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'Show her directly in when she arrives,' Tariq said, handing the lawyer a photograph. 'This is her.'
James Sinclair glanced at the badly focused holiday snapshot of three people. At the centre of the laughing group on the beach was a young dark-haired man, who had his arms around two young women, one either side of him.
James tilted his head to look up at the tall dark-haired figure in the impeccably tailored suit before him. His secretary's words came back to him. She had assured him, in an un characteristically giggly moment, that the women in the building weren't interested in the suit the Prince wore, more in the body it covered.
'Which woman are you expecting, Prince Tariq?' The lawyer's manner was respectful and, though he tried to hide it, nervous, as his glance slid from one pretty bikini-clad figure to the other.
Relax, James, he told himself. He genuinely thought he might feel similarly edgy if someone had left him in a room with an unchained and hungry panther. In fact now that he thought of it there was something about this man that brought that sleek, dangerous and unpredictable animal to mind.
If the business they did on behalf of the Royal family of Zarhat hadn't been worth several small fortunes to the law firm he worked for, he might have been tempted to delegate this task. The heir apparent to Zarhat's throne made him feel about as confident as a fresh-faced internnot a pleasant feeling for a man who was acknowledged as one of the best litigators of his generation.
When he spoke Prince Tariq Al Kamal's English was impeccable, distinguished only by the slightest of accents. But right now the incredulity in his deep voice was more noticeable than the foreign inflection. 'Which woman?'
James lifted his eyes, connecting with those of the younger man standing before him, who was a good six inches taller than him. It was a struggle to keep his gaze level.
Continuing to feel uncharacteristically uneasy and unsure, James wondered if it was a power thing. But he suspected that even if he'd had no knowledge of the Al Kamal wealth and influence he would have instinctively known that here was a man he didn't want to be on the wrong side of...
James considered the other man's lean dark face and thought
This guy, he mused, would not be gentle when it came to removing something or someone who got in his way.
Probably four or five years younger than his own thirty-seven years, James decided, studying his sable-haired client surreptitiously, the guy really looked the part. He was handsome as hell, clearly with an intellect to match his golden-skinned good-looks. James laid a hand to his own slightly generous middle and thought, I really should make some time for squash
Tariq raised one dark brow as he studied the lawyer. The man's credentials were impeccable, but after a question like that it was hard not to wonder if he was all he was cracked up to be.
Which woman did he think? He took the photo back and glanced down, his dark, veiled gaze sliding over the blonde and his brother before coming to rest on the redhead. The blonde was pretty, in a cutesy, curvy, giggly sort of way. No. He dismissed her with a mental click of his long brown fingers. She was hardly the type of female who would make a man such as his brother forget the responsibilities that had been drilled into him since his childhood. The responsibilities they had both been taught came hand in hand with privilege.
Now, the second femalewith the tousled titian curls, seductive mouth and alabaster skinshe was such a woman.
Yes, she was definitely a woman who could inspire a little madness in a man. As for responsibilities
This woman could probably, without much exertion, make a man forget his name!
As his eyes lingered on the redhead's vivid laughing face he felt his irritation fade. It really wasn't hard, he conceded reluctantly, to see why his little brother Khalid had lost his head and his heart to this woman. Even in a blurry snapshot her earthy sex appeal hit you straight between the eyesnot to mention other places further south!
She did not have a conventionally beautiful face. Her rounded chin was too firm, the skin across the bridge of her small, slightly tip-tilted nose was lightly freckled, and her smiling sensuously curved lips were too wide. But the exotic slant of her big long-lashed eyes gave her features an almost feline look and certainly a sensual quality.
His glance dropped to her body. She was tall, square-shouldered and full-bosomed. She had an hour glass figure, and the flare of her full hips was perfectly balanced by her long shapely legs. The skin his brother's fingers touched in the photograph was milky pale.
Her skin would be warm and smooth under a man's touch, infinitely delectable
Tariq put aside the distracting image, his expression instantly hardening. That man was not going to be Khalid.
His little brother was clearly not thinking with his brain. If Khalid had gone out looking for the most unsuitable bride alive he could not have found one who fitted the bill better than this redhead.
She had no family; there was not even a father's name on her birth certificate. And, while he did not hold her back ground against her, it was to him highly significant that after the death of her mother, she had never settled with any of the numerous foster families she had been placed in. This was a pattern that had continued into adulthood, and she had travelled the world working. Tariq could not fault her work ethic, but she had never accumulated any money or possessions, and she had never stayed in one place long enough to put down roots.
It was totally inconceivable that such a woman could fill the role of Royal Princess.
Tariq returned his attention back to the lawyer. 'The redhead,' he said, dispensing the blatantly unnecessary information with impatience as he slid the photo back into his breast pocket.
Dragging his long brown fingers over his bare dark head, he slid his dark pewter-flecked gaze to the window. It was closed and he was conscious of the feeling of claustrophobia he often felt when in London, or in any other major city for that matter.
At home his office windows would be flung wide open, allowing the warm desert breeze to circulate. Set in the oldest part of the palace complex, his office was located in the highest tower, and it offered panoramic views out over the old town, stretching as far as the new town, with its shiny glass-fronted buildings, then out further to the desert and mountains beyond.
Almost imperceptibly he felt some of the tension in his shoulders lessen. Tension that had been gradually building since he had providentially discovered his brother was about to make a disastrous marriage.
Tonight he would return home and be standing in that room, watching the sunset.
He had been looking at spectacular sunsets over the desert all his life, but familiarity had not bred contempt. The flame sky never failed to move something deep inside him, reminding him of the connection he felt to the land and its people, both of which his family had held in trust for many generations.
Some men might have termed the connection spiritual, but Tariq felt no need to put a name to it. It was just an integral part of him.
'Just show her through when she arrives,' Tariq informed the departing lawyer. Time was of the essence, and the sooner he nipped this sentimental and unsuitable romance in the bud the better.
Pressing a long finger to the indentation above his aquiline nose, Tariq felt that tension between his shoulder blades creep back. Damn Khalid! The planes of his strongly sculpted face tautened as he dwelt on the secret plans of his normally cautious and co-operative brother.
When their own English mother had chosen her freedom over her children, Khalid, who had been three at the time, had crept into his big brother's bed each night for months after to cry himself to sleep. How, Tariq wondered, could a child of such a disastrous union, who had suffered so much as a child, not now realise that it was impossible to combine two cultures?
Maybe, Tariq brooded, it was some genetic defect? Their father was a man whose actions had always been characterised by strength and rational thought; he had shown in explicable weakness and lack of judgement in only one thinglove.
Well, if this was a genetic flaw, and the weakness surfaced in him, Tariq, he had no doubt that he would be able to subdue it. Tariq was a man who prided himself on his iron control. It would not even occur to him to follow such selfish impulses. He had no immediate marriage plans, but when he did eventually commit himself Tariq knew his choice of consort would not be a woman who had split loyalties. Not for him a woman who could not or would not adapt to her new life in a foreign land.
No, he would marry a womanwhen the time camewho would stand beside him as he continued the onerous task of bringing modern reforms to their ancient kingdom and its rich diverse cultural heritage. Love, too often in his opinion, was used as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour, and would be very low down the list when he came to look for a suitable bride for himself.
* * *
The lawyer guided her through a series of interconnected rooms, and when they reached the last he stood back and indicated to Beatrice that she should go inside.
In the doorway she turned to call out to the retreating figure. 'Look, what is this all about
A stranger's rough velvet voice from inside the room cut across her bemused protest.
'Just come in, Miss Devlin.'
Cautiously Beatrice responded to the terse instruction and stepped into the room. Her inspection of her surroundings only got as far as the figure seated behind the desk. He rose as she stepped forward: a seriously tall man, lean, long of leg and broad of shoulder.
He was also young and sinfully good-looking, if you liked the dark fallen angel look, and frankly, Beatrice thought staring, who wouldn't?
'Take a seat.' He commanded, in that velvet voice again.
'I'm sorryI don't know who you are, or'
'I doubt that
' His long lashes brushed against the sharp angles of his chiselled cheek bones as his midnight glance dipped, skimming the lush contours of her body.
By the time his attention returned to her face Beatrice knew her cheeks were burning in reaction. There was something of a calculated insult in his insolent scrutiny.
Later she might be bewildered by his attitude, but right now Beatrice was too furious for analysis. Was he trying to make her lose her temper? Or was he always this obnoxiously rude? Well, either way she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of responding.
Beatrice lifted her chin, raised her brows in a quizzical fashion and gave him a calm smile. 'Manners really aren't your strong point, are they
?' She murmured amusedly before pulling out a chair. 'I'm assuming I wasn't summoned here just so that you could insult me
She was rewarded by a perplexed frown that twitched his strongly defined sable brows into a straight line above his hawkish nose. The frown stayed in place as he watched her settle herself in the chair and casually cross one slender ankle over the other. It was a scrutiny that Beatrice was pain fully conscious of. She was equally determined not to betray the fact.
This was not a person to show weakness to. The man was clearly a barbarian, she decided, and no amount of tailoring could disguise the fact. As mad as she was with him, for looking at her as though she were a piece of meat, she was madder with herself for responding on some primal level to the raw sexual challenge in his stance.
Cut yourself some slack, she counselled herself, as she slowed her breathing to a less agitated level. The man does have more undiluted blatant sexuality in his little finger than the average male has in his entire body. Her eyes skimmed the long lean length of him again, and she stifled an internal sigh. Whatever else the man was, there was nothing about him physically that she could find fault with.
Finally he stopped his appraisal of her and spoke. 'You look like a smart girl.' You only had to look into those green eyes to see this woman was no fool. Though admittedly intelligence was not the first thing that hit a man when this woman walked into a room.
Since the moment she had strolled in, with a sway of those feminine hips, filling the small room with the scent of roses and rain, he had been more than conscious of the sexual allure she radiated.
Beatrice flashed her white teeth in an insincere smile. 'Thank you,' she murmured, but she was not making the mistake of assuming this was a compliment.
It was pretty hard to think that when he was looking at her as though she was something unpleasant he'd discovered on his shoe! She wondered idly what he'd look like when he wasn't sneering.
It seemed doubtful, given the in explicable antagonism vibrating in the air between them, that she was ever going to find out. But, despite this, her wilful imagination toyed with a mental image of those arrogant patrician features relaxed in a genuine smile. The corners of his wide sensual lips pulled upwards, maybe a few sexy crinkles at the corners of those sensational eyes, and the temperature on those silver-flecked depths a few degrees above zero
'And as a smart girl I'm sure you already know why I arranged this meeting.' He slowly folded his long lean length grace fully into the chair behind the desk. 'Let's lay our cards on the table.'
No cards, but his hands lay on the mahogany surface of the desk that stood between them. His tapering fingers were long and brown, and exerted a fascination for Beatrice that she was beginning to think bordered on the unhealthy.
'My brother plans to marry you.'