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He wasn't Room Service. That was for sure. Princess Isabella Rossi looked up, way up, at the tall, forbidding man who was standing in the doorway of her hotel room. His muscular frame was displayed to perfection by the tailored black suit he was wearing. But the suit was where any semblance of civilization ended.
His expression was inscrutable, his dark eyes blank, his lips flattened into a firm line. His squared jaw was clenched tight, the tension mirrored in his stance. His golden skin was marred with scars in some places; his cheek, the exposed part of his wrists.
She swallowed hard. "Unless you have my dinner stashed on a cart somewhere, I'm afraid I can't allow you to come in."
He uncrossed his arms and held his hands out, as if to show that they were empty. "Sorry."
"I was waiting for Room Service."
He tapped the top of the door with his open palm. "They make peepholes in these doors for a reason. It's always wise to check."
"Thank you. I'll remember that." She made a move to close the door, but it didn't budge. He was propping it open with his shoulder. She tried to close it again, this time putting more weight behind it. The door still didn't move, and neither did he. His expression did not betray even a hint of strain.
"You've caused a lot of big problems for quite a few people. Including your security detail, who now find themselves without jobs."
Her heart sank into her stomach. He knew who she was. She didn't know whether to be relieved or even more upset by that. Relieved he wasn't here to hurt her, but but he was here to take her back. Either to Umarah or to Turan, and she didn't want to go to either country. Not now. Not when she'd fallen so short of everything she'd wanted to accomplish.
One night of freedom. That was all she'd gotten. A glimpse of the world as she would never know it.
"Do you work for my father?"
"You work for Hassan, then." That should have been obvious. Judging by the faint accent that tinged his deep voice, she should have guessed that Arabic was his native language. She should have known that he was in league with her fiancé.
"You're in breach of contract, amira. You should have known the Sheikh could not allow such a thing."
"I didn't imagine he would be thrilled about it, but."
"You did a very foolish thing, Isabella. Your parents were concerned that you'd been kidnapped."
The guilt she'd been holding at bay for the past twenty-four hours made her stomach feel tight. But with that tightening came a strange fluttering sensation that seemed to grow stronger when she looked into those dark, fathomless eyes. She looked down. "I didn't mean to scare anyone."
"And what did you think would happen when you disappeared? That everyone would go about their daily lives as if nothing had happened? You did not believe that your own parents would be frantic with worry?"
She shook her head mutely. In truth, she'd known her family would be upset, but she hadn't considered that they'd worry about her. Be angry, yes. She'd imagined they would be angry. That they might be afraid the sheikh would want to renege on their bargain if there was a chance she'd been out in the big bad world long enough to become damaged goods, or something.
"I no. I didn't really think they would be worried."
He shifted his focus to the hallway, to a young couple standing a few doors down, kissing passionately against the wall. "I am not going to continue this discussion in the hallway."
She sneaked a glance at the passionate duo and her face began to burn with embarrassment. "Well, I can't let you in!"
He looked past her and into the simple room. "Slumming it?"
"No. This is a perfectly nice hotel. Anywhere too upmarket and"
"They would have known who you were. And they would have wondered."
She nodded mutely.
"I will be coming in," he continued. "With your permission or without it. One thing you'll learn about me very quickly, Princess. I don't take orders."
"There are two months and ten days until the wedding," she said, desperation clawing at her. "I need I need this time."
"You should have considered that before you ran away."
"I didn't run away. That makes me sound like a naughty child."
"Then what would you call it?" He looked down the long corridor, back at the couple, whose activities had heated up in the past minute, and then back at her. "I'm waiting to be let in. I find I've been extremely patient."
She could tell from the fierce glint in his eyes that he absolutely would push his way into the room if she didn't allow him access. She could tell by all of the barely harnessed power of the body, the strength that was radiating from him, that he was only seconds away from doing it.
A sound that could only be described as ecstatic came from the couple in the hall, and Isabella jumped slightly, releasing her hold on the door.
"Wise decision." He stepped past her and into the small hotel room.
He stood rigid, his posture straight, his expression neutral. He was handsome. Extremely handsome. She realized that now. She'd been so struck by the immensity of his power, the energy that seemed just to radiate from him, that she hadn't had the time to really look at him. But she was looking now.
Now that his mouth was relaxed she noticed that his lips were full and well shaped, even with the small scar running through a corner of his mouth. He had the darkest eyes she'd ever seen. Nearly black, and so intensely focused that she felt as though he could see everything about heras if he was looking into her. He was the sort of man who evoked a visceral reaction that was impossible to fight or ignore; one she didn't fully understand, and one she definitely didn't know what to do with.
"I wasn't letting you in. I was startled, that's all." she said, hoping she sounded at least mildly imperious. She was a princess; she ought to be able to do imperious.
"I did tell you I was coming in regardless of whether you wanted me to or not."
She cleared her throat and focused on a spot just past him. Everything seemed to slow down a bit as she looked at him. Even the air felt thicker, making breathing a labored thing. He was just so He was a force rather than a person. "Yes, well, now you're in."
"Yes. I am. And we're leaving."
She took one step backward. "I'm not going with you."
One black eyebrow shot up. "You think not?"
"Are you going to carry me out of here?"
He shrugged. "If I have to."
The thought of being touched, held closely by this man, this stranger, was entirely off-putting.
She took another step backward, trying to put some space between them. "I don't really think you would do that."
"Make no mistake, Princess, I would. You have a binding agreement with the High Sheikh of Umarah, and I have been charged with bringing you to him. That means you're coming with me one way or another. Even if I have to carry you kicking and screaming down the streets of Paris."
She stiffened, trying to look composed, trying to hide the nerves that were making her hands shake. "I don't think you would do that either."
He leveled that intense focus onto her. "Keep issuing challenges and we'll see just what I will and won't do."
He appraised her slowly, his gaze lingering on her curves. Something about the way he looked at her, the way his eyes glittered in the dim light, made her feel like she was exposed, like she was undressed.
Her heart rate sped up, something unfamiliar and hot racing through her bloodstream, making her pulse soar. Her heart was pounding so loud she was almost certain that he must hear it. She sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm herself, trying to slow her racing blood.
She looked away from him, trying to grab a shred of sanity that might be lying around somewhere in the corner of her mind. And her eyes locked onto the big bed that was in the corner of the room. It made her think of the lovers out in the hall. Blood roared into her face, and she could feel her heart beating in her temples, her cheeks so hot they burned.
She had to get her thoughts together, had to figure out a way to get rid of this man and get back to the business of living her life before she had to sacrifice it all in the name of duty. The heavy diamond on her finger, delivered by courier six months ago, was a constant reminder of the fact that there was a timer ticking against her freedom. And this man was completely destroying her only hope of actually living for herself.
For two short months she wanted a life that was her own. It was a simple thing, and yet everyone seemed hell-bent on making sure it didn't happen. When she'd actually asked her father if she could have some time his disdain for her request, his immediate refusalas though it didn't even bear consideringhad been horrible. So she had set out to make it happen on her own. She couldn't go with him. Not now. Not when she was so close.
There had to be a way to get him on her side.a way to turn the tide in her favor. But she didn't know anything about men. Not really. The most exposure she'd had to a man had come in the form of her older brother, Max. She had seen how her sister-in-law interacted with him, thoughhow she managed to appeal to Max's softer side when no one else could.
Although, she had her doubts that this man had a softer side. But she had to do something.
Taking a breath, she stepped forward and put her hand lightly on his arm. His eyes clashed with hers and a bolt of sensation shot to her stomach. She pulled back quickly, the heat from his skin lingering on her fingertips.
"I'm not ready to go back yet. I have two months until the wedding, and I really want to take this time to to myself."
Adham al bin Sudar fought down the flash of anger that rose in him. The little vixen was trying to tempt him, to use seduction to get her way. The soft touch against his sleeve hadn't been an innocent action, but a calculated maneuver. One designed to stir a man's blood, make it pump hotter, faster. And when the woman doing the touching looked like Isabella Rossi, how could it not?
He thought, not for the first time, that his brother was an extremely lucky man to have her as his future bride. Although Adham would have been happy enough to take her as a temporary mistress, rather than a wife.
The woman was beautiful, with full, tempting curves and a face that was flawlessly lovely. Her beauty was not subjective, but universal. Her high, classic cheekbones, small upturned nose, and perfectly formed lips were designed to turn heads wherever she went. Even with a total absence of make-up her beauty was enough to rival that of any of the world's great beauties.
She didn't have the fashionable, streamlined look of a supermodel, but he had always preferred his women to look like women. And Isabella Rossi certainly had the shape of a woman. He allowed his eyes to linger on that shape for a while, to appreciate the full, rounded curve of her breasts. Breasts that would lead even the most disciplined of men into sin.
Immediate disgust filled him as he realized what he was doing, blocking out the flood of desire that was making his body harden and his heart race. She was his brother's fiancée. Forbidden in every way. Even looking was not permitted.
Adham's brother had asked him to bring her back for the weddinghad begged him to bring him his future bride so that his honor would not be compromised. That was what he was here to dothough he was beginning to doubt her suitability. A selfish, spoiled child with no sense of duty would not make an appropriate sheikha for his country. But Isabella Rossi came with the allegiance of an entire countrya trade and military alliance that would not come from any other bride. That made her essential, irreplaceable.
"Going off on your own was extremely foolish," he bit out, calling on all his willpower to squash the desire that had risen up in him. "Anything could have happened to you."
"I was safe," she said. "I'll continue to be safe. I'll"
"You will do nothing but come with me, amira. Do you honestly think I would leave you to yourself just because you put on a pretty smile and ask nicely?" Her lush lips parted in shock. had hoped that"
"That you would not be held to your word? If the people of Umarah were to find out that their sheikh's bride has deserted him his honor would be compromised. He would be shamed in the eyes of his people. You might be deemed an unsuitable choice. And if that were to happen, what would become of the alliance? Jobs, money, security, all meant to benefit our people, gone."
She bit down hard on her lower lip, her blue eyes glistening. Annoyance surged through hima welcome replacement for the sudden physical attraction that had hit him the first moment he'd seen her. He didn't have the patience to deal with emotional women. Emotion in general was useless to him. Although he had a feeling Isabella was employing it as a manipulation technique.
She would soon learn that he was the wrong man to try to soften with tears. Tears meant nothing to him.
"I wasn't going to run out on the wedding. I just wanted some time."
He noticed the way she turned the large solitaire diamond ring around on her slender finger as she spoke. She was still wearing the ring Hassan had sent hera possible sign that she was telling the truth.
"Time's up, I'm afraid."
The devastation in her eyes would have affected most people. He felt nothing. Nothing but contempt. He'd seen far too much of the world to be swayed by the tears of a poor little rich girl, bemoaning her marriage to an extremely wealthy royal.
"I didn't get to see the Eiffel Tower," she said quietly.
"I didn't get to see the Eiffel Tower. I took the train from Italy, and I just arrived here this evening. I wasn't going to go out by myself at night. I didn't see anything of Paris that I wanted to."
"You've never seen the Eiffel Tower?"
She blushed, her sun-kissed cheeks turning a deep rose. "I've seen it. But seeing it from a moving motorcade and actually going to it, getting out and experiencing it, are two very different things."