexpected undertone of sexy spice.
'No need for that.' His voice was rough around the edges as he had to push it from an unexpectedly dry throat. 'I'm not going to hurt you.'
'And you expect me to believe that, do you?' she challenged, flinging another furious and flashing glare into his face.
Knowing she had caught his attention, she let her gaze drop downwards in a deliberate move to draw his attention to where his foot still came between the door and its white-painted frame, blocking the way.
'Does that look like normal behaviour?' she questioned roughly, nodding towards the carefully imposed barrier. Her tone was almost as raw as his but for very different reasons, he suspected. She was furious, practically spitting her anger at him. And suddenly he had the image in his head of a young, thin stray cat he had seen in a car park only that morning. A sleek black beauty who had started in violent apprehension when he had approached it and, turning, had hissed its defiance in his face.
He was handling this all wrong, Karim acknowledged uncomfortably. Somewhere in the moments between the time he had arrived here and she had answered the door, all his carefully planned tactics had gone right up in smoke and he had taken completely the wrong approach. He hadn't expected her to be so hostile, so defiant. Raw and unsettled as he was already with thoughts of the situation he had left behind at home, worry about his father's health, the way he had been forced so unexpectedly into taking this action today, he had let his usual rigid control slip shamefully.
That and the fact that he'd been without a woman for so long, he acknowledged unwillingly. Too long. There had been no one in his bed or even near it since Soraya had stormed out, accusing him of never being there for her. Never being there, full stop. Well, of course he hadn't. When had he had the time, or the freedom of thought, to be there for anyone other than his father, or the country that he now found himself so brutally and unexpectedly heir to? The problems that had flared up so suddenly had taken every second of his time, forcing him to take on his father's duties as well as his own. He wouldn't be here otherwise. Not willingly.
And, face it, he had never expected her to be so physically gorgeous. So incredibly sexy. He had seen photographs of her, of course, but not a single one of those pictures had the sensual impact of the molten bronze eyes, golden skin, tousled black hair and the intoxicating scent that seemed to have tangled itself around his nerves, pulling tight. His mouth almost watered, his senses burning to life in the space of a heartbeat.
Hastily, he pulled himself up. He couldn't allow thoughts like that to sneak into his mind, even for a moment. It didn't matter a damn if this woman was the sexiest female on earthand he refused to listen to his senses' insistence that that might just be the caseshe was not for him. She was forbidden to him, dammit. They were on opposite sides of a huge divide and, frankly, it was better it stayed that way. From what he had heard, she was too much trouble to be worth any transient pleasure. And he already had too much on his conscience as it was.
'My apologies,' he said stiffly, imposing control on his voice in the hope that the rest of his senses would follow. 'I am not going to hurt you.'
'Do you think that if you say it often enough I'll be forced to believe you?' she challenged. 'What's that phrase about protesting too much?'
He wasn't sure if she had deliberately flung the question at him to distract him, but it worked. Puzzled, he reacted without thinking, taking his foot from the door and, sensing the lessening of pressure against her hand, she acted instinctively, pushing the door back against him and whirling away from him, dashing back inside the house.
If she could just reach the phone, she could call the police, Clemmie told herself. Or she could hope to get right through the house and out of the back door. She didn't trust for one minute his declaration that he had no intention of hurting her. He meant trouble, she was sure. Some deeply primitive instinct told her that, gorgeous or not, he was dangerous right through to the bone.
But she hadn't pushed the door quite soon enough. She knew the moment that he stopped it from closing, the silence instead of the bang of wood on wood. He had stepped into the hallway; was right behind her. Every nerve, every muscle tensed in anticipation of his coming to claim her, to grab at her shoulder or her arms. But, unbelievably, as she dashed into the kitchen she heard him come to a halt.
Whatever she had expected, it wasn't that. Wasn't the use of her nameher full name. The one that no one here in England used. The one that no one even knew was her real name. And the sound of it stopped her dead, freezing her into stillness in the middle of her tiny kitchen. 'Clementinaplease.'
Please? Now she had to be hearing things. He couldn't have said that. He wouldn't have said pleasewould he?
'I'm not coming any further,' he said with careful control. 'I'm going to stay here and we should talk. Let me explainmy name is Karim Al Khalifa.'
Through the buzzing in her head, Clemmie heard the words so differently. She had been expecting to hear that name, or one so very like it, that she believed he'd said what she'd anticipated.
'Now I know you're lying.'
She tossed the words over her shoulder, turning her head just far enough to see that he had actually halted as he had said, just outside the kitchen door.
'I don't know how you know that I was waiting for someone to come here from Sheikh Al Khalifa, but it sure as blazes wasn't you. I've seen a picture of the man who was coming and he's at least twice your age, has a beard. The photo's on my computerit was in the email '
'Was,' he inserted, cold and sharp. 'The important word there is "was".'
'What are you talking about?'
Needing to see him to look into his face, meet his eyes, to try and read just what was going on inside his handsome head, she made herself turn to confront him and immediately wished she hadn't. The dark glaze of his eyes was like black ice, making her stomach lurch. At the same time she felt the clench of her nerves in another, very different sort of response. A very female, very sensual sort of reaction. One that made her throat ache in a way that had nothing to do with fear.