Saving the Sheikh
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His excitement hardened between them, sending an answering and unwelcome quiver down her spine. “If you’re afraid that this is merely for political reasons, let me assure you that I want to marry you.”
Zhang struggled to free herself, but he held her there. The more she struggled, the more excited he became. Despite how angry she was with him and the situation, her own body betrayed her by molding to his form and moistening with hunger for him. The fantasy is over, she told herself angrily. Lusting after him would only give him the power he wanted over her. “Take your hands off of me.” She readied her knee with intention.
He shifted her upward, removing the risk of her threat. He held her easily with one arm while his hand slid to the front of her dress. He rubbed a thumb over her bodice intimately, easily finding and increasing the evidence of her desire for him. “Are you afraid that you won’t be my only wife? Trust me, you’re all I’ll ever need.” He nuzzled her neck. “We could be good together, Zhang.”
No, her mind shouted. Instead of fighting him physically, she forced herself to remain still and struck at him with her words. “You’re delusional if you think this will change my mind.”
His hand cupped one of her breasts. “You will be my wife, Zhang.” His mouth descended on hers.
How could something so crazy be so tempting to agree to?
His lips claimed hers, hungrily demanding submission from her – a submission Zhang wanted to deny, but her lips parted for him and her tongue met his eagerly. His kiss softened and the invasion turned more playful. Their tongues danced and teased.
He broke off the kiss and rested his forehead on hers. “Just say yes, Zhang,” he said raggedly.
Her own breathing was labored, but she glared up at him. “Never.”
“Your resistance will only make our wedding night that much sweeter,” he growled into her ear. “Is that what you’re hoping for? Are we continuing your fantasy?”
She pushed against his chest. “You can’t be serious. I stopped playing the moment you locked me in.” Her hand stilled as she sought to make him see reason. “Don’t do this. I can deal with the bad press. I’ll even do what I can to help you smooth it over here. This isn’t you, Rachid. You know you have to let me go.”
He set her back but held on to her waist. The lines of his face deepened. “You’re wrong. This is exactly who I am, Zhang.” His expression softened and he said, “You could be happy here, if you let yourself be.”
She raised her chin defiantly and threatened, “I don’t want to hurt anyone, but it’ll happen if you continue on this path.”
He pulled out the chair for her to sit in again and murmured, “You are so beautiful.”
Shock held Zhang immobile. Did he just go there? Did he just say I’m beautiful when I’m angry? When did my life morph into some cheesy romance novel? Her hands clenched at her sides. “You have clearly forgotten who you’re dealing with if you think a compliment can sway me. I don’t care if you find me attractive, I just want to leave.”
He ran a hand lightly down one of her tense arms. “Little liar. The angrier you pretend to be the more I want to prove to you how little of it is real. If you don’t want me to take you right now on the table, I’d suggest you calm down.”
She shook her head. Images of the two of them frantically sweeping the dishes aside and pulling off each other’s clothing warmed her cheeks, and for a moment she refused to look at Rachid. A part of her wanted to push him to the place he threatened to go. There was no use pretending otherwise to herself. Frustrated, she directed her next admonishment to her loins.
Stop acting like he’s the last man on the planet.
You were perfectly fine before him.
We don’t need him.
Oh, my God, I’m talking to my genitalia now.
I guess I only have to worry if it answers me.
Zhang almost chuckled at the insanity of her inner dialogue.
“Zhang?” Rachid’s query prompted her to look up at him.
She met his eyes reluctantly, trying but not succeeding to glare at him.
“Sit,” he said, and then he gave her one of those devastatingly sexy smiles, as if he knew exactly the inner debate that was raging within her.
Zhang didn’t return his smile or move to obey his command. “I’d like to go back to my room now,” she said and added, “alone.”
“Of course,” he said, and went to the door to call a guard over to escort her back. As she passed by him, he said softly, “Don’t worry, Zhang, there’ll be other tables.”
She grit her teeth and followed the guard out of the room, without giving Rachid the pleasure of knowing his taunt had sent another wave of warmth to her cheeks.
When she was once again locked behind the large wooden double doors of her room, Zhang removed the lace dress and threw it on the floor, as if doing so could undo the last half hour.
I’m not staying.
No man, not even that one, is worth my freedom.
She chose a long green Indian-style cotton kurta with matching pantalets and stood in front of the full-length mirror in the room-size closet. The kurta’s high collar covered her neck and its long sleeves hid her arms, but the style was still distinctly, sensually feminine.
Did I really expect a change of clothing would stop my heart from racing every time I think of Rachid? I doubt even camouflage could hide the excitement in my eyes. No wonder he never believes me when I tell I don’t want him.
If I’m going to escape, I have to spend less time with the reason I want to stay.
Rachid was in his private quarters a few hours later when the head of the Royal Guardsmen knocked on his door. “Your Highness, there is a Mr. Corisi down in the foyer. He wishes to speak with you.”
Dominic? Isn’t he supposed to be on his honeymoon?
Rachid said firmly, “Tell him that I will be down in a few minutes.” He knew that whatever had happened downstairs had been serious in nature if it necessitated Marshid to become personally involved. The man added, “He’s not a patient man. It was difficult to persuade him to wait to be announced.”
I can imagine.
“I’ll be right there.”
What would have brought Dominic to Najriad? Zhang? Was there no end to the punishment for one night’s pleasure? Friendships, even ones as old as theirs, could be lost over events such as this.
Rachid found his old college friend in the foyer, flanked by two armed guards.
When Dominic made a move toward Rachid, one of the guards pointed his rifle at Dominic’s chest.
Dominic asked angrily, “Do all of your friends receive this warm welcome?”
“Only the ones who don’t call first,” Rachid said calmly in English and held up a hand to wave the guardsmen back. At first neither guard moved and Rachid’s temper flared. He ordered in Arabic, “Lower your weapons now.”
They did so, but with obvious reluctance.
Dominic said, “You know why I’m here. Where’s Zhang?”
Rachid said smoothly, “She’s safe.”
Dominic’s snarl deepened. “Not good enough. I want to see her.”
“This is none of your business, Dominic.”
Dominic took an aggressive step closer and said, “When you take a woman from my wedding and ruin my honeymoon, it damn well is my business. Abby isn’t going to calm down until she knows that Zhang is okay.” He looked like a bull about to charge. “When Abby isn’t happy, I’m not happy. Get Zhang down here.”
“That’s not possible,” Rachid said. Dominic’s anger was an unwelcome and possibly explosive complication. His future bride needed a few more days before she was going to do anything except demand her immediate release.
And that’s not going to happen.
Dominic’s temper rose and his hands fisted at his sides. “I don’t think you understand that I’m not asking.”
Rachid’s quickly mounting impatience added an edge to his words. “I have great respect for you, Dominic. We’ve known each other a long time. Curb your temper, friend. You won’t win here.”
A red flush spread across Dominic’s face. “You’re playing a dangerous game, Rachid.”
Rachid shook his head sadly. “I’m not playing, Dom. Come back on Saturday if you wish to support Zhang. You will be welcome at our wedding dinner.”
“Wedding? What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’ve asked Zhang to marry me.”
“And she said yes?”
“She will,” Rachid said confidently, even though he was starting to question the surety of the outcome himself. “Either way, you need to leave the palace now.”
“I’m not leaving without Zhang.”
“Then we have a problem.”
“No, you have a problem.” He reached forward to grab Rachid by the throat, but Rachid blocked his arm.
The guardsmen rushed forward to restrain Dominic.
Rachid shook his head again and said calmly, “I probably deserve the beating you’d like to give me, old friend. However, this isn’t about me or you. It’s bigger than either of us. Please, Zhang is safe. By the weekend, she may even be happy. Go back to your new wife. Leave before this gets ugly.”
Dominic struggled against the hands that restrained him and would have done more, but the rifle to his chest stopped him. He threatened, “It’s going to get ugly, Rachid. Very ugly – and likely very painful.”
Putting Dominic out of the palace would result in the man returning with a vengeance before Rachid had time to change Zhang’s mind. There was only one way to make sure Dominic didn’t interfere. He turned to the guardsmen. “Take him to the north wing and keep him there until I send for him.”
The two guards were joined by one more who continued to hold Dominic at rifle point as they dragged him from the room. Dominic didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. The entire situation was quickly getting out of control. The sooner Rachid convinced Zhang that marrying him was her best option, the better.
Rachid was halfway to the women’s quarters when his father stopped him in the hallway.
“Rachid, is it true that you have a man detained in the north wing?”
Rachid met his father’s expression boldly. “Yes, Father.”
“Dominic Corisi?” his father asked casually.
Rachid wasn’t about to second-guess himself now. “Yes.”
His father stepped forward and chuckled while patting his son on the shoulder. “I used to worry that you didn’t have enough Najriad fire to rule, but I see that I was mistaken. You have more than enough.”
There wasn’t much about what he was doing that he was proud of, but his father’s praise made Rachid stand taller. “I know what’s at stake.”
Nodding, Amir dropped his hand. “Yes, I can see that.” He took a step back to allow his son to pass and said, “I will be returning to my quarters unless you require them as a cell for another guest.”