Princess Amber's arranged marriage to Prince Kazim Al-Amed of Barazbin was a dream come truefor her, at least! But then their wedding night went spectacularly wrong, and a furious Kazim banished Amber from his kingdom and his life
Now, with his country in turmoil, Kazim must prove his ability to rule and provide an heir for his people. But to do so he'll need to track down his princess.
Amber has always threatened Kazim's tightly held control. Yet if he is to save his nationand his marriagehe must finally make the ultimate claim on his wife!
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He'd found her.
Prince Kazim Al Amed of Barazbin had found her.
Amber watched as he made his way across the Parisian club, striding between the tables, scanning the dancers. Even in the dim light she could see the contempt on his face and the seductive beat of the music hardly slowed his pace. If anything, it increased it.
Rooted to the spot, she couldn't move. She didn't want to watch him but couldn't stop herself. Every step he took radiated command, accentuating the raw masculine power that served only to highlight his untamed nature. His tanned complexion, glossy black hair and expensive suit made him stand out against the club's regular clientele, and she certainly wasn't the only person to have noticed him.
A tremor of nerves, mixing with the same attraction she'd felt when they'd first met, raced through her. She clutched the tray of glasses she'd been collecting even tighter, desperate to stop them clinking together. For almost a year she'd dreamt he'd seek her out and declare his love but, from the look on his face, she knew such hopes were futile.
He had never loved her and she dreaded his reason for being here. She wasn't sure she could take another brutal rejection from the man she'd loved once with such adoration. He had been her dream come true. The only man she had ever loved.
Thankful the sultry lighting in the club would enable her to slip away virtually unnoticed, she put down the tray and, without taking her eyes from his tall body, moved backwards into the shadows. The music thumped as wildly as her heart when she saw him pause, his brow furrowed into a suspicious frown as he stood rigid and tall. His eyes rested briefly on her and she couldn't help but hold his gaze.
Kazim took one step towards her and she thought the game was up. Then he looked around the club once more and relief washed over her. He hadn't recognised her. She should be glad, but a dart of pain stabbed at her.
Just when she thought she could breathe again, his gaze returned once more to her, this time with unnerving accuracy. He took another step towards her, oblivious to the customers and waitresses trying to pass him, his piercing gaze not leaving her face. Judging by the tight line of his lips and the firmness of his jaw, he knew it was her and wasn't pleased.
Amber's hands shot up to her hair, checking the blonde, pink-streaked wig she used at work was in place. Surely he hadn't recognised her like thishad he? But she wasn't about to take any chances. She wasn't ready to face him yetnot here, not like this. She needed time to compose herself, time to put aside all the dreams he'd shattered.
Kazim looked once more at the dancers then back at her. The distance between them suddenly closed, even though neither had moved, and she felt his suspicion and shock with every nerve in her body. She had to go. Right now.
Quickly, she moved between the customers, seeing only the door to the dressing rooms. The door to sanctuary and, hopefully, escape. She couldn't face him yet. She needed time to find her strength.
She pushed open the heavy door, rushing along the narrow corridor towards the dressing rooms, her eyes blinking against the bright lights. Her heart pounded; she couldn't believe he was here, not after his cruel words to her that one and only night they'd spent together.
'Amber.' His accented voice rang with command, leaving her in no doubt that he had recognised her.
She froze. Her name on his lips, so full of authority, she didn't dare move. She couldn't even turn around. Her heart galloped faster than a racehorse as she heard his footsteps behind her on the tiled floor, coming closer, until a shiver of something she refused to acknowledge ran down her spine. How could he still have that effect on her?
The door to the club closed, muffling the beat of the music, and all she could hear was the tap of expensive leather shoes on the tiled floor. Then silence. She knew he stood almost right behind her. She could feel him, her whole body aware of his, but still she couldn't turn.
Finally her feet were able to move and she hurried on towards the dressing rooms, not looking back. She didn't dare. One look at him would unleash all the memories of her spoiled dreams. Dreams he had crushed.
'You can run, Amber, but you can't hide.' The undercurrent of steel in his voice made her stop just as she reached the dressing room door. Slowly she turned, knowing the time had come, whether she liked it or notthis was the moment she'd dreaded for almost a year.
It was time to face her past.
'I'm not running.' The words rushed out boldly as she looked into his face. She surprised herself with the courage in them.
As Amber looked at Kazim she lifted her chin and pushed her shoulders back. He'd changed. He was still undeniably handsome, but different. She watched him take a few more paces towards her. The severe fluorescent light of the narrow corridor highlighted the angles of his face, the slant of his cheekbones and the firm set of his lips. She had to hold her ground now. She couldn't let him see how unnerved she was. 'Neither am I trying to hide, Kazim.'
'I don't think you can do much hiding in that ridiculous thing.' His black eyes blazed with fury as he looked at her wig.
She couldn't help herself and reached up again to touch it. 'Part of the job,' she said flippantly as he came to stand directly in front of her and way too close. His annoyance at the wig pleased her, fuelling much needed resistance to him.
His gaze snapped back to hers, his contempt washing over her, just as it had done when she'd last seen him. Images replayed frantically in her mind, as clear as if it had all happened last night instead of many months ago.
That night he'd rejected her, rebuffed her clumsy advances and scorned her love. He'd turned her away without a second thought of what it would mean to her, not caring how such a dismissal would affect her. Because of that, she was now a different woman to the one she had been that night. She had to be stronger. She was stronger. He wouldn't hurt her again.
'And this?' He reached out, his fingers plucking at the feathers which adorned the bottom of her corsetstyle outfit, bringing her sharply back to the present. She wanted to jump quickly away from the heat of his touch but refused to give into the urge. 'Is this part of the job too?'
'Yes,' she snapped, roughly brushing his hand away. She would never let him know how he'd hurt her, how he'd destroyed her life. 'What I do for a living is no longer any of your concern. You made sure of that.'
Indignation simmered inside her as she remembered how he'd sent her away, turned his back on her as if she could just return to her life and it would all be the same. In reality, it had changed beyond comprehension and he hadn't cared.
His posture stiffened, making him appear taller, dominating the small space. 'A living? You call this a living?' Dark eyes, glittering with barely concealed anger, pierced hers, as if trying to extract every secret from her soul.
'Don't worry.' She put her hands on her hips and glared at him, exasperated at his obvious scorn for her. 'Nobody knows who I really am.'
She didn't know who she was any more, managing to convince herself, as well as her flatmate, that she was just a regular girl trying to earn a living and get over a broken heart.
'That explains why you were so hard to find.' Irritation filled his voice, but it didn't matter; she knew what his presence at the club meant.
'It was never my intention to be found.' She glowered at him as anger pushed aside those futile flutters of hope. 'I have moved on.'
'To a dubious lifestyle like this?' The mockery in his voice was painfully clear, but she wouldn't let him crush her dreams, not a second time.
'I have plans, Kazim. I've signed up for an art course.' As soon as she said the words she wished she could snatch them back.
He took a deep breath, as if seeking patience. 'What of your duty?'
'Duty?' She almost spat the word at him. 'What was it you said on our wedding night? Oh, yesWe have done our duty. Now you will return to your family.'
She stood and looked at him, those words echoing in her head. For a moment foolish hope soared in her heart, hope that he had realised he did love her, but quickly she quashed it, locking it away. He was not here because he loved her. Why was he here, when he'd made it blatantly obvious he wanted nothing to do with her? That it was a marriage to be endured and one she suspected he would like to extricate himself from.
The harsh expression on his face kept her silent. The same intensely black eyes she'd fallen so rapidly in love with now glittered with bitter gold sparks as he looked at her. 'I cannot believe you have hidden yourself away in Paris, especially not this part of the city.'
'So you'd rather I'd have broadcast to the world I was here, would you?' Defiant words hit their target and a sense of satisfaction filled her as she saw Kazim's jaw clench. She watched fury highlight the gold in his eyes. If he thought he could just waltz back into her life and make judgements on what she did or didn't do, he was very much mistaken.
'That is not what I meant.' He stepped even closer, his height looming over her. She looked up at him, holding his gaze, challenging him. His musky scent, with hints of exotic places, tormented her senses and she fought hard to remain composed and in control.
'What did you mean, Kazim?' In a bid to divert her mind, she pulled the wig from her head and shook out her glossy black hair, thankful to be able to discard the false blonde locks for the evening. What she hadn't expected was his reaction.
His eyes darkened further, the gold flecks of anger smouldering into bronze, melting into the depths of midnight blackness. He swallowed hard, the tanned skin of his throat catching her attention as he did so. His breathing deepened and he clenched his jaw, focusing a penetrating gaze on her.
She was trapped, utterly transfixed by the sheer masculinity of him. That raw vigour, which had snared her heart when they'd first met, left her unable to break eye contact. She couldn't even step back away from the fire which had somehow ignited between them, threatening to burn her if she dared to go nearer. But, like a moth to the flame of a candle, she felt compelled to, even knowing it would destroy her.
She blinked rapidly and took a deep breath. She couldn't allow herself to weaken, couldn't allow the attraction she'd always had for him to rule her.
He looked at her through narrowed eyes. 'You can't have forgotten the last time I saw you. You were busy taking your clothes off then too.' The words snapped like bullets from his lips, hard and accurate. 'So the fact that you work here, in this low-life hole, comes as no surprise to me.'
She wanted to close her eyes in shame at the memory. In her innocence, she'd thought she was doing the right thing on their wedding night, being something she wasn'tdaring and seductive. His playboy reputation was well known and she hadn't wanted him to think her uselessly inexperienced.
'I haven't got time to argue with you and your ego.'
More furious than ever, she resisted the temptation to throw the wig at him. 'Just tell me what you want, Kazim, and then leavefor good.' Those last two words rushed from her and settled around them with finality.
'What I want?' His eyes hardened so much they resembled obsidian, blackness obliterating all the gold sparks. Without mercy, they bored into her.
'Just say it,' she taunted and turned to walk away. She needed to get some clothes on, cover her body with something that would protect her from his scrutiny. 'You want a divorce.'
She threw the words over her shoulder as she pushed open the dressing room door, secure in the knowledge he wouldn't follow her, and tossed the wig onto the cluttered table, knocking over a lipstick. She let out a breath she had no idea she'd been holding, desperate to get a grip on her emotions.
The lock clicked as the key turned and she whirled round to see Kazim standing there, in the dressing room, his back to the closed door, arms folded across his chest and that ever-present air of superiority coming off him like a tsunami.
'Divorce is not an option.' His abrasive words robbed her of the ability to think, let alone speak. If he didn't want a divorce then what did he want from her? What was so important he'd not only tracked her down, but had come personally to thiswhat was it he'd called itlow-life hole?
Kazim watched the colour leach from Amber's face. Even her scantily clad body paled as the implication of his words sank in. As the only son and heir to the Sheikh of Barazbin, taking as his wife the woman selected by his father had been his duty. Just as it was now his father who had forced him to seek Amber out. But he'd never expected to find her in a place like this.
His wife, Princess Amber of Barazbin, was working as a waitress in an establishment that was little better than a strip club. He put aside the shock ofjust how low she'd sunk and forced his attention back to what he'd come here for.
She turned from him and he looked more closely at her profile as she dragged her hair, shorter than it had once been, quickly into a ponytail. Her gaze was rigidly focused on her image in the mirror, as if she couldn't bear to look at him, but he was drawn to her full and very kissable lips.
She glared defiantly at him, stirring something deep within him, but giving into those carnal thoughts would not help his current situation. He needed her back in Barazbin, living as his wife, and he had every intention of achieving that.
'Divorce is the only option as far as I'm concerned. Your rejection as good as told me that, Kazim. You left me in no doubt that our marriage had ended before it had begun.' Her stern voice, laced with a husky note, rattled his senses.
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