Read an Excerpt
'You 're nothing but a rich man's whore!'
The words still burned in Catrin's ears and she couldn't seem to shift them, no matter how hard she tried. Hateful words made worse by the fact that they had been spoken by her own mother.
'What the hell do you think he's doing when he's out of the country?' Ursula Thomas had demanded. 'Going to bed early, with nothing but a book in his hand?'
Catrin had sat listening to the slurred words, feeling all her confidence drain away. But she couldn't deny that the accusations had touched a raw nerve and that was probably why she had reacted so defensively. Why her nails had dug into the palms of her hands so hard that it hurt and instead of telling her mother it was none of her business, she had stupidly tried to justify herself. Because that was pointless. Some people only ever saw the dark side of life and her mother was one of them.
She was not a whore.
And Murat was going to bed on his own.
Catrin let her thoughts stray to the exotic Sultan who had changed her world. She had never planned to be a 'kept woman' living in a fancy penthouse, but that was the way things had turned out. Just as she had never planned a relationship with a man who was larger than life-a man for whom the rules had to be broken. Only now she had broken the most dangerous rule of all and she didn't know what she was going to do about it.
Later, he would arrive here from Qurhah. He would take her in his arms and the undiluted pleasure of his kiss would quickly block out everything else. But she wondered for how long. How long before the niggling doubts returned-along with the growing certainty that she had done what she had vowed never to do?
She had fallen in love with him.
She loved Murat.
It was the worst of all possible scenarios.
She walked over to the window and stared out. How had that happened? Especially to someone who didn't 'do' love? Who had always claimed-with good reason-that she didn't know what love was. She wondered when that invisible switch had been flicked. The one which had changed everything and made her heart race whenever she thought of him. Was it logical to love a man who was never really there for her, who had never offered her anything but fabulous sex and pretty baubles?
But love wasn't logical, was it? It crept up on you whether you wanted it to or not. And that was dangerous. More to the point, it was futile. Because the only thing the Sultan had ever promised her was that he could never commit.
Her gaze moved to the distant treetops and the green canopy of leaves which were moving gently in the soft summer breeze. Sometimes it was hard to believe that this apartment was slap-bang in the centre of London-with a view dominated by a park so beautiful that sometimes it felt just like being in the countryside. Just as it was hard to believe that the sleek woman who stared back at her from the mirror every morning really was Catrin Thomas, the smalltown woman who had given herself so completely to the autocratic desert King of Qurhah.
Gone was the unruly tangle of shiny curls which had once defined her and in their place were waves of hair so glossy that someone in a shop had once stopped her and told her she should be in a shampoo commercial. Gone were the cheap clothes she used to buy on her very average salary and the cut-price make-up she used to pick up from the nearby supermarket. These days she looked expensive because she was expensive. A rich man's mistress. With a price tag to match.
The telephone began to ring and Catrin rushed to answer it as soon as she saw Murat's name flash up on the screen, because he hated to be kept waiting. But she accepted that, as she had accepted so much else about him. He was a sultan and a king. He ruled a vast and affluent desert region. He wasn't used to waiting. His time-as she knew only too well-was very precious.
'Hello?' she said, breathlessly, because a phone call meant that his private jet was already in the air and soon he would be landing at the small airfield just outside London. And she was nowhere near ready!
'Cat? Is that you?'
She sucked in an excited breath, because his deep, accented voice always had the same effect on her. It made her stomach twist into knots. It made her skin prickle with anticipation. Only now, of course, it also made her heart lurch with anxiety-because this was not just the 'friends with benefits' thing any more. This was-most inconveniently-that stupid thing called love and she must be careful not to show it.
'Of course it's me,' she said softly. 'Who else could it be?'
'It didn't sound like you.' There was a pause. 'For a minute I thought you might have gone away and left me.'
His voice had dipped in that indulgent way it always did when they hadn't seen each other in a while. A whole month had passed since Murat had last been in England. It had been the longest time they'd ever been apart, and Catrin had missed him. She'd missed him like crazy.
'I think we both know,' she said, trying not to let her voice tremble with emotion, 'that I'm not planning on going anywhere.'
'I'm very pleased to hear it.'
But something in his voice caused her to grow still, as a flicker of foreboding iced its way over her skin. She frowned. 'You sound a little weary, Murat.'
'I am-or rather, I was. But suddenly I discover that I am filled with energy at the thought of seeing you again, my beautiful, green-eyed little Cat.'
She could hear the sudden roughening of his voice and wished that he were here now and that he were kissing her. Kissing her and making all these stupid doubts disappear into thin air. 'Me, too,' she said.
'And I'm wondering,' he murmured, 'what you've been doing to make you sound so breathless?'
The words were on the tip of her tongue, but she didn't say them, even though part of her wondered what his reaction would be if she came out with the truth. Oh, you know. I was just getting over the shock of hearing my mother tell me that I'm nothing but a whore and implying that you're up to no good when you're not here.
But she had vowed to herself a long time ago that there was no point in objecting to things which couldn't be changed. She was trying to live in the moment. To enjoy what she had, instead of obsessing about what she didn't have, and could never have. Hadn't her own childhood taught her that was the only way to live?
'Not a lot,' she prevaricated. 'I was just wondering what time you're going to get here.'
'Soon, my beauty. Very soon. But I don't want to waste time talking about my schedule when there are so many more interesting things we could discuss. And there's only one thought on my mind right now after so many weeks of being away.' There was a pause. 'What are you wearing?'
Catrin's perfectly manicured nails tightened around the handset of the phone and she swallowed down the sudden lump which had risen in her throat. She knew what was expected of her and usually it was all too easy to play this game. Of course it was- because Murat had taught her the rules and, consequently, she had become very accomplished at it. And she liked it. She liked playing the sexy mistress who was up for it any time of the day or night.
But today the seeds of uncertainty had been sown in her mind. She felt like a tennis player who had walked out on court to find an enormous hole at the centre of her racquet.
So pull yourself together, she urged herself. Count your blessings and enjoy the life you've been given instead of the one you secretly crave.
She ran her hand over one hip, her fingertips encountering the rough texture of her denim jeans. But instead of describing an article of clothing which Murat despised, she injected a sultry note into her voice and pretended. Because wasn't fantasy everything to lovers? Hadn't he taught her that, too?
'I'm wearing silk,' she whispered.
'What kind of silk?'
That stupid lump was still sticking in her throat, but it didn't stop her from continuing with the game. Quite honestly, she couldn't imagine having a telephone conversation with Murat which wasn't erotic. The kind of conversation she'd never have been able to carry off when she'd just been that naive girl from Wales. But in spite of her background, she'd always been smart. She devoured books and was a fast learner-and learning to please a man was a skill just like any other, just like arranging flowers or making a cake rise.
'Soft silk,' she said. 'Butter soft.'
'Tell me more.'
She thought about the ribboned and crotchless purchase still lying in folds of soft tissue paper in the bedroom. The one she was planning to slide into as soon as she'd had her shower. The one which would probably be ripped apart by Murat's impatient fingers within minutes of his arriving here. 'They're midnight blue,' she said, almost conversationally.
'Excellent.' A pause. 'And are they tiny panties?'
'Oh, yes. So tiny you can barely see them. Honestly, it's almost a waste of time me wearing them- they're so flimsy.'
'I see.' Another pause-much longer this time. 'And you have on a matching bra, I hope?'
'Oh, yes.' She paused-trying to rid herself of the sudden feeling of guilt which settled on her skin like a cold mist. Telling herself that she had nothing to be guilty about. That Murat liked these games. And so did she.
And that her mother's words meant nothing.
'The bra is a bit on the small side,' she continued, allowing her voice to dip into a provocative note as her imagination took wings. 'But it's edged with lace, so at least my nipples aren't completely on show.'
He didn't answer. At least, not straight away.
'And stockings?' His eventual response was unsteady; his tone gratifyingly deep. She heard him swallow and that was gratifying too. 'Are you wearing stockings?'
'Mmm,' she agreed, closing her eyes to blot out the sight of her jeans. 'Of course I am. Black silk stockings all the way from France. Though they cling to my thighs terribly in this heat.'
'I'd like to see them do that,' came his husky response. 'And then I'd like to peel them off, very slowly.'
'Mmm. And then I'd like to slide my tongue up between your thighs and lick you until you come. Would you like that, my beauty?'
But for some stupid reason the fantasy suddenly evaporated, like champagne which had been left in a glass too long. Catrin's eyes snapped open and in one instant, she felt completely flat. 'Of course I would. I'd like it very much. What time what time will you be getting here?'
'Soon,' he repeated. 'Very soon.'
Catrin was just about to say goodbye and hang up, when she heard the sound of a key being inserted into a lock and her head jerked up in surprise. She turned towards the sound and nearly dropped the phone when she saw who was standing there.
Her first thought was that it couldn't possibly be Murat because his timetable was always planned to the nearest second-and her next thought was that it couldn't be anyone else. Because there was no one in the world who could be mistaken for him. No man matched him, nor ever could.
Murat the Mighty, they called him in his country of Qurhah, but he was also known as Murat the Magnificent-and he looked nothing less than magnificent now.
His hair fell in rich, dark waves around the hard outlines of his face and the soft sensuality of his lips contrasted with the distinctive hawk-like nose and ebony glitter of his eyes. He had the body of a desert warrior-a fact which could never quite be disguised by the Italian suits he favoured when in the west. Catrin knew that back home in Qurhah he wore flowing robes and headdresses but she'd only ever seen him in this kind of clothes, except in photos. And sometimes when she looked at those photos, didn't it make her wistful that she only ever got a tiny part of him? That so much of his life was forbidden to her.
'Murat?' she said, her voice rising in surprise. 'I wasn't expecting you yet.'
'So I see,' he replied, shutting the door softly behind him. He began to walk towards her, a complicit smile lifting the corners of his lips as he cut the connection on his phone and slid it into the pocket of his trousers. But his gaze was thoughtful as he looked at her, as if her response wasn't what he had been expecting. 'Aren't you going to say hello to me properly, my beauty?'
'Hello,' she said, putting down her own phone with fingers which had started to tremble.
There was a pause as Murat let his gaze travel over her body, his eyes narrowing. Something about her was different and at first he couldn't work out what it was. Something which made his heart twist in a way which was unfamiliar. And then he realised what it was. She looked like the Cat he'd first met. The beautiful, country girl who had captivated him from the moment she'd turned those extraordinary green eyes in his direction and blinked at him, as if she couldn't quite believe what she had seen.
Dressed down and casual, her hair was dishevelled-almost wild. The dark cascade of waves tumbled down around her shoulders as if she'd been frantically running her fingers through it. And her clothes.
Her glorious legs were covered with jeans-a garment he despised on women and which she had tacitly agreed never to wear in his presence. And although her thin T-shirt outlined her breasts in a way which couldn't fail to please him-this wasn't what he had been anticipating.
He thought how much she had changed. How his rough diamond had become a smooth and polished gem. And if sometimes he missed the rather outspoken minx he had first seduced, he could not deny that she had grown into her role well. Almost too well
'You promised me stockings,' he said slowly.
Her fingers flew to her hair, as if she had suddenly become aware of its unruliness, and she stared down at her jeans before looking up at him, a faint look of guilt staining her face.
'I didn't realise you were so close,' she protested.
'I thought I'd surprise you.'
'You've certainly done that.'
Their eyes clashed. 'So. No welcoming kiss for your sultan?' He shrugged off his jacket and draped it over the back of a chair. 'Not even a hug?'
She chewed on her lip as if she wanted to say something but didn't dare and for a moment Murat felt an unexpected twinge of conscience. Maybe it had been unfair of him not to warn her that he was on his way from the airport and that he had brought his schedule forward by several hours. But he had wanted to see her and he knew that there wouldn't be many more opportunities like this.
Because lately he had become increasingly aware that the clock was ticking on this relationship of theirs, and that some time soon he must sit down and talk to her seriously about the future. There were things he needed to tell about his life. Things she ought to know.
But not today.
His mouth flattened.
It was never today.
Today he just intended to make the most of these moments, which had never been intended to last.