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It was done. Sydney Reed dropped the pen and stared at the documents she'd just signed. Divorce papers.
Her heart hammered in her throat, her palms sweated. Her stomach cramped. She felt as if someone had taken away the last shred of happiness she would ever, ever know.
But that was absurd. Because there was no happiness where Prince Malik ibn Najib Al Dhakir was concerned. There was only heartache and confusion.
Though it irritated her, just thinking his name still had the power to send a shiver tiptoeing down her spine. Her exotic sheikh. Her perfect lover. Her husband.
Sydney shoved the papers into the waiting envelope and buzzed her assistant, Zoe. Why was this so hard? It shouldn't be. Malik had never cared for her. She'd been the one who'd felt everything. But it wasn't enough. One person couldn't feel enough emotion for two. No matter how hard she tried, Malik was never going to love her. He simply wasn't capable of it. Though he was a generous and giving lover, his heart never engaged.
Of course it didn't. Sydney frowned. It wasn't that he couldn't lovehe just couldn't love her. She was not the right woman for him. She never had been.
Zoe appeared in the door, her expression all business.
"Call the courier. I need these delivered right away," Sydney said before she could change her mind.
Zoe didn't even acknowledge the tremble in Sydney's fingers as she handed over the thick sheaf of papers. "Yes, Miss Reed."
Miss Reed. Not Princess Al Dhakir.
Never Princess Al Dhakir again.
Sydney nodded, because she didn't trust herself to speak, and turned back to her computer. The screen was a little blurry, but she resolutely clenched her jaw and got on with the business of selecting property listings to show the new client she was meeting with later.
She'd been such a fool. She'd met Malik over a year ago when someone on his staff had called her parents' real estate firm to arrange for an agent to show him a few properties. She hadn't known who Malik was, but she'd quickly familiarized herself with his background before their appointment.
Prince of Jahfar. Brother to a king. Sheikh of his own territory. Unmarried. Obscenely wealthy. International playboy. Heartbreaker. There had even been a photo of a sobbing actress who claimed she'd fallen in love with Prince Malik, but he'd left her for another woman.
Sydney had gone to the appointment armed with information and, yes, even a dose of disdain for the entitled sheikh who broke hearts so carelessly. Not that she thought he could ever be interested in her. She wasn't glamorous or movie star gorgeous or anything even remotely interesting to a playboy sheikh.
But oh, the joke was on her, wasn't it?
Malik was so charming, so suave. So unlike any man she'd ever met before.
When he'd turned his singular attention on her, she'd been helpless to resist him. She hadn't wanted to resist. She'd been flattered by his interest.
He'd made her feel beautiful, accomplished, specialall the things she definitely was not. A dart of pain lodged beneath her heart. Malik's special gift was making a woman feel as if she were the center of his universe; as long as it lasted, it was bliss.
Her mouth compressing into a grim line, Sydney grabbed the listings from the printer and shoved them into her briefcase. Then she shrugged into the white cotton blazer hanging on the back of her chair. She refused to feel sorry for herself a moment longer. That part of her life was over.
Malik had been happy to be rid of herand now she was taking the final step and cutting him from her life permanently. She'd half expected him to do it in the year since she'd left him in Paris, but he clearly didn't care enough to make the effort. Whatever the reason, Malik's heart was encased in iceand she was not the one who could thaw it.
Sydney let Zoe know she was leaving, stopped by her mother's office to say good night and headed out to her car. It took over an hour in traffic to reach the first house in Malibu. She parked in the large circular drive and glanced at her watch. The client would be here in fifteen minutes.
Sydney gripped the steering wheel and forced herself to breathe calmly for a couple of minutes. She felt disjointed, unsettled, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She'd sent the papers; it was the end.
Time to move on.
She went inside the house, turning on lights, opening heavy curtains to reveal the stunning views. She moved as if on autopilot, fluffing the throw pillows on the furniture, spraying cinnamon air freshener and finding a soft jazzy station on the home entertainment system.
Then she walked out onto the terrace and scrolled through the email on her phone while she waited. At precisely seven-thirty, the doorbell rang.
She took a deep breath before marching to the door and pasting a giant smile on her face. Always greet the client with warm enthusiasm. Her mother's first rule of engagement. Sydney might not be the best salesperson the Reed Team had, but she worked the hardest at it. She had to.
Sydney was the odd duck in the Reed family of swans, the disappointing daughter. The one who made her parents shake their heads and smile politely when what they really wanted to do was ask her why she couldn't be more like her perfect sister.
The only thing she'd ever done that had made them so proud they'd nearly popped was to marry a prince. But she'd failed at that, too, hadn't she? They didn't say anything, but she knew they were disappointed in her.
Sydney pulled the door open, her smile cracking apart the instant her gaze collided with the man's standing on the threshold.
For a minute she couldn't move, couldn't speak. Couldn't breathe. She was mesmerized by the dark glitter of those burning, burning eyes. A bird sang in a nearby tree, the sound oddly distorted as all her attention focused on the man standing before her.
The man she hadn't seen, other than in photos in the papers or video clips on television, in over a year.
He was still spectacular, damn him. He was the desert. He was harsh and hard and beautiful. He'd been hers once.
No, he had not. It had been nothing more than an illusion. Malik belonged to no one but himself.
"What are you doing here?" she forced herself to ask.
"Isn't that obvious?" Malik responded, one dark brow lifting sardonically. "I'm looking for a house."
"You have a house," she said inanely. "I sold it to you last year."
"Yes, but I've never liked it."
"Then why did you buy it?" she snapped, her pulse roaring in her veins.
His dark eyes glittered hotly. She almost took a step back, but held her ground beneath the onslaught of his gaze. My God, Malik was all man. There had never been anyone like him in her life. So tall and dark and powerful. Malik walked into a room and owned it. There was never any question who was in charge when Malik was around.
And she had been just as vulnerable to his power as anyone.
He'd owned her. He would own her still, had she not realized how destructive a life with him would be. Had she not decided she couldn't give herself so utterly and completely to a man and still mean so little to him.
Pain rolled into a hard knot in her belly.
One corner of his mouth lifted in a grin, though there was no humor in his expression. "I bought it because you wanted me to, habibti."
Sydney's feet were stuck to the floor. Her stomach churned with emotion, and her eyes stung. So much pain and anger in seeing him again. She'd tried to inure herself to his presence in the world by reading every article about him she could find, even when they stabbed her in the heart with tales of his latest conquests. She'd told herself it would only be a matter of time before he returned to L.A. and that if she ran into him again, she would sniff haughtily and act like an ice princess.
And wasn't she doing a fine job of that now?
Sydney stepped away from the door, determined to cloak herself in disdain. She did not need him. She'd never needed him. She'd only thought she had.
Inside, she was a mess. Outside, she was cool. As cool as he was. "And you always do what people want you to do, don't you?" she said.
Malik walked inside and shut the door behind him. "Only if it amuses me."
He took up all the space in the foyer, made it seem far too intimate. She could smell his soap, that special blend he had made in Paris. Her eyes skimmed over him. His suit was custom made, of course. Pale grey. The powder blue shirt beneath his jacket was unbuttoned just enough to show the hollow of his throat.
She knew what that spot tasted like, how it felt beneath her tongue.
Sydney pivoted, moved toward the floor to ceiling windows across the room. Her heart beat triple time. Her pulse throbbed. Her skin felt tight. "Then perhaps it would amuse you to buy a house with such a gorgeous view. I could use the commission."
"If you need money, Sydney, you only have to ask." He sounded so cool, so logical, so detached, as if he were telling his valet that he didn't care whether it was the red tie or the maroon today.
Bitterness flooded her. So typical of him. Nothing engaged Malik's emotions, not really. Her mistake had been in thinking she was different somehow.
Ha. Joke's on you, girlfriend.
She turned back to him. "I don't want your money, Malik. Now why don't you get out before my real client arrives? If you have anything to say to me, you can say it through my lawyer."
The heat in his eyes didn't waver. Her stomach clenched. Was it anger or a different kind of heat she saw there?
"Ah yes, the divorce," he said disdainfully, as if he were talking to a naughty child.
Anger, then. He wasn't accustomed to her fighting back. Because she never had before.
Not until today, when she'd slid her pen across that signature line.
Sydney crossed her arms over her chest. She knew it was a defensive gesture, but she didn't care. "I didn't ask you for anything. Just your signature on those papers."
"So you have signed them finally." There wasn't the least trace of sorrow or surprise in his voice.
Always so calm and cool, her desert lord. It infuriated her that he could be so unaffected.
Her blood felt thick in her veins. Heavy. "Isn't that why you're here?"
It had only been a little over an hour since she'd given the papers to Zoe. It was possible they'd been delivered to Malik in that timebut even if they had, how had he found where she was and gotten here so quickly?
She'd just assumed that was why he'd come. Comprehension unfurled. She felt stupid for not realizing it sooner. He must have known she'd been having the papers drawn up. Though why it mattered to him, she wasn't sure. "There is no client, is there? You set this up."
It was precisely like him to do so. Malik orchestrated things. If he didn't like something, he had it changed. If he wanted something, he got it. He spoke the words, and things happened as if by magic. It was the kind of power that most people would never possess.
He inclined his head. "It seemed the best way to meet with you. Less likely to cause a scene for the paparazzi."
Hot anger threated to scorch her from the inside out. And something else as well. Something hot and dark and secret. Something she recalled from the sultry nights with him, the hours spent tangled together in silken sheets, his body entwining with hers, thrusting into hers, caressing hers.
Why could she never look at this man without thinking of it?
It was the one place where he'd been raw and open with heror so she'd thought. She knew better now.
Sydney closed her eyes, swallowed. Her skin was moist with perspiration, so she went to the terrace doors, flinging them open to let in the clean ocean breeze. It was always too hot when Malik was near.
She didn't have to turn to know he was right behind her. He vibrated with an energy that she'd never been able to ignore. When Malik walked into a room, she knew it. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Her blood hummed. Part of her wanted to turn and go into his arms, wanted to feel the extraordinary bliss of a night in his bed at least one more time.
She despised that part of herself. She wasn't that weak anymore, damn it! She was strong, capable of resisting the animal part of her that wanted this man without reason. Without sense.
But she had to resistor pay the price.
Sydney whirled, taking a step back when she realized he was closer than she'd thought. "You never bothered to get in touch with me," she said, her voice cracking in spite of her determination. "You let all these months go by, and you never once tried to contact me. So why are you here now?"
His eyes flashed, his lean jaw hardening. He was so very, very beautiful. It wasn't an incongruous word when applied to a man who looked like Malik did. Jet dark hair, chiseled features, honed body, bronzed skin that looked as if he'd been dusted in gold. The most sensuous lips God had ever created. Lips that knew how to bring her to the brink of screaming pleasure again and again.
A tiny shiver crawled down her spine. She should have known a man like him could never truly be interested in her.
"Why would I chase you down, Sydney?" he demanded, ignoring her question. "You chose to leave. You could have chosen to come back."
She drew herself up. Of course he would think that way! Because he hadn't been affected by her going. "I had no choice."
Malik snorted. "Really? Someone made you walk out on our marriage? Someone forced you to run from Paris in the middle of the night with one suitcase and a note left on the counter? I'd like to meet this someone with such power over you."
She stiffened. He made her sound so ridiculous. So childish. "Don't pretend you were devastated by it. We both know the truth."
He brushed past her to stand in the open door and look at the ocean while her heart died just a little with each passing second as she hoped, ridiculously, that he might contradict her.
Why did a small part of her always insist on that rosy naivete where he was concerned?
"Of course not," he stated matter-of-factly. Then he turned and speared her with an angry look, his voice turning harsh. "But I am an Al Dhakir and you are my wife. Did you not consider for one moment the embarrassment this would cause me? Would cause my family?"
Anger and disappointment simmered together in her belly. She'd hoped he might have missed her just a little bit, but of course he had not. Malik didn't need anyone or anything. He was a force of nature all his own.