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Lina Marwan stood on the edge of the bridge, her eyes shut as she searched for her center.
A slight breeze caressed her sun warmed skin. It was a beautiful day to be alive. She released the railing and nothing stood between her and open air a fifty-foot drop to the rushing waters of the river below.
Adrenaline coursed through her at the thought of what she was about to do. Her breaths came in short pants and sweat formed on her temples and palms. She curled her fingers into fists and then released them several times as she forced her lungs into a more relaxed rhythm.
Loud voices from behind her disturbed the peace she was trying to attain. Opening her eyes, she looked back over her shoulder and saw him.
The last person she expected to see at this moment in her life. The last man she expected, or wanted, to see ever again. Before, or after, death. God wouldn't be so cruel as to put her and the deceitful bastard in the same part of heaven.
Well, there was nothing for it. He was here and it would only be a matter of seconds before he convinced the officials holding him off the bridge into letting him come for her.
She faced forward again, spread her arms like wings and let her body fall forward as the sound of Sebastian's roar echoed off the ravine's rocky walls.
Soaring through the air like a bird diving for its prey, memories from eight years before flooded Lina's mind in a reel-to-reel play of her time with Sebastian Hawk.
Headed toward the University Center, Lina rushed across the quad. She was late for the meeting, but it couldn't be helped. She'd had to ditch her bodyguard. Again. He was reading a book on Ancient Egypton the ground floor of the library. He believed she was in a study group meeting in one of the rooms on the second floor. If the poor man knew how many hours he spent in the library while she was elsewhere, they would both be in a lot of trouble.
He was easy to fool. Too easy for her ego. In his mind her high grade point average attested unequivocally to many hours spent studying. She did study, just not nearly as much as he believed. However, like her father and far too many other men from her country, her guard did not believe a woman could get the grades she did without putting a huge effort into the task. All of the guards in her current security detail were similarly afflicted in their thinking.
When she had discovered the benefits to this particular formerly annoying trait she had been grateful for her father's insistence on supplying her bodyguards from her home country for the first time.
Raised in America since she was six, she'd often chafed at the attitudes exhibited by her Marwanian guards. Then she had arrived at university and discovered how easy it was to gain temporary freedom on the pretext of studying. She grinned. Life might not be perfect, but it certainly was fun.
Her grin changed to a grimace as she ran into a rock wall dressed like a man.
She bounced backward, landing right on her bum in the grass. "Ooof."
"Are you all right?" Oh, wow. The rock wall had a voice that made her insides ping.
She looked up and up a couple of inches over six feet of rippling muscle, until their eyes met. His were gray. A dark, mysterious gunmetal gray. Though, right at that moment, their expression was perfectly readable. They were lit with concern. For her.
Her smile returned and she stuck her hand out. "Fine. Thanks. Give me a lift?"
His lips quirked. "Certainly." He reached toward her and their hands connected.
Starbursts might have gone off, she wasn't sure. Because the momentum from his tug landed her body against his and her senses went supernova. Her dazzled brain registered that his mouth was still curved in that half-curve. She wondered what he'd look like with a full-blown smile. Devastating, probably. She probably wouldn't survive it.
"You sure you're okay?" he asked, looking really concerned now.
And darned if she didn't really like that. "Wonderful."
"You don't need help to remain standing?"
"No." Did she look like she needed help?
"Then, maybe you'd like to let go? Not that I mind the close contact." Warm amusement laced his words.
"I should let go I mean." But her body made no effort to move backward.
He laughed. "My name is Sebastian Hawk."
Ulp. His laughter sent shivers through her as she found herself mesmerized by the absolutely gorgeous smile that accompanied it. Okay, so she'd survived a close encounter with his smile, but wasn't so sure about her mental faculties.
This man was very destructive to rational thought processes.
"And you are?"
Right. Very bad for normal brain activity.
"Oh, I'm Lina Marwan." She never used her complete name Lina bin Fahd al Marwan anymore.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Lina," he said as he gently set her away from him.
She had to fight the urge to press forward and reconnect. Was this what it felt like to be attracted to a man? If it was, she could now be glad she'd spent her teen years at an all-girls school. Unlike her classmates, she'd never had the opportunity to spend time with boys her own age during school breaks. Her family kept too close of tabs on her for that.
In the year and a half since she came to university, she'd hugged a couple of boys, friends she met in her secret pursuits, but they'd never affected her like Sebastian Hawk. She'd always wanted to know what it was like to kiss a boy, but only in the abstract. Now she wanted to know the very concrete reality of kissing Sebastian Hawk.
The craving was so strong, her lips twitched. Sebastian's gray gaze was knowingas if he could read the unfamiliar desire surging through her.
The tower clock chimed the quarter hour across the quad and Lina's body jolted with memory.
"Shoot. I'm late. I hope I haven't missed my chance to sign up for the kayaking trip." She still hadn't worked out completely how she was going to get away from her bodyguard and family for an entire weekend, but she was determined to go on this trip.
"You kayak?" Sebastian asked in a surprised tone.
"It's one of my favorite things. Not that I get to go as often as I like." She started walking briskly toward the University Center.
He kept pace with her. "When did you learn?"
"In high school." There were benefits to being the female offspring to a Middle Eastern king.
Sure, at first, when she'd been sent away from all that she knew, she'd felt abandoned. But as she'd grown older, she'd realized her parents' lack of interest in her daily life was to her benefit. They were very conservative and that attitude influenced their Americanized relatives they'd placed her with at the tender age of six.
However, she still had more freedom living with her relatives than she would ever have had at home. And she'd gotten her first taste of real freedom when she'd gone to boarding school in seventh grade. The exclusive, all-girls prep school was far from the typical American middle and high schools, but she'd been allowed to do things there she would never have been able to do when living with family. Things like kayaking.
"I see. I thought the kayaking trip was a three-day get-away."
"It is. Are you going?" she asked, unable to stifle the hope in her gaze as her eyes remained locked with those of the tall, dark-haired hunk.
She felt the same adrenaline rush she got when competing in a race. Man, this being attracted to a guy thing was nothing like she'd expected it to be. It was almost scarily consuming. As exciting as taking a kayak out on white water. Maybe even more so.
Hawk had to bite down on an ugly four-letter word.
The diminutive princess was just full of surprises. The first had been when he'd seen his newest charge hurrying across the quad when she was supposed to be safely ensconced in the library studying with a small group of female friends. The plan had been for him to confer with her bodyguard and then arrange to "bump into" the princess on her way out of the library later.
It was a good thing he'd seen her, or he would have been just as ignorant of her true whereabouts as her hapless guard. The man needed to take a course in security from Hawk Investigations.
"I don't kayak," he said to her, "but I'd like to learn." Which was a total lie. He had no desire to learn, but he had experienced canoeing. Even if it wasn't his favorite thing, it was close enough to the other that he was confident he would make a good showing of himself on the water.
A man did what he had to for his job. And Hawk's current assignment was sticking close to Princess Lina bin Fahd al Marwan.
Her smile was dazzling. "If we hurry, maybe we'll both still get a chance to sign up for the trip."
Options clicked through Hawk's mind. One, he could prevent her from making the meeting at all. Two, he could scuttle any chances she had of going on the trip with a single phone call. Or he could follow his instincts and go on the trip with her.
Her obvious attraction to him would make it easy to arrange for her to miss the meeting, but this woman would probably find a way to sign up for the trip regardless. Lina Marwan, as she called herself, was nothing like the shy, quiet, studious, nineteen-year-old he had been led to expect.
Did anyone in the princess's life know who she really was and how she amused herself?
The answer was no doubt in the negative, which was why he also did not want to scuttle the trip entirely.
He'd been hired as extra security during a time of increased risk for the Royal Family of Marwan. However, if his interaction had the benefit of allowing him to help her security detail enhance her overall safety so much the better. He had to identify the ways she circumvented it in order to prevent her from doing so in the future.
Letting her make the trip while he accompanied her to ensure her safety, would give him the opportunity to see what measures she took to avoid her security detail.