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The policewoman could not have been more bored as she instructed Natasha to fill out the necessary forms.
And, yes, in the scheme of things it wasn't exactly riveting that her car had been stolen, and neither was it a disaster, but on the back of everything else that she was dealing with, today of all days, Natasha could very easily have put her head on the desk and wept.
She didn't, of course. Natasha just got on with what she had toit was how this year had been. Her long, thick red hair was wet from the rain and dripped on the counter as she bent her head. She pushed it out of her eyes. Her fingers were white from the cold. If her car had to have been stolen, Natasha almost wished it could have been in a couple of days' time, when she would have known nothing about it.
Natasha was supposed to be spending this gruelling day planning a holiday. It was the anniversary of her parents' death, and she had wanted to mark it somehow. She had been determined to push on with her life, but had finally listened when her friends had said that she needed a breaka proper oneand it didn't need to be expensive.
As a substitute teacher it had been easy for her to arrange a fortnight off, and today she had been planning to visit the cemetery and then go to a friend's house to book the cheapest, hottest place on the planet she could afford. Instead she was standing in a draughty police station, politely trying not to listen as the woman beside her reported a domestic incident.
The policewoman's voice suddenly trailed off mid-sentence. In fact the whole room seemed to stop, even the argument breaking out between a father and son paused, and Natasha looked up as a door beside the counter opened.
She watched the policewoman's cheeks redden, and as Natasha followed her gaze she could certainly see why. Walking into the foyer was possibly the most beautiful man she had ever seen.
Definitely the most beautiful, she amended, as he walked past the counter and came into full view. He was tall, with exotic dark looks, his elegance so effortless that he wore even a torn shirt and a black eye well.
He was tousled and unshaven, and the torn shirt allowed for more than a glimpse of one broad coffee-coloured shoulder. As he gave up trying to fasten the broken buttons on his shirt he moved to tuck it in, and even though Natasha looked away the image of a flat stomach with a snake of jet hair danced before her eyes. She struggled to remember the registration number of the car she'd owned for more than five years.
'Maybe you should go and sit down to fill it in?' the policewoman suggested.
Natasha was quite sure she was only being helpful because, now he had moved, Natasha was blocking her view of the exotic prisoner. Still, it was rather nice to sit in a front row seat and every now and then look up from the form to witness him sliding in his belt and buckling it, and then, a moment later, when they were handed to him, slipping on his shoes.
'Are you sure we can't offer you a ride home?' a sergeant asked.
'That won't be necessary.'
His voice was deep and low and richly accented, and despite the circumstances he was very much the one in commandthere was an air of haughtiness to him as he took his jacket from the sergeant and brushed it down before putting it on. The gesture, as some dust fell to the floor, was curiously insolent, as if telling all present that he was better than this.
'We really are sorry for the mix-up ' the sergeant continued.
Natasha quickly looked back to her paperwork as he made his way over to the bench where she sat, raised a foot and placed it beside her, and proceeded to lace up his shoe. There was a delicious waft that reached her nostrils, the last traces of cologne combined with the essence of male, and though she resisted, though she tried terribly hard not to, her body did what it had to and despite Natasha's best intentions she looked up.
Looked up into a face that was exquisite, into eyes that were at first black but, as she stared, became the indigo of a midnight sky. He let her explore the vastness, let her deep into the reaches of his gaze, then he withdrew that pleasure, his concentration moved back to his footwear and Natasha was for a second lost. So lost that she did not turn her face away, still watched, mouth slightly gaping, as his dark red lips tightened when the sergeant spoke on.
'As I said before, Your Highness '
Natasha's mouth gaped fully open. No wonder the sergeant was groveling. There was a diplomatic incident unfolding right here in the room.
' I can only apologise.'
'You were doing your job.' Shoes laced, he stood to his impressive height. 'I should not have been there in the first place. I understand that now. I did not at the time.' He looked down at the policeman and gave a brief noda nod that was final, that somehow confirmed he was giving his word. 'It is forgotten.' Relief flooded over the sergeant's face even as His Highness snapped his fingers. 'I need my phone.'
Natasha was dying to know what had happened, what the mistake had been, but unfortunately she couldn't drag out filling in the form any longer, so she went up to the counter and handed it in. She could feel his dark eyes on her shoulders as she spoke with the policewoman, and as Natasha turned to go their eyes met briefly for the second time. Briefly because Natasha tore hers away, for there was a strange suggestion in his eyes that she could not logically explain.
His words were very deliberate and very much aimed at her. They forced her gaze to dart back to him as he greeted her in circumstances where it would be more customary to ignore another person. It was almost inappropriate to initiate a conversation here, and Natasha flushed as she returned his greeting.
There was the slightest upturn to his mouthimperceptible, almost, but thereas if he found her voice pleasing, as if somehow he had won, for still he stared. There was a bizarre feeling of danger. Her heart was racing and her breathing was shallow and fast. Instinct told her to runespecially as that haughty mouth now shifted a little further, moved to almost a smile. There was a beckoning in it, and she understood now the danger. For her body still told her to runexcept to him.
'Thank you.' Natasha turned to the policewoman, thanked her for her assistance, and then, because she had no choice, she walked past him to reach the exit.
It was an almost impossible task, for never had she been so awarenot just of him, but of her own body: the sound of her boots as she clipped past him, the relief in her nostrils as they once again detected him, the burn of his eyes as they unashamedly followed her progress. And, though she could not know, she was certain of the turn of his head as she passed him, and knew he was watching as she walked out through the door.
It was a relief to be out in the rainnever had she had a man so potent linger in his attention on herand Natasha walked quickly from the police station, crossing at the lights and then breaking into a run when she saw her bus. It drove off as she approached it and she felt like banging on the door as it passed, even chased it for a futile few seconds, knowing what she would see now.
She tried not to looktried to disappear in the empty bus shelterbut of course she could not. He walked out of the police station and down the steps in his slightly muddied tuxedo, and instead of turning up his collar, as most would, he lifted his face to the rain, closed his eyes and ran a hand over his face as if he were showering. He made a wet winter morning suddenly beautiful. He made the whole wretched day somehow worth it for that image alone. Natasha watched as he lifted his phone to his ear and then turned around. She realised he was disorientated as to his location, but he walked on a little farther and located the name of the suburb from the sign on the police station's wall.
No, he did not belong here.
He pocketed his phone and leant against the wall. It was then that he caught her watching. She tried to pretend that she hadn't been. Deliberately Natasha didn't jerk her head away. Instead she let her gaze travel past him and then out into the street, willing another bus to appear, but she could see him in her peripheral vision. She knew that he had moved from the wall and, ignoring the pedestrian crossing, was walking very directly towards her. There were angry hoots from drivers as he halted the traffic and calmly took his timeit was Natasha's heart that was racing as he joined her in what once had been her shelter. Except it wasn't the rain Natasha needed sheltering from.
He stood just a little nearer to her than was polite. Natasha couldn't really explain why she felt that, because soon the shelter would fill up, and on a rainy morning like this one soon she and any number of strangers would be crammed in like sardines. But for now, while it was just the two of them, he was too closeespecially when she knew, was quite sure, that he didn't need to be here. His people hadn't told His Highness that perhaps he should get the bus.
What was he doing here? her mind begged to know the answer to the question. What had the mistake been?
'The husband came home.'
His rich voice answered her unspoken question, and despite her best intentions to ignore him Natasha let out a small, almost nervous laugh, then turned her head to him. Immediate was the wish that she hadn't, that she had chosen simply to ignore him, because those eyes were waiting for her againthat face, that body, even his scent; he was almost too beautiful for conversationbetter, perhaps, that he remain in her head as an image, a memory, rather than become tainted by truth.
Something deep inside warned Natasha that she should not engage with him, that it would be far safer to ignore him, but she couldn't, and her eyes found his mouth as he spoke on.
'He thought that I was in his house stealing.'
Rakhal looked into green eyes, saw a blush flood her face as it had when last their eyes had metonly this time there was a parting of her lips as she smiled. But that initial response was brief, for quickly, he noted, she changed her mind. The smile vanished and her words were terse. 'Technically, you were!'
She went back to looking out into the road and Rakhal fought with a rare need to explain himself. He knew what had happened last night did not put him in a flattering light, but given where they had met he felt it important that she knew the reason he had been locked up if he were to get to know her some more.
And of that Rakhal had every intention.
There was a very rare beauty to her. Redheads had never appealed to him, but this morning he found the colouring intriguing. Darkened by the rain, her hair ran in trails along her trenchcoat. He wanted to take a towel and rub it dry, to watch the golds and oranges emerge. He liked too the paleness of her skin that so readily displayed her passions; it was pinking now around her ears. He wanted her to turn again and face himRakhal wanted another glimpse of her green eyes.
'I did not know.' He watched her ears redden as he carried on the conversation. 'Of course that is no excuse.'
It was the reason he had assured the policemen he would not be taking things any furtherbecause she was right: technically he had been stealing, and that did not sit well with Rakhal. He could surely live and die a hundred times trying to work out the rules of this landthere were wedding rings, but some chose not to wear them; there were titles, but some chose not to use them; there were, of course, women who chose to lie. And, in fairness to him, it was particularly confusing for Rakhalfor his heartbreaking looks assured that many a ring or a diamond were slipped into a purse when he entered a room. But instead of working out the rules, this morning he chose to work out this woman.
Direct was his approach.
'What were you at the police station for?'
She was tempted just to ignore him, but that would only serve to show him the impact he'd had on her, so she attempted to answer as if he were just another person at a bus stop, making idle conversation. 'My car was stolen.'
'That must be inconvenient,' Rakhal responded, watching her shoulders stiffen.
'Just a bit.' Natasha bristled, because it was far more than inconvenient, but then if he was royal, if he was as well-off as his appearance indicated, perhaps having his car stolen would be a mere inconvenience. But maybe she was being a bit rude. He had done nothing wrong, after all. It was her private response to him that was inappropriate. 'I was supposed to be going on holiday.'
'A driving holiday?'
She laughed. Perish the thought! 'No.' She turned just a little towards him. It seemed rude to keep talking over her shoulder. 'Overseas.'
Those gorgeous eyes narrowed into a frown as he attempted to perceive the problem. 'Did you need your car to get you to the airport?'
It was easier just to nod and say yes, to turn away from him again and will the bus to hurry up.
They stood in silence as grumpy morning commuters forced him a little closer to her. She caught the scent of him again, and then, after a stretch of interminable silence, when it felt as if he were counting every hair on the back of her head, he resumed their conversation and very unexpectedly made her laugh.
'Couldn't you get a taxi?'
Now she turned and fully faced him. Now she accepted the conversation. Rakhal enjoyed the victory as much as he had enjoyed the small battle, for rarely was a woman unwilling, and never was there one he could not get to unbend.
'It's a little bit more complicated than that.'
It was so much more complicated than simply getting a taxi to the airport. Truth be told, she couldn't really afford a holiday anyway; she had lent her brother Mark so much money to help with his gambling debts. She had been hoping to take a break for her sanity more than anything else, because her brother's problems weren't going away any time soon. Still, this dashing stranger didn't need to know all about thatexcept he did not allow her to leave it there.
'In what way?'
He dragged out a conversation, Natasha recognised. He persisted when others would not. 'It just is.' Still he frowned. Still he clearly expected her to tell.
Tell a man she had never met? Tell a man she knew nothing about other than that he ignored social norms?