Read an Excerpt
"So you managed to get away with murder this time."
Jalal Aal Shalaan frowned at the words he'd spoken aloud.
He was standing at the door of an opulent sitting room in one of the most breathtaking manors in the Hamptons, where he'd been received for years as an esteemed guest. He'd thought he'd never set foot in here again because of the woman who stood with her back to him. The woman who was now lady of the manor.
Lujayn Morgan. His ex-lover.
She'd been picking up letters from an antique marble table when his words had hit her. After a start, she'd frozen midmotion.
His own body was tense all over, too. His fists and jaw were clenched, his every muscle bunched, buzzing.
B'haggej 'jaheemby hell, why had he said that?
He hadn't intended to show her any hostility. Or any emotions at allhe'd thought he'd had none left. He'd come here for one reason. To see her without the lust that had blinded him for the four-year duration of their affair. He was here for closure, something she'd robbed him of when she'd stormed out of his life, giving him no chance to defend himself, to negotiate, leaving him wrestling with shock then rage and groping for explanations.
But he'd thought the resolution he was seeking was strictly intellectual. He'd thought he'd properly recovered during the two years since she'd walked out on him, working through his feelings until nothing remained but cold curiosity and mental aversion.
So he'd been deluding himself. What he'd felt for her, though it had reversed in nature, had remained as fierce.
He'd always presented the world with a devil-may-care facade. It was partly his nature and partly defensive. Having Sondoss, the notorious queen of Zohayd for a mother, and Haidar, the enigma who'd tormented him since childhood for a twin, made defenses necessary. They were the only ones who had ever managed to crack his control. Then had come Lujayn.
He was still vulnerable to the mere sight of her. And she hadn't even faced him yet.
Then she did.
Air deserted his lungs, heartbeats started to thunder.
Her beauty had always been mesmerizing. Her Middle Eastern and Irish genes conspired to create the personification of the best of both worlds. By the time she'd left him, brand names were starting to compete to have her willowy grace showcase their products, and makeup lines wanted that unforgettable face with those one-of-a-kind eyes to smolder at consumers out of their glossy ads.
But throughout their affair, she'd shed weight continuously. It had alarmed then angered him that her obsession with getting ahead in her career had blinded her to how she was harming herself to achieve a perfection she already possessed.
But the gaunt woman she'd been at the end of their affair had disappeared. In her place was the epitome of health and femininity with swells and dips that not even her severe black suit could tame, and had everything male in him roaring to life.
Marriage had been very good to her. Marriage to a man he'd once considered a good friend. A man who'd died less than two years after the wedding. A man whom he'd just more or less accused her of killing.
She inclined her head as she straightened, the movement emphasizing the elegance of her swan neck, the perfection of her raven chignon-wrapped head.
Her cool tranquility was a superb act, but her shock registered in something beyond her acting abilities. The pupils of uncanny irises, as silvery as the meaning of her name did that thing that had enthralled him when she was agitated or aroused, expanding and shrinking, giving the illusion that her eyes where emitting bursts of light.
The need to look closer into those eyes propelled him forward. Then words he hadn't known he'd been thinking, taunts that segued from his opening salvo, spilled from his lips.
"Not that I'm surprised. You've managed to fool the most suspicious and shrewd people I know, including myself. It shouldn't come as any surprise that not even New York's Finest were a match for your cunning."
"What are you doing here?"
Her voice jolted through him. Once a caress of crimson passion, it had filled with dark echoes, deepening its effect.
She shook her head as if exasperated with the inanity of her own question. "Scratch that. How did you get in here?"
He stopped two feet away, though every cell was screaming for him to keep going until he'd pressed his every inch to hers. Like when they'd been lovers. When she'd always met him more than halfway, impetuous, tempestuous
Cursing inwardly, he shoved his hands in his pockets in feigned nonchalance. "Your housekeeper let me in."
She shook her head again, as if finding his answer ridiculous. Then her eyes widened with harsh accusation. "You intimidated her!"
Something twisted in his gut. In the past, she'd made him believe she thought he walked on water. Now the first thing that occurred to her was that he'd done something reprehensible. Worse, criminal.
But why would that upset him? He'd long accepted that her early adoration had been an act. One she hadn't been able to maintain once she'd suspected it wouldn't fulfill her purpose. Though he should marvel that it had taken over two years before she'd begun to slip, for instances of discord to accumulate.
He'd still refused to see that for what it was, pure manipulation. Instead, had assigned it all to the stress of her competitive job and the provocation of the dominant personality he became with her. He'd thought friction had only fueled their already incendiary relationship, had reveled in it to the point of instigating it on occasion. He'd misguided himself so thoroughly, that final explosive confrontation had utterly shocked him.
But after two years of dissecting the past, he now saw it clearly. He'd dismissed all evidence of the truth to maintain the illusion because he couldn't live without her passion. Or so he'd thought. He had. Hadn't he?
She now pulled herself to her full statuesque height, six feet in her two-inch heels, her pose confrontational. "You might have scared Zahyah, but you must have forgotten all about me if you thought your arm-twisting tactics would work. You can walk out as you walked in, under your own power, or I'm calling security. Or better still, the police."
He flicked away her threat, his blood heating with the challenge and ardor she'd always ignited in him with a glance, a word. "What would you tell them? That your housekeeper let me in without consulting you and left you alone with me in an empty mansion?" Any other time he would have recommended the housekeeper be sternly chastised for such a breach of protocol and security. For now he was only glad she'd acted as she had. "On questioning, she'd swear there'd been no intimidation of any sort. As one of your mother's former colleagues, it was only natural for Zahyah to let me in."
"You mean because as my mother's former colleague, Zahyah was one of your mother's servants, too?"
He stiffened at the mention of his mother. The knowledge of her conspiracy to depose his father, King Atef, and remove his half brothers from succession to the throne of Zohayd was a skewer constantly turning inside him.
But Lujayn knew nothing of the conspiracy. No one but he and his siblings and father did. They'd been keeping it a secret at all costs until they resolved it. And resolution would come only when they discovered where his mother had hidden the Pride of Zohayd jewels. It was a backward and infuriating situation, one dictated by legend and now enforced by lawpossession of the jewels conferred the right to rule Zohayd. Instead of calling for whoever had stolen them to be punished, Zohayd's people would decree that his father and his heirs, who had "lost" them, were unworthy of the throne. The belief that the jewels "sought" to be possessed by whoever deserved to rule the kingdom was unshakable.
But even when threatened with life imprisonment, his mother wouldn't confess to their location. All she'd told him and Haidar was that she would continue to destroy their father and brothers from her prison, that when the throne became Haidar's, with him as his crown prince, they would thank her.
He shook away the gnawing of ongoing frustration, leveling his gaze at the current cause of it. "I mean that Zahyah, as an Azmaharian who spent years in the royal palace of Zohayd"
"As a virtual slave to your motheras was mine."
The knot in his gut grew tighter as yet another of his mother's crimes sank its shame into him.
Ever since the exposure of Sondoss's conspiracy, they'd been realizing the full extent of her transgressions. Slave might be an exaggeration, but from recent findings, it had become evident she'd mistreated her servants. Lujayn's mother, as her "lady-in-waiting," seemed to have borne the brunt of her ruthless caprice. But Badreyah had left his mother's service as soon as Lujayn had left him. Seemed she could afford to when Lujayn had married Patrick Mc-Dermott.
That was probably one reason Lujayn had married him. Not that it made him any less bitter about it. She should have told him if she'd known Badreyah had been suffering at his mother's hands. He should have been the one she'd gone to for help.
He answered her cold fury with his own. "Whatever views Zahyah holds of my mother, she evidently still considers me her prince. She welcomed me in accordingly."
"Don't tell me you think people really buy this Prince of Two Kingdoms crap."
Her sneer had blood surging to his head. As half-Azmaharian half-Zohaydan princes, he and Haidar had been dubbed that. He couldn't speak for Haidar, but he 'd always felt like a prince of neither kingdom. In Zohayd he was cut off from succession for being of impure stock. In Azmahar well, he could count the reasons that no one there should consider him their prince.
The grandiose slogan that had been plastered over them from birth had always feltas she'd pithily put itlike crap.
But then their mother decided to make it a reality. She was out to mangle and reform the region in order to do so.
He exhaled. "Whatever I am or am not, Zahyah welcomed me, and so did your guards before her. I've been welcomed here enough times that they didn't think twice of continuing the practice."
"You conned them using a defunct relationship with Patrick"
"Who's no longer with us, thanks to you." He cut her off, the bile of pent-up anger welling again. "But you didn't prepare for developments as I thought you would. You didn't make allowance for my reappearance, didn't revoke my standing invitation."
"Like I would a vampire's, huh? Though one would be preferable to you since you're a soul sucker. And you're harder to banish. But I'll rectify that oversight right now."
He caught her arm as she strode past, felt awareness fork in his body. He gritted his teeth against the response, kept his breathing shallow so her scentthat of jasmine-scented twilights and pleasure-drenched nightsdidn't trigger fullblown arousal.
"Don't bother. This delightful visit won't be repeated."
She jerked her arm free of his loose grasp. "It won't even start. You have some nerve coming here, after what you've done."
She was referring to his business clashes with Patrick, which had resulted in major losses to them both. More damage she' d caused.
He misunderstood her on purpose. "I'm not the one who dumped you and married one of your best friends, only to turn her against you."
"You give Patrick too little credit if you think I influenced his decision to cut all business ties with you."
"You'd influence the devil himself. And we both know Patrick had too much angel in him. He was the perfect prey for the black widow you turned out to be."
Her eyes swept him from head to toe in disdain. "Listen, Jalal, cut the cloak-and-dagger melodrama. If you traveled across the world just to accuse me of overdosing my husband, you accomplished that with your opening statement. Don't be redundant as well as unfeeling and overbearing. You can now go back to your sand-infested, backward region to wallow in your unearned power."
Heat splashed in his chest. Not because her views insulted him, but because she had them at all. Disappointment only intensified his reaction to her, sent blood roaring to his loins.
His lips twisted with grim humor. "You were always a spitfire, yet you never spoke this brazenly to me."
"You just never bothered to listen. Not that that was a privilege you reserved for me. Your Exalted Highness didn't consider anyone worth listening to. But you're partially right. I was once guilty of embellishing my attitude and opinion of you. I'm not the person I was anymore."
"You're exactly the person you always were. But now that you're an heiress to an empire worth billions, you believe you have the luxury of showing me your true face and the clout to take me on."
Her eyes grew ridiculing. "That's not why I don't have to suppress my abhorrence of you and all you stand for anymore. But since I'm not inclined to explain my reasons, thanks for coming."
"I've been seething for two years that I didn't let it all out when I last saw you. Thanks for giving me the chance to get it off my chest. Now, since you've done what you've come to do, and indulged your evidently long-repressed desire to call me names"
"But that's not what I've come to do." Before she could lob back something caustic, and without willing himself to, he dragged her to him, slamming her against his now burning body. "And that's certainly not the desire I've long repressed."
A hot sound of protest escaped her. He bent, caught it in his lips. He snatched in air laden with her breath, let it storm through him, uprooting the restraints he'd long placed on his senses. He let the feel of her invade his control, tear it away. Her taste eddied in his system, hurtling him back to their nights of delirium.
"No matter what you hate about me, you always loved this." He poured the words into her open-from-shock mouth, his lips gliding over her plump ones, pushing them farther apart, unable to wait to plunge inside her warmth and welcome. "You craved it. My touch, my hunger, my pleasures. Whatever else was pretense, this was real. Still is."